After Northern Illinois lost its starting quarterback early in the 2022 season and began the year 1-5, including a double overtime loss at Ball State, the Huskies could do very little to turn things around and ended up 3-9.
The Huskies hope the season will start – and end – much differently in 2023 as they seek to prove they are a team to be reckoned with in the MAC.
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Northern Illinois Football’s MAC Title Odds
Northern Illinois’ odds to win the MAC are +2000, via BetMGM.
Northern Illinois Football’s Over/Under Win Total
Northern Illinois’ win total Over/Under is 5.5, with Under 5.5 at +110 and Over 5.5 at -130.
Northern Illinois Football’s Schedule
9/2 at Boston College
9/9 vs Southern Illinois
9/16 at Nebraska
9/23 vs Tulsa
9/30 at Toledo
10/7 at Akron
10/14 vs Ohio
10/21 vs Eastern Michigan
10/31 at Central Michigan
11/7 vs Ball State
11/14 vs Western Michigan
11/25 at Kent State
Bold indicates MAC contests.
Key Northern Illinois Football Returners
2022 All-MAC 1st Team
OL Nolan Potter
DL DeVonte O’Malley
DB C.J. Brown
OL Logan Zschernitz
DL James Ester
Nolan Potter, Logan Zschernitz Provide Push Up Front For Northern Illinois’ Offense
Northern Illinois’ offensive line was a strength for the team in 2022, and that unit has the potential to be even better this year with starters returning at each spot. NIU was second in the MAC with 190.4 rushing yards per game and allowed 13 sacks all year, which was the fewest in the league.
Nolan Potter, a 6-foot-6, 301-pound redshirt senior, played at right tackle in 2022. He allowed just two sacks and two quarterback hits all season en route to first-team all-conference accolades.
Logan Zschernitz, a 6-3, 319-pound redshirt junior, made the all-conference third team last year after playing at right guard. Left guard John Champe, left tackle Evan Buss, and center Pete Nygra are also coming back.
Quarterbacks Ethan Hampton, Nevan Cremascoli, Rocky Lombardi, and Justin Lynch all started games in 2022 and are all back. Lombardi was the Day 1 starter after leading NIU to the MAC Championship in 2021, but he sustained a leg injury last year and played just four games.
Running back Harrison Waylee transferred to Wyoming after leading the team in rushing. However, NIU still has one of the best backs in the MAC in Antario Brown. Brown, a 5-10, 218-pound junior, averaged 6.3 yards per attempt en route to 689 yards and seven touchdowns in 2022.
Trayvon Rudolph also returns for the Huskies after missing all of last season due to a knee injury. The redshirt junior wide receiver made the all-conference second team as a wideout and a kick returner in 2021.
NIU’s top two receivers from a year ago are no longer on the roster, but Kacper Rutkiewicz, who led the team with six receiving touchdowns to go with 432 yards last year, is back to help out NIU’s receiving corps.
DeVonte O’Malley, C.J. Brown Are Rising Stars For Northern Illinois’ Defense
NIU needs to make improvements on the defensive side of the ball, having allowed the second-most points in the MAC (32.8 per game) and ranked in the bottom half of the league in total defense (395.7 yards per game).
But the Huskies have an opportunity to coalesce in 2023. They return eight of their top 10 tacklers from last season.
C.J. Brown led NIU last season in multiple ways. The senior safety was first on the team with 76 tackles and five pass breakups as he made the all-conference second team.
DeVonte O’Malley, a junior defensive tackle, was also on the all-conference second team. He tied the team lead last year with 5.5 sacks to go with seven tackles for loss and 35 total tackles.
NIU returns two all-conference defensive tackles, as James Ester made the third team last year. He tallied 28 tackles, six for loss, with two sacks and a team-best five quarterback hurries.
With Nick Benedetto going into his second season as NIU’s defensive coordinator, the Huskies have the experience to make some strides.
Northern Illinois Football Season Prediction
The Huskies won’t win the MAC but will finish at least .500 by winning six or more games.
With contests against Southern Illinois and Tulsa at home, NIU’s non-conference slate is fairly manageable. The Huskies will probably be 2-2 going into MAC games, factoring in losses to Boston College and Nebraska.
Finding four more potential wins against conference foes for NIU isn’t that tough. The Huskies probably won’t beat Toledo, Ohio, or Eastern Michigan. But their other five MAC games will be winnable.
The Huskies certainly could beat Akron and Kent State on the road as well as Western Michigan at home. NIU’s other two games – vs. Ball State and at Central Michigan – should be toss-ups, so I’ll account for one loss and one win with those two contests.
This would leave Northern Illinois with six victories. The Huskies may be hoping for a better result, but it would still be an improvement from 2022.