CHICAGO – Going up against Big Ten teams is tough enough to begin with, but for Northern Illinois, the challenge is even greater this season.
Both Big Ten opponents on the Huskies’ nonconference schedule will be familiar with NIU. The Huskies face an Iowa team that handed them their only regular-season loss in 2012, as well as a Purdue squad led by former Kent State coach Darrell Hazell, who is hungry for a rematch after last year’s Mid-American Conference Championship loss to the Huskies.
In last year’s season opener against Iowa, quarterback Jordan Lynch was in his first year as the starter after replacing Chandler Harnish, and he impressed Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz by rushing for 119 yards.
“We went into that game last year with tremendous respect for them, knowing that they had graduated a tremendous quarterback,” Ferentz said. “So here we are a year later, they’ve got a Heisman Trophy candidate, replacing a guy who looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate.”
However, Ferentz doesn’t believe his familiarity with Lynch will be an advantage because NIU is just as familiar with his team. Iowa linebacker James Morris said the major difference is many in college football around the country know how good Rod Carey’s team is.
“I wouldn’t say they surprised us last year,” Morris said. “We knew they were going to be good, but they’re certainly not going to surprise anybody this year. People know. The cat’s out of the bag. That’s one way it’ll be different.”
The Huskies finished 12-2 last season; Iowa went 4-8. But for one game, the Hawkeyes had the edge. They’ll try to do it again Aug. 31, and the strategy is simple: stop Lynch.
“We’re working on that right now,” Ferentz said. “Easier said than done.”
As for Purdue, the players might not be familiar with NIU, because the Boilermakers haven’t faced NIU since 2009, but their staff is. Purdue’s new coach, Darrell Hazell, went 0-2 against the Huskies in his two seasons at Kent State. The second loss came in a double-overtime, 44-37 MAC title game defeat at Ford Field in Detroit.
In that game, Lynch dissected the Golden Flashes for 402 total yards and four touchdowns. When NIU goes to West Lafayette, Ind., on Sept. 28, Lynch will be Hazell’s main focus.
“Last year, we wanted him to throw the ball, and not run the ball against us, and he got out and ran the ball against us,” Hazell said. “[Lynch] is maybe one of the best players in the country at his position.”
Hazell isn’t the only member of his staff who has battled against NIU. Greg Hudson, Purdue’s new defensive coordinator, spent the past three seasons as the assistant head coach and linebackers coach at Florida State. His team’s defense held Lynch to just 44 yards rushing in the Orange Bowl, Lynch’s lowest total of the season.
NIU’s matchups against Iowa and Purdue certainly have their similarities as both are road games against Big Ten opponents.
But they’re very different, as well. Though the Huskies will be the ones seeking revenge against Iowa, a team they never have beaten in eight matchups, the Purdue game is an entirely different matter. NIU beat Purdue, 28-21, in 2009 and Hazell certainly will remember last year’s MAC title game when the Boilermakers take the field against NIU on Sept. 28.
“Double overtime. I wanted something special for the players. They had such a great season, and you hate to go out like that.
“That was probably the one I want to get back.”