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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Likes and Dislikes

Five and Five: Northern Illinois

What are five things I like about Northern Illinois in 2010? What about five things I don’t? This list has all the answers.

Likes

1. A very strong defense. It starts up front, where the Huskies bring to the table as potent a starting four — as well as a solid second line — as any non-B.C.S. conference team in the country.

2. I like the team’s depth at safety: this will especially be the case if experienced starter Alex Sobol recovers from injury in time for the season opener. Junior strong safety Tracy Wilson is one of the best defensive backs in the MAC.

3. A similar story at linebacker: two returning starters — Alex Kube and Pat Schiller — are joined by talents like Jordan Delegal and Devon Butler, giving N.I.U. a very potent group. Delegal’s strong spring vaulted him ahead of Schiller on the strong side.

4. The ground game is consistent, thanks to a commitment to the attack from the Northern Illinois coaching staff and the stellar — often explosive — play from the N.I.U. stable of backs. Chad Spann is one of MAC’s best backs, and if JUCO addition Jasmin Hopkins can make an immediate impact, the loss of Meco Brown will be minimal.

5. Central Michigan has taken a step back; Toledo and Western Michigan deserve our respect; Ball State will be improved. Nevertheless, the West division belongs to the Huskies in 2010.

Dislikes

1. An undecided competition at quarterback. This is not necessarily a bad thing. What troubles me is Chandler Harnish’s nagging injury, which might prevent the junior from maintaining his hold on the starting job.

2. It’s difficult to ignore what the Huskies have lost along the offensive line: I like what the team returns up front, but holes exist at center and left guard.

3. An unspectacular — though steady — receiver corps. This is not quite a dislike, though I’m worried about the Northern Illinois offense should a team successfully stack the box against the run.

4. I really like N.I.U’s cornerback tandem of Chris Smith and Patrick George. However, depth at cornerback is a concern.

5. This is a very good team: the best N.I.U. club in more than five years, in fact. It’s still the second-best team in the MAC, trailing Temple. Again, not N.I.U.’s fault.

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