There is no Garrett Wolfe or Michael Turner in the backfield. There are no pre- or postseason All-Americans like lineman Doug Free or wide receiver Sam Hurd. And though the name Montell Clanton catches the attention of football fans from the Rock River Valley, he’s yet to make a name for himself outside of his Rockford Guilford region.
With schedule at bottom of story.
There is no Garrett Wolfe or Michael Turner in the backfield.
There are no pre- or postseason All-Americans like lineman Doug Free or wide receiver Sam Hurd.
And though the name Montell Clanton catches the attention of football fans from the Rock River Valley, he’s yet to make a name for himself outside of his Rockford Guilford region.
Nevertheless, Northern Illinois head coach Joe Novak continued to stress how much he "likes this team’s chances" during Tuesday’s press conference in DeKalb, even though he admitted this year’s squad is full of "a bunch of no-names right now."
"We’ve got some talented youngsters here," Novak added, "but they haven’t really done anything yet. We think they will."
This year’s team does have 15 starters back, including defensive captain Larry English and the wide receiver-tight end brother tandem of Britt and Brandon Davis. But there is still the notion that the Huskies have some big shoes to fill this season after last year’s NCAA D-IA leading rusher, Wolfe, and one of NIU’s all-time best offensive lineman, Free, moved on to the NFL.
Quarterback Dan Nicholson, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound junior, started five games in relief of Phil Horvath the past two seasons, throwing 11 TDs and completing almost 57-percent of his passes. But even the Huskies’ clear-cut starting QB knows he still has to prove himself in the long haul.
"We’re ready to go; I’m ready to go. I know I’ve got to show what I can do still, but the time is just about here, and I’m ready," said Nicholson, who has played 13 games during his first two seasons. He completed 62 percent of his passes in ‘05, but only connected on 52 percent in ‘06. "I’ll be back in form. I’m confident in the weapons we have here, and in my abilities."
One of the weapons Nicholson spoke of is Clanton, a 5-9, 185-pound junior who is being called the starter, but who knows he will be sharing the duties. Novak insisted that no matter how well Clanton looks early on, at least sophomore Justin Anderson (5-11, 218-pound) and freshman Chad Spann (5-10, 189-pound) will see time in the backfield.
Clanton is fine with that, though he shows confidence that the job will soon be his alone.
"I’ll be happy regardless, as long as we’re winning games. But I think I’ll be the one," said Clanton, who was the NIC-9’s leading rusher two years ago and his coming off late-season knee surgery last year. "It’s just about me going out there and proving myself again. Our whole team has to go out and prove itself. We’ve all got the same ideas and goals."
One of those goals, according to English, is to knock off a Big Ten team this year, and they’re hoping they won’t have to wait too long for that one to come to fruition. English, who tied a school record with 12 sacks last year, is looking to Saturday’s season-opener against Iowa at Soldier Field as a great chance for himself and the Huskies to shine.
"Nobody’s guaranteeing any victories in the locker room or anything like that, but we’re really confident we can win this game. We’ve got a lot of games we can win this year," said English, the 6-3, 255-pound junior defensive end. "We’ve all got a little chip on our shoulders after last year. It will come out soon enough."
The Huskies were picked to win the MAC West Division in the 2006 preseason poll, but they went on to finish third with a 5-3 league record. And although they secured their seventh straight winning season with a 7-6 mark, they were blown out 37-7 by TCU in the Dec. 19 Poinsettia Bowl.
That was the last time they stepped onto the football field as a team.
And although they’re picked to finish second-to-last in the MAC West this year, they are clearly ready to move on, and they’re clearly hoping to move up.
"Finally it’s here. Finally a chance to forget about what happened, and move on and up," English said.
"We’ve seen all that preseason stuff, and we know what everybody thinks of us," Nicholson added. "Bring it on. We’re ready to prove ‘em all wrong."
College reporter Jay Taft can be reached at 815-987-1382 or email@example.com.
— Iowa at NIU (at Soldier Field), 2:30 p.m.
— Southern Illinois at NIU, 6:30 p.m.
— Eastern Michigan at NIU, 11 a.m.
— NIU at Idaho (in Moscow, Idaho), 4 p.m.
— NIU at C. Michigan (in Mt. Pleasant, Mich), 11 a.m.
— NIU at Temple (in Philadelphia), Noon
— W. Michigan at NIU, 3 p.m.
— NIU at Wisconsin (in Madison), TBA
— NIU at Toledo, 6 p.m.
— Kent State at NIU, 3 p.m.
— NIU at Navy (in Annapolis, Md.), 2:30 p.m.
— Ball State at NIU, 3 p.m.