Smith, Scharping and the Huskies are ready for the challenge, though.
“I think we’re as good as any team out there,” Smith said. “Playing against these guys, I see them as equal. ...It’s going to be a challenge. For us to go up against them, It’s a challenge, but it’s going to be the right challenge and it’s the right challenge for us because we have a great team.
“Seeing us at Nebraska last year....We’re going to go out there relentless, smart, tough. It’s going to be a ball game. I don’t think anybody in this country thinks otherwise. If they do, well then, get ready to watch.”
The Huskies are coming off a 2017 season, in which they finished with a 8-5, 6-2 Mid-American Conference record. Smith was a terror for opposing backfields last season. The consensus All-American led the nation nation in tackles for loss (29.5) and tied for sacks (14). Heading into his junior season, Smith said his top goal has been to put on weight while also maintaining his speed.
So far, he’s done a good job. Smith said he weighs around 230 pounds and hasn’t lost any explosiveness. He’ll need every bit of it as opponents will have him prioritized in 2018.
“It’s really about going hard everyday,” he said. “The effort has to be it. Because if you don’t have a lot of effort going against double teams, you’re not going to get very much. You’re just going to quit after the second guy comes. That’s not my type of play.” On offense, the Huskies return quarterback Marcus Childers, who was the 2017 conference freshman of the year. Childers took over mid-way through the season, guiding the Huskies to a 5-2 record during their last seven games of the regular season.
He completed 152 of 265 (57.4 percent) of his throws for 1674 yards and 16 touchdowns. Childers was also a viable option on the ground, finishing as NIU’s second-best rusher with 609 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns on 143 carries.
NIU coach Rod Carey made it clear Childers was the No. 1 guy at the end of last season. Although Carey didn’t label him as the 2018 opening day starter, he did say Childers had an advantage over fellow quarterbacks Ryan Graham, Anthony Thompson and Rodney Hall heading into spring ball.
Graham was the 2017 starter, but saw limited time after suffering an elbow injury that he still hasn’t fully recovered from.
“I don’t see that we have as open of a quarterback competition as obviously last year and the year before,” Carey said. “When that’s a little more settle, that’s a little easier because you’re not rotating guys in with the one, so you’ve got a group together where all 11 of them can work, minus competition battles where people beat each other out. You’ve got a chance for them to all work together.” Asked what the ceiling is, Scharping said there is none.
“You see our opponents and you see what we’re up against,” he said. “We want to prove ourselves that we’re one of the best teams in the country.”
NIU opens the 2018 regular season Saturday September 1 at Iowa.
DeKALB – Northern Illinois All-American defensive end Sutton Smith wore a red NIU polo with a matching hat and a full-smile Monday inside the Yordon Center.
Joined by teammate Max Scharping, both had reason to be happy with NIU football officially beginning spring practice Tuesday morning. The Huskies will conduct 15 total spring practices, including the annual Huskie Bowl scheduled on Saturday April 28.
These practices will be crucial for NIU, which faces a stacked schedule in 2018 with non-conference opponents that include Iowa, Utah, Florida State and BYU, along with three MAC-bowl contenders from last season in Akron, Ohio and Toledo.