Head coach: Joe Novak
Last season: The Huskies were solid on both sides of the ball. They gained national attention with the strong start of running back Garrett Wolfe, whom some considered an early Heisman candidate. But then Wolfe had some very puzzling performances. He rushed for just 25 yards against Western Michigan after averaging about 225 for the previous six games. Then Temple, who trotted out the worst rushing defense in the nation by a large margin, kept Wolfe to only 45 yards. It truly was one of the oddest, yet least reported, stories in the nation. ESPN didn't bother to touch it. My presumption is they were embarassed after hyping a mid-major player so much. With a subpar game from Wolfe, TCU blew out NIU in the Poinsettia bowl.
Best returning player: Junior defensive end Larry English
Offense: Dan Nicholson has always been solid when filling in for now-departed quarterback Phil Horvath. The Huskies shouldn't lose much there, especially since the top wide receivers are coming back. The running game will suffer without Wolfe and stud tackle Doug Free. It will be up to junior Montell Clanton to take over for Wolfe. Clanton has carried 33 times for 204 yards in his career.
Defense: English was a terrific pass rusher in 2006 with 12 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. Novak is confident about the secondary. Overall, the Huskies should be just as good, if not better, than the fourth-rated scoring defense of last season.
Season outlook: In playing Central and Western Michigan -- the top two MAC teams in 2006 -- Akron got a pretty lousy draw for crossover games. But this is the MAC, where teams can rise and sink each season with ease. (That might be what I love most about the conference.) Anyhow, NIU has a moderate nonconference schedule. They'll beat Southern Illinois and Idaho and probably lose to Navy, Wisconsin and Iowa, with the latter being played at Soldier Field.
Crucial game: @ Toledo ... Both teams want to re-enter the MAC West hunt, but there's probably only room for one.
Predicted record: 6-6 (including a loss at Toledo)