NCF Nation: Me'co Brown

Jerry Kill admits Northern Illinois progressed faster than he thought it would when he took the job two years ago.

[+] EnlargeJerry Kill
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesKill's Huskies are one of the top teams in the MAC's West Division.
At that point, the team was coming off a disappointing 2-10 season that featured multiple injuries to key players. Kill wasn’t sure what to expect, so he braced himself for a rebuilding process.

“When you come off a 2-10 season, you don’t know where the confidence of the kids is,” Kill said. “We’re still going through the transition to be honest with you. I don’t think in college football until you have four recruiting classes that you don’t really develop an identity. I thought that by year three we might be able to get into a bowl game.”

But the Huskies went to two bowl games in Kills first two seasons and were in the race for the West Division in the Mid-American Conference.

With Central Michigan and Western Michigan in transition and Toledo building with young players, the 2010 season might be as good as any for the Huskies to ascend to the top of the conference.

“Our best years are still ahead of us,” Kill said. “I think years four and five we should have a really, really good team. But we’re building some depth and I look for us to be better than we were a year ago. I thought we got better from the first year I was here to the second and I think we’ll definitely be better than what we were last year. We’ve got more talent, more speed and more athleticism.”

The Huskies have 42 redshirt freshmen and sophomores on their spring roster and signed a class of 26 players, 22 of which are true freshmen. With youth comes competition. Kill said his goal in the past two recruiting classes was to get better talent than he did the year before. He feels like he’s done that especially at the running back and quarterback positions.

Starting quarterback Chandler Harnish is questionable for spring football as he continues to rehab the right knee he injured midway through the 2009 season. Because of that, Kill signed quarterback Casey Weston from Northwest Mississippi Junior College. Weston holds Northwest Mississippi JC records for career passing yards (4,943), completions (394) and attempts (695). He also threw 42 touchdowns during his career. Kill said Weston gives the Huskies immediate relief if Harnish is injured. Harnish will be the starter in the spring if he can play, but if he can’t, the competition is open.

“He’s doing some things in the offseason, but that’s a big question mark,” Kill said of Harnish’s status. “That’s why we recruited a junior college quarterback that’s very talented. Because if something happened with Chandler, I want to make sure we have a guy that’s been underneath center.”

Kill also noted that last year’s backup DeMarcus Grady has been progressing and that redshirt freshmen A.J. Hill and Jordan Lynch also could emerge in the competition.

But Kill said he wants his team to establish an identity as a balanced offense.

Last season, the running game dominated behind senior Chad Spann. The Huskies added Jasmin Hopkins, who was the National Junior College Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Year after leading the NJCAA in rushing with 1,931 yards. And he’ll fight for time with Me'co Brown, Ricky Crider, Cameron Bell and Antione Kirkland. Brown was the primary backup last year, but family problems and injuries limited him late in the year. Kill made sure to note that Brown’s issues were personal and were not because of disciplinary issues.

Kill said even though it looks like he has a crowded backfield, he thinks the competition will only make the team better.

“I want competition,” Kill said. “You get good when you develop depth and athleticism and you don’t have to put up with anything, so to speak. And people have to compete everyday. That’s why USC is special. They have lots of good players. We’re certainly not USC, but we want to have as many good players as we can to create competition.”

What to watch in the MAC this spring

February, 16, 2010
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each team in the MAC heading into the spring:

Akron Zips

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

" New head coach Rob Ianello takes over an Akron squad that hasn’t had a winning season since 2005. The Zips struggled last year averaging 19.25 points per game on offense and gave up 28.75 points per game on defense. This spring's goal will be to find playmakers to bring both sides of the ball on par with the rest of the league.

" The Zips had a running back by committee system last year, but none of their backs had more than 250 yards. Two of the team’s top three rushers are gone and the rest are freshmen and sophomores. Ianello signed five tailbacks in his first class.

" The defense struggled to put pressure on the quarterback as the Zips finished with 11 sacks. Opponents scored touchdowns on 66 percent of opportunities inside the red zone. Shoring up the defensive line and the linebackers will be an emphasis this spring.

Ball State Cardinals

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

" Sophomore quarterback Kelly Page tries to regain the starting role after missing the second half of the season with thumb surgery. The Cardinals were winless with him in the lineup, but he improved as the season progressed. Redshirt freshman Aaron Mershman will vie for the role in the spring before highly-touted recruit Keith Wenning joins the competition in the fall.

" Running back MiQuale Lewis and tight end Madaris Grant are both awaiting word from the NCAA about a possible sixth season. Both are team leaders and are the top players at their respective positions.

" Losing defensive coordinator Doug Graber is a blow to the Cardinals. Although he was only with the team for a season, the defense was one of the team's bright spots and got better as the season progressed. The Cardinals have yet to name a replacement.

Bowling Green Falcons

Spring practice starts: March 19

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:

" Replacing quarterback Tyler Sheehan will be one of the biggest chores since he took 95 percent of the snaps for the past three seasons. Aaron Pankratz was the backup last year and the leader heading into spring. But redshirt Matt Schiltz, walk-on Kellen Pagel and December enrollee Caleb Watkins will all be in the mix.

" Freddie Barnes was the Falcons best offensive weapon and it will be hard to find a replacement. Overall, the Falcons lose three of their top five receivers, and one of those returning is running back Wille Geter.

" Rebuilding the defense will be a priority after losing seven players, including the entire line backers corps and three-fourths of the secondary. There is a lot of young talent waiting, it is just a matter of gelling during spring ball.

Buffalo Bulls

Spring practice starts: March 20

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

" Losing quarterback Zach Maynard, who decided to transfer last month, hurt their offense. He would have been the starter heading into the season, but now sophomore Jerry Davis and redshirt freshman Alex Dennison will duke it out this spring before two freshmen arrive in August.

" The Bulls have to replace top receivers Naaman Roosevelt and Brett Hamlin and have several candidates to do so. Juniors Terrell Jackson, Marcus Rivers and Ed Young, and redshirt freshmen Fred Lee and Alex Neutz will compete for playing time.

" New head coach Jeff Quinn is going to install a more wide-open offensive system at Buffalo, however finding the right guys to play it will be a challenge. There are athletes remaining at Buffalo, but the loss of players such as Maynard and Roosevelt will make the transition slower.

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