Season review: NIU closes with flourish
January, 10, 2012
By Scott Powers | ESPNChicago.com
Zumapress/Icon SMIChandler Harnish and NIU may have started slow, but they finished with a flourish.Northern Illinois' 2011 football season had its early downs, but the Huskies turned their year around and ended it with much celebration. Here's a look back on the year that was for the Huskies.
The 2011 season in a nutshell: Northern Illinois dropped three of its first five games under first-year coach Dave Doeren. Few could have expected such a slow start for the Huskies, but then again, few could have also expected such a strong finish for them. Northern Illinois won its last nine games of the season. The Huskies took the MAC West with a surprising blowout over Western Michigan and a 63-60 win over Toledo, defeated Ohio in the MAC championship and beat Arkansas State 38-20 in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Sunday. They finished just outside the final top 25 rankings.
Team MVP: Other than Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, there probably wasn't a better dual-threat quarterback than Northern Illinois' Chandler Harnish in the country this season. Harnish finished 15th in the nation in rushing with 1,379 yards and led all quarterbacks in that category. He also ran for 11 touchdowns. He was 237-of-384 passing for 28 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Defensive MVP: Senior linebacker Pat Schiller led a young and inexperienced defense this season. He had a team-high 115 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and two sacks.
Unsung heroes: Harnish gets a lot of credit for the team's offensive production, but that success also had a lot to do with the Huskies' experienced offensive line. Senior tackles Trevor Olson and Keith Otis, senior guard Joe Pawlak, junior guard Logan Pegram and senior center Scott Wedige started a combined 173 games in their careers.
Highest point of the season: Northern Illinois rallied from a 20-0 second-half deficit to defeat Ohio 23-20 in the MAC championship game. Harnish connected with Martel Moore and Nathan Palmer for touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, and Matthew Sims made up for a missed extra point with a 33-yard field goal to win the game as time expired. It was the Huskies' first MAC title since 1983.
Lowest point of the season: Being routed by Wisconsin 49-7 at Soldier Field wasn't easy to swallow for the Huskies, but their lowest point was falling to Central Michigan a few weeks later. Northern Illinois dropped to 2-3, and its hopes of a MAC championship and even a bowl game didn't appear great at the time.
Quote of the year: "What happened last year? Like I said yesterday, this is where our senior class would leave our legacy, and why not go out the hard way? The only history worth a damn is the one we create today. We had some bad demons we wanted to avenge from last year, but this feels good." -- Harnish after the MAC championship .
Looking ahead: Northern Illinois will have plenty of shoes to fill on offense next season. It loses four starting offensive linemen, a senior starting tailback and fullback, three key senior wide receivers, two senior tight ends and Harnish. The good news is there will be nine defensive starters back.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35