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Analysis: NIU football only has five home games this season

Northern Illinois tight end Jason Schepler (87) gains 23 yards on a pass from Jordan Lynch (not pictured) during the first quarter in DeKalb. NIU defeated Toledo, 31-24.
Northern Illinois tight end Jason Schepler (87) gains 23 yards on a pass from Jordan Lynch (not pictured) during the first quarter in DeKalb. NIU defeated Toledo, 31-24.

There’s still six months until college football season kicks off, but Northern Illinois fans got a little taste of it when the Huskies’ 2013 schedule was released Friday.

Quite frankly, it’s not the best schedule for fans of a team coming off of an Orange Bowl appearance. There’s only five home games, and just one the first seven weeks of the season. Only two of them stand out – the Nov. 13 game against Ball State, a team which should contend for a MAC West title, and the Nov. 26 contest against Western Michigan in P.J. Fleck’s return.

We’re still a long way from kickoff, and there’s plenty we’ll learn about the Huskies and NIU’s opponents leading up to the season. For now, here is a look at each team on the Huskies schedule and took a shot at giving a Vegas line for each contest.

Aug. 31 – at Iowa

Last meeting: Iowa 18, NIU 17 on Sept. 1 at Soldier Field

Scouting the Hawkeyes: Iowa gave the Huskies their lone regular-season defeat last season, but it was one of just four victories for a Hawkeyes team which struggled to score all season. While Iowa is coming off its worst season since 2000, winning at Kinnick Stadium won’t be easy.

Nitz’s early line: Iowa - 3

Sept. 14 – at Idaho

Last meeting: Idaho 34, NIU 31 on Sept. 26, 2009

Scouting the Vandals: Idaho was actually the last team to beat NIU at Huskie Stadium. These days, the Vandals are in a tough situation as they will begin play as an independent this season while looking for a conference home. In 2013, first-year head coach Paul Petrino takes over a program coming off a 1-11 campaign.

Nitz’s early line: NIU - 33.5

Sept. 21 – Eastern Illinois

Last meeting: Eastern Illinois 24, NIU 10 on Sept. 19, 1998

Scouting the Panthers: Expect this one to go like your normal contest against an FCS program. NIU jumps out to a quick lead, EIU gets a late score or two and the Huskies’ starters are on the bench in the fourth quarter.

Nitz’s early line: NIU - 42

Sept. 28 – at Purdue

Last meeting: NIU 28, Purdue 21 on Sept. 19, 2009

Scouting the Boilermakers: This year’s Purdue squad will be led by a familiar face – former Kent State coach Darrell Hazell. He’ll have some work to do as the Boilermakers have been a staple of mediocrity lately.

Nitz’s early line: NIU - 4.5

Oct. 5 – at Kent State

Last meeting: NIU 44, Kent State 37 in the 2012 MAC Championship Game

Scouting the Golden Flashes: Kent State surprised everyone last year in its run to the MAC title game, and the Flashes would have gotten the Orange Bowl berth ahead of NIU with a win in Detroit. This season, first-year head coach Paul Haynes will have to rebuild a defense which lost a lot off last year’s strong unit. Do-everything speedster Dri Archer does return to Kent State’s backfield.

Nitz’s early line: NIU - 3

Oct. 12 – Akron

Last meeting: NIU 37, Akron 7 on Oct. 20

Scouting the Zips: Coming off a 1-11 season, Terry Bowden’s team still has a long way to go. The Zips haven’t won a MAC game since 2010, and have to replace starting quarterback Dalton Williams.

Nitz’s early line: NIU -31

Oct. 19 – at Central Michigan

Last meeting: NIU 55, Central Michigan 24 on Sept. 29

Scouting the Chippewas: Central Michigan took a step forward in 2012, winning four out of its last five games before beating Western Kentucky in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl to finish the season at 7-6. The Chippewas are probably still a team that will finish in the lower half of the MAC West.

Nitz’s early line: NIU - 7.5

Oct. 26 – Eastern Michigan

Last meeting: NIU 49, Eastern Michigan 7 on Nov. 23

Scouting the Eagles: Many thought Eastern Michigan could be a surprise team in the MAC West last season. That didn’t happen as the Eagles took a step back, winning just two games after nearly becoming bowl-eligible in 2011.

Nitz’s early line: NIU -24

Nov. 2 – at UMass

Last meeting: NIU 63, UMass 0 on Nov. 3

Scouting the Minutemen; UMass was expected to have a rough transition to FBS last season, and it certainly was. The Minutemen won just one game and received a 63-0 trouncing at the hands of the Huskies. This year’s game will be played at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.

Nitz’s early line: NIU - 35

Nov. 13 – Ball State

Last meeting: NIU 35, Ball State 23 on Oct. 6

Scouting the Cardinals: NIU has had its hands full with Ball State, an up-and-coming team in the MAC, the past two seasons. Last year, the Cardinals led by nine points in the third quarter. Ball State returns a lot of talent, including 2012 second-team All-MAC quarterback Keith Wenning.

My early line: NIU -3.5

Nov. 20 – at Toledo

Last meeting: NIU 31, Toledo 24 on Nov. 14

Scouting the Rockets: The annual rivalry game once again takes place during the week, and Toledo should be strong once again this year, with players like running back David Fluellen, quarterback Terrance Owens and wide receiver Bernard Reedy coming back. Winning at the Glass Bowl will be a nice challenge.

My early line: Toledo -1

Nov. 26 – Western Michigan

Last meeting: NIU 48, Western Michigan 34 on Oct. 27

Scouting the Broncos: The biggest story of this game will be the return of Sugar Grove native and former Huskie wide receiver P.J. Fleck, who will be concluding his first regular season as Broncos’ head coach. Western Michigan, expected to compete for a division title in 2012, is coming off a disappointing season where the Broncos finished 4-8, leading to Bill Cubit’s firing.

My early line: NIU -13

Dec. 6 – MAC Championship at Ford Field

Last appearance: NIU 44, Kent State 37 (2 OT)

Chances of a 3-peat: Right now, it looks like a three-team race for the MAC West title, with the contenders being NIU, Ball State and Toledo. The back-to-back games against the Cardinals and Rockets will be the Huskies’ two biggest contests of the season. The other side of the league has been more of a revolving door in recent years, and there are probably at least three teams with a shot at a MAC East crown with Ohio and Bowling Green as two of the favorites.

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