NCF Nation: Sean Progar

Northern Illinois season preview

August, 16, 2013
Today we're looking at Northern Illinois, which is coming off a dream season that ended in the Discover Orange Bowl.

Northern Illinois Huskies

Coach: Rod Carey (0-1 overall)

2012 record: 12-2 (8-0 MAC)

Key losses: WR Martel Moore, WR Perez Ashford, DE Alan Baxter, DE Sean Progar, LB Tyrone Clark, LB Victor Jacques, CB Rashaan Melvin, CB Demetrius Stone

[+] EnlargeNorthern Illinois' Jordan Lynch
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Jordan Lynch and the Huskies enter the 2013 season aiming to defend their MAC title and earn another BCS bowl bid.
Key returnees: QB Jordan Lynch, RB Akeem Daniels, LT Tyler Loos, C Andrew Ness, RG Jared Volk, DT Ken Bishop, LB Jamaal Bass, SS Jimmie Ward

Newcomer to watch: WR Malik Mitchell. Mitchell was an ESPN three-star prospect from Milton (Ga.) High, where he hauled in 40 receptions last season for 500 yards and four touchdowns. Mitchell chose the Huskies over fellow MAC schools Toledo and Western Michigan. NIU loses two of its starting wide receivers from last season, and though it still brings back plenty of capable bodies from last year's unit, the 6-foot-4, 181-pound Mitchell is capable of potentially earning his way onto the field, where he will clearly be playing with a strong quarterback.

Biggest games in 2013: Aug. 31 at Iowa, Sept. 28 at Purdue, Oct. 5 at Kent State, Oct. 19 at Central Michigan, Nov. 13 vs. Ball State, Nov. 20 at Toledo

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The biggest question mark facing NIU in 2013 is, simply, the Huskies' defense. NIU loses seven starters from last year's underrated unit, which was overshadowed by Lynch and the often-electrifying offense while allowing just 19.9 points per game -- good for second in the MAC and 21st nationally. The Huskies need to replace three starters up front, three of their linebackers and two starters from their secondary, including three of their top four sack leaders from 2012.

Forecast: NIU did things last year that few believed were possible for a MAC team. The Huskies finished 12-2 and proved to be one of the final BCS-busters of the BCS era, but their 31-10 loss to Florida State in the Discover Orange Bowl sent them into the offseason hungry for more.

Oh, and that defeat also left Carey with a less-than-ideal 0-1 career coaching mark, something he has joked about publicly this offseason.

Still, Carey brings back enough talent to field a team that enters 2013 as the preseason MAC favorite, as NIU is 23-5 over the past two seasons.

Perhaps most importantly, the team brings back Jordan Lynch, who finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting last year before a less-than-stellar showing against the Seminoles (15-41 passing, 220 total yards) ended his season on a down note. The 6-foot, 216-pound Lynch enters his redshirt senior season as a player the Huskies have promoted for this year's Heisman, and after he rushed for 1,815 yards and passed for 3,138 last season -- while tallying 44 total touchdowns -- why shouldn't they?

What's more, the same men return who helped protect him up front last season, along with a deep receiving corps that features five players who caught at least 11 passes last season. The conference's top offense from 2012 should not miss a beat in 2013.

The challenges will come on defense, where the Huskies return just four starters from last year's unit. Still, Carey has said he is confident in a lot of the first-team newcomers, several of whom have seen extensive playing time despite not starting.

Can NIU mount a repeat of last year's run and crash the BCS once again, in the system's final season? Due to outside factors, that might be asking a lot for a second straight season. (Welcome back off the bowl ban list, Ohio State. ... Good to see you again, Big 12 heavyweights.)

Still, the Huskies boast all of the necessary parts to help Carey build up that record and end his first full year with another conference title for the program.

Video: Northern Illinois' Sean Progar

December, 28, 2012

Northern Illinois defensive end Sean Progar talks about stopping Florida State's run game and what an Orange Bowl win would mean.
The preseason expectations were there for the Huskies. They were favored from the outset to reach the MAC championship game. But adversity struck right away. Coach Jerry Kill decided to go with DeMarcus Grady at quarterback in the opener against Iowa State. He was not productive, so Kill benched him and went with Chandler Harnish. That proved to be a wise move, though there was another bit of adversity to overcome. Kill was hospitalized for nearly a week after a setback following gallbladder surgery, but returned in time to watch his team lose to Illinois. After that 1-2 start, Northern Illinois started its rally with a win over Minnesota and ended up winning nine straight en route to the MAC title game. The Huskies got their first ranking since 2003 and were heavy favorites to beat Miami (Ohio). But they fell short after the RedHawks threw the game-winning touchdown pass with 33 seconds remaining. Still, they are headed to their third straight bowl game, unprecedented for the program. Kill deserves all the credit, but he won’t be there to coach the team in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl against Fresno State. He accepted a job at Minnesota, leaving Northern Illinois after three seasons. Still, he left the program in far better shape than he found it. Despite the disappointment over the way the season ended, the Huskies have a chance to win a program-record 11th game.

Offensive MVP: RB Chad Spann. The MAC Offensive Player of the Year broke the school’s record for single season rushing touchdowns with 20 and has gained 1,293 yards on 243 carries. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry, and Northern Illinois ranks No. 7 in the country in rushing offense.

Defensive MVP: LB Alex Kube. This is a tough one, because Sean Progar, Sean Smith and Jake Coffman had outstanding seasons. But Kube led the team in tackles, and Kill has had nothing but glowing remarks about him, saying he has made the most strides of anyone and developed into an “excellent leader.”

Turning point: Losing in the MAC title game has to be a turning point. The Huskies were so close, the way they were in 2005 before losing. How the team responds against the Bulldogs, without their head coach, is going to be important to watch.

What’s next: Northern Illinois plays Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl on Dec. 18 and must begin the search for a new head coach.