Location: DeKalb, Illinois | Coach: Rod Carey (37-20, fifth season at NIU) | Record: 1-1 | Ranking: None
OFFENSIVE RATING: 5
Offensive averages/national rank
DEFENSIVE RATING: 6
Defensive averages/national rank
SPECIAL-TEAMS RATING: 3
Special-teams averages/national rank
Why you may need the Rolaids
1. It's already becoming a broken record three weeks into the season, but Northern Illinois runs a offense similar to those of Arkansas State and Oregon. The Huskies will try to play with tempo, and will throw wide receiver screens until Nebraska proves it can stop them. NIU's offense may not be quite as effective as the units from Arkansas State and Oregon, but the Huskies' strengths line up pretty well against Nebraska's weaknesses on defense. Backup quarterback Daniel Santacaterina was solid last week against Eastern Illinois, and after a tight battle through fall camp, he's not much of a drop-off from Game 1 starter Ryan Graham.
2. Northern Illinois has had no problem in recent years with going into Big Ten stadiums and giving the hosts all they want. The Huskies beat Northwestern 23-15 three years ago in Evanston, won 30-27 at Iowa and 55-24 at Purdue in 2013, lost 18-17 to the Hawkeyes in 2012, and in 2015 forced five turnovers in a 20-13 loss at No. 1 Ohio State. Mix an 11 a.m. kickoff Saturday with a potentially sleepy Memorial Stadium crowd, and the conditions are there for NIU to once again make things difficult for a Power Five conference foe.
3. NU coaches and players have remained positive and said all the right things through two weeks, but you have to wonder just how fragile the confidence is for a defense that has been exposed first by a Sun Belt team and then a Pac-12 power in back-to-back weeks. If Northern Illinois gets off to a hot start offensively, will the Huskies be able to take advantage of a tense situation on the Husker sideline and in the stands?
Why you might chill
1. Northern Illinois' defense has been very good through two games, but the Huskies haven't exactly taken on any offensive juggernauts. Boston College, which beat NIU by a field goal two weeks ago, ranks 117th in scoring and 108th in total offense through two games, and the Eagles have had one of the worst offenses in the FBS since Steve Addazio took over as head coach in 2013. And Eastern Illinois, the team NIU beat 38-10 last week, is 103rd out of 111 FCS teams in total offense and 82nd in scoring.
2. This will be NIU's first road game of the season and by far the most difficult environment the Huskies will encounter this year. It's going to be hot, it's going to be loud, and if Nebraska can seize control early on, maybe the Huskies, at least subconsciously, start to wilt a bit. Of NIU's 22 projected starters Saturday, 14 enter the game with five or fewer starts. That includes three of the Huskies' four starting defensive linemen.
3. Northern Illinois has been one of the most snake-bitten teams in the nation going back to the start of last season. The Huskies lost two triple-overtime games last year and were wrecked by injuries, and already this season they've seen their starting quarterback go down with a reported elbow injury in the season opener and had what would have been a game-tying field goal bounce off the crossbar in the closing seconds of the 23-20 home loss to Boston College. No one is rooting for any Huskies to get hurt, but when you're unlucky, you're unlucky. Can Nebraska capitalize on the bad breaks that seem to follow NIU around?
By the numbers
The number of wins Northern Illinois has over Big Ten teams since Rod Carey took over as head coach at the end of the 2012 season. The Huskies are 3-1 against the Big Ten since then, with wins over Iowa, Purdue and Northwestern. Perhaps more impressive, NIU's only Big Ten loss in that stretch is a 20-13 defeat at then-No. 1 Ohio State in 2015.
The number of Nebraskans on the NIU roster. Omaha Westside grad Christian Hagan, a senior, has been the Huskies' top kicker since late in his freshman season and is ninth on NIU's all-time scoring list with 238 points. Hagan was a first-team Super State selection as a senior at Westside, when he set the Class A playoff record with four field goals in one game. He also set Westside records for completions, yards and passing touchdowns as the Warriors' quarterback.
The number of quarterbacks Northern Illinois used last year during a 5-7 season that saw the Huskies lose two triple-overtime games and end a streak of six consecutive appearances in the MAC championship game. The Huskies are already on their second quarterback this season after starter Ryan Graham was injured in the season opener against Boston College.
Edward Carifio is the sports editor for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. He also covers NIU football for the newspaper.
After such a close battle through fall camp, is there a quarterback controversy brewing now that Daniel Santacaterina has moved in as the starter after Ryan Graham’s injury?
Well, the controversy is on hold for at least a couple weeks. Carey said Graham is out for sure Saturday and Santa is the starter. Now, in two weeks when the Huskies play their next game at San Diego State, that could be a whole different story.
My gut says the job is Graham's when he comes back, but he may have a much shorter leash. A lot of this depends on what Santacaterina does Saturday. Something tells me he'll have a more difficult time with Nebraska's defense than Eastern Illinois'.
NIU’s defense has played very well statistically through two games and seems to be the strength of the team, but is it tough to get a gauge on just how good that unit is after playing a Boston College team that has struggled offensively the last few seasons, and an FCS foe in Eastern Illinois?
The defense is definitely a strength, but I wouldn't go attaching words like lights-out or anything. They make plays for sure, and have forced four turnovers already. But they commit a lot of penalties, and the secondary can make an extraordinary play one second and then a really bone-headed play the next.
Seems like a silly question so early in the season, but is Rod Carey’s seat getting warm at all after seasons of 5-7 and 8-6? Especially after all the early success he was able to have?
Don't forget that 8-6 season saw them reach the MAC Championship game, and injuries have decimated (figuratively, not literally) this team and the quarterback position specifically the past two years. There's also the fact that Northern Illinois has had no budget, the school is in dire fiscal straights, and buying him out was probably impossible financially, even if that's what the school wanted to do.
My gut tells me as long as the team is in that seven- to nine-win range every year and, more important, in the MAC conversation, then Carey's job is safe.
NIU has surely seen Nebraska’s results the last two weeks. Just how good does this team feel about its chances in Lincoln?
Good luck getting a coach to get specific about that, or the players. Carey dropped the usual about how the team feels good and everything.