Northern Illinois has won three out of the last four Mid American Conference titles and is riding a MAC record streak of seven-straight seasons reaching a bowl game.
While dominating their league, Goliath is also comfortable in the role of David, having beaten a “Power 5″ conference opponent in five of the past six seasons. Four Big Ten teams have fallen victim to the Huskies in that span.
Their head coach, Rod Carey, has a better win percentage in his first two years in the Mid American Conference than Brian Kelly, Jerry Kill, Gary Pinkel and some guy named Urban Meyer had in their first couple MAC seasons. (Carey is 23-6 for a win percentage of .793 while Meyer posted a .739 percentage in 2001 and 20o2 at Bowling Green.)
Some of their early returns suggest this year’s team will continue NIU’s recent run of success.
Quarterback Drew Hare, for instance, is currently ranked 6th nationally in passing yards. Running back Joel Bouagnon has five rushing touchdowns, better than all but Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Old Dominion’s Ray Lawry.
True, these numbers were racked up against winless UNLV and FCS opponent Murray State, but it’s not without reason that the Huskies are averaging 7.82 yards/play.
Mainly, the explanation for that lies in Hare’s 78.1 completion percentage, Bouagnon’s 5.7 yards/carry and in the play of North Dakota transfer Kenny Golladay.
Golladay has stepped up since fellow wide receiver Tommylee Lewis suffered an ankle injury on the opening drive of the season opener. Already the 6’4” Golladay has 17 catches for 357 yards and two touchdowns. He’s averaging 21 yards a reception.
The high tempo offense is breaking in three new starters on the line, both tackles and a guard. Still, that hasn’t seemed to slow them down much.
On the other side of the ball, meanwhile, the Huskies return 8 starters from a unit that ranked 51st in the country in scoring defense a year ago. However, they’ve already given up 56 points and 866 yards during this campaign.
The Huskies tend to rely on their ability to cause havoc, and they do have 4 picks and 14 tackles for loss. But they are also allowing teams to convert on nearly 58 percent of their third downs and subsequently get into the end zone.
Wonderfully named senior linebacker Boomer Mays is pacing the team with 17 tackles. Right behind him is linebacker Renard Cheren, a freshman, and corner Paris Logan, who also leads the way with three passes defended and an interception.
Linebacker Jamaal Payton has been Northern Illinois’ most disruptive player with three TFLs.
One note on the Huskies special teams, kicker Christian Hagan is 2/2 on field goals, both from 40+ yards out, but he’s missed two extra points (one of which was blocked).
Northern Illinois has started both games slowly. They had to rally from down 17-3 against UNLV. They trailed Murray State 7-6 after the first quarter. They’ll need to fix that if they hope to upset Ohio State this Saturday in the second ever meeting of the clubs. The Buckeyes won their only previous matchup, 35-12 in 2006.