Ranking NIU’s football team is harder said than done

By Matt Hopkinson

Living life on the fringe is hard.

For a MAC team, it shouldn’t seem out of the ordinary.

The NIU football team should find it a bit harder to swallow, however, because they are coming off a good season in which they won a school-record 11 wins.

While the Huskies are favored by publications such as Sporting News and Blue Ribbon to finish first in the MAC West, they are nowhere to be found in many of even the top 50 rankings heading into the season. ESPN hasn’t even gotten around to ranking the MAC conference. At one point last season, NIU was in the top 25 rankings.

Obviously, these predictions and pundits will prefer the powerhouses, but let’s dissect the team heading into the new season.

First of all, we can peek at the schedule facing the Huskies.

The season opens at home against an unfamiliar figure in the Army Black Knights. This game will mark the first time that Army has played NIU at Huskie Stadium. The last two seasons NIU has had to open on the road against Wisconsin and Iowa State. Opening the season at home against a team that has never been to its stadium before should provide all the motivation needed, and a victory could help get the ball rolling to the season.

Looming larger than the opener is the third game of the season in which the Huskies will face Wisconsin at home. A win in this game could provide more surge than either of the two games before.

The coaching situation of last year has been well-documented and lamented. To begin the season anew, coach Dave Doeren, former defensive coordinator at the University of Wisconsin, will start his first full season at the helm of Huskie football.

Offensively, NIU has nine starters returning, including Chandler Harnish and standout linemen Scott Wedige and Trevor Olson.

On the defensive end is where most people will throw their darts and hang their question marks because the team has nine starters to replace from a season ago. A group of new starters may appear problematic but it could also leave room for Doeren to work some defensive magic with fresh faces.

While there are some questions, there is also reason for optimism. According to a press release, NIU is one of only three teams from schools who do not automatically qualify to have three or more players on the Rotary Lombardi Award Watch list.

Given the concerns, I cannot defend that NIU should have a place in a top 25 list heading into the season.

Considering the talent still here, I could hazard support, at least, to crack the top 50.

Ah, life on the fringe.