NCAA Preview: Illinois Schools - FOX 35 News Orlando

NCAA Preview: Illinois Schools

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The first Mid-American football championship in 28 years was an impressive feat for Northern Illinois and rookie head coach Dave Doeren in 2011.
 
   The Huskies coach isn't about to rest on any laurels in his second season.
 
   "It was a fun year," he said. "It's fun to celebrate the past and learn from it. But it's more fun to create what's going to be in front of us and the history we're going to create."
 
   In 2011, Northern Illinois won at least 10 games for the second straight year, going 11-3 overall with a 23-20 MAC title game victory over Ohio and a 38-20 GoDaddy.com Bowl win over Arkansas State.
 
   "These guys won 11 games last year in back-to-back seasons" Doeren said. "There's only six teams in college football that did that."
 
   Another big season depends on a partial reconstruction for the Huskies.
 
   Gone is quarterback Chandler Harnish, who set 30 Northern Illinois passing records in a four-year career. He's replaced by junior backup Jordan Lynch, who appeared in 13 games and passed for 166 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 267 yards.
 
   The Huskies have only two returning offensive starters, including top receiver Martel Moore (47 catches for 747 yards, 7 TDs) and they're completely rebuilding the offensive line after losing Logan Pegram, the line's lone returnee, to injury the first week of practice.
 
   The defense is better positioned with nine starters back, including lineman Sean Progar. He made a career-best 52 tackles, 22 solo last year. Linebacker Tyrone Clark, a 2010 starter, returns after missing last season with an injury.
 
   Mathew Sims, who kicked a game-winning field goal against Ohio in the MAC championship game, is the lone first-team all-conference returnee.
 
   In addition to a MAC title in the 1980s, the Huskies also appeared in the 2010 conference championship game, falling to Miami 26-21. Northern Illinois opens Sept. 1 at Chicago's Soldier Field against Iowa.
 
   A glance at other teams around Illinois:
 
   ILLINOIS STATE -- The Redbirds earned preseason top 20 rankings in three Championship Subdivision polls and have several top offensive performers back from a third place Missouri Valley Football Conference team. Returnees include senior Tyrone Walker, who led the team with 67 catches for 787 yards and eight touchdowns; junior fullback Jordan Neukirch, who rushed for 1,031 yards; and senior quarterback Matt Brown. Top defensive returnees include first-team all-MVFC linebacker Evan Frierson (66 tackles, 6.5 sacks), defensive end Nate Palmer (46 tackles, 9.5 sacks). The Redbirds open Sept.1 at Dayton.
 
   SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- Playoff fixtures between 2003-09, the Salukis have slumped in recent years. They were third in total offense and defense in 2011 but went 2-6 in MVFC play and 4-7 overall. Leading returnees include sophomore tight end MyCole Pruitt (43 catches for 562 yards, 3 TDs) and the No. 1 and 2 tacklers, senior defensive linemen Kayon Swanson (52 tackles) and Ken Boatright (51). Returning quarterback Kory Faulkner, a junior, threw for 1,477 yards and five touchdowns. Southern Illinois travels to Eastern Illinois for Thursday's season opener.
 
   EASTERN ILLINOIS -- New head coach Dino Babers takes over after four years as a Baylor offensive assistant. He plans to bring an up-tempo attack as the Panthers seek improvement after back-to-back 2-9 seasons. Eastern returns junior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (2,600 yards, 20 TDs) and receivers Chris Wright (42 catches, 735 yards) and Erik Lora, 2010's top receiver who sat out last year with an injury. Seven defensive starters are back, including all-Ohio Valley pre-season pick and team sack leader Artavious Dowdell, a defensive end. The Panthers were tabbed eighth in the nine-team conference.
 
   WESTERN ILLINOIS -- Coach Mark Hendrick starts his third year hoping a rebound is in the offing. The Leathernecks were 2-9 overall and winless in the MVFC, losing their last six by a combined 228-90 margin. There are 39 returning letter winners, including senior Jimmy Holtschlag, a 6-5, 300-pound offensive lineman and first-team preseason pick. Returning defensive lineman Dwight Harris had 37 tackles in 11 games while defensive back Kieron James had 49 tackles, including 29 solos. Western Illinois kicks off Thursday (Aug. 30) at home against Butler.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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