- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Preseason camps open in less than a month, and it will be time for the season before you know it. To get you prepared, we're taking an early look at each Week 1 matchup in the Big Ten. Iowa's schedule gives the Hawkeyes a chance to get off to a good start in 2012, but they can't look past anybody. Here's what's in store for Iowa in the opener.
(For more Week 1 matchups, click here).
Week 1 opponent: Northern Illinois (at Soldier Field)
Coach: Dave Doeren (second season, 11-3)
2011 record: 11-3 (8-1 MAC, won GoDaddy.com Bowl)
Returning starters: 12 (four offense, eight defense)
About the Huskies: Former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren successfully followed Jerry Kill as Northern Illinois won 11 games for the second straight season and captured its second straight bowl game. The Huskies won their first outright MAC title since 1983 and carry a nine-game winning streak into 2012. The team set school records in points and yards, finishing 12th in the FBS in scoring and 11th in total offense. However, the Huskies must overcome the loss of MAC offensive player of the year Chandler Harnish, who was ninth in the FBS in individual offensive production a year ago. Junior Jordan Lynch looks to take over at quarterback. Doeren says Lynch may actually be faster and have a stronger arm than Harnish. The offense could take a step back in '12 because it returns just four starters, including only one offensive lineman (left guard Logan Pegram). But the defense does bring back eight starters, including free safety Jimmy Ward, who collected 100 tackles last season.
Random factoid: Doeren's college football career has roots in Iowa. He played at Drake University in Des Moines for four years and began his coaching career there, overseeing linebackers and rising to defensive coordinator between 1995-97.
Series with Iowa: The Hawkeyes lead 7-0. Iowa won the last meeting in 2007, also at Soldier Field, by a score of 16-3.
Totally unscientific percentage chance Iowa wins: 62 percent. Don't underestimate Northern Illinois. Kill built a solid foundation in DeKalb before taking the Minnesota job, as this program has been to four straight bowl games. This is technically a home game for the Huskies, though Iowa fans are sure to fill up a large portion of the stands in Chicago. A highly potent offense could spell trouble for the Hawkeyes' young and inexperienced defensive front. But while the NIU defense should improve in its second year under Doeren, James Vandenberg and his receivers ought to be able to exploit a unit that allowed more than 30 points and nearly 250 passing yards per game a year ago. Give Iowa the edge on overall talent. But don't be surprised if this is a close game throughout.
4dDan Murphy and Austin Ward