The Zips will conclude a three-game road trip against Northern Illinois on Halloween.
Akron lost its last trip to DeKalb, but there is no way Huskies have forgotten Luke Getsy's connection with Domenik Hixon that stole the MAC Championship from their claws in 2005.
2008 recap: Rarely does a team beat every team it's supposed to, yet not pull off a single upset. There were no surprises in NIU's season, as the Huskies beat up on the MAC doormats and went 0-3 against the MAC West powerhouses. The team relied upon its defense, which was the conference's best in terms of points allowed, yards allowed and passing yards allowed; it was second-best against the run. The unit was led by Larry English, a first-round NFL Draft pick whom Scout.com calls perhaps the best defensive end the MAC has ever seen. The Huskies would have finished with better than a 6-7 record but for the MAC's worst passing game. Freshman Chandler Harnish played quarterback, but he wound up being a better runner than passer. The season ended with a 17-10 loss in the Independence Bowl to Louisiana Tech.
What they lost: English is the glaring loss. NIU lost its top two receivers. Tight end Reed Cunningham is the top returning receiver with only 252 yards last season.
2009 outlook: It seems like the Huskies always have a defensive stud to take over for a departed one. Defensive end Brandon Bice played opposite of English last year and only logged one fewer sack. The linebackers in coach Jerry Kill's 4-3 scheme are also among the conference's best. NIU's top two tacklers are back, defensive backs Mike Sobol and David Bryant. With an unproven receiving corps and a quarterback who has not yet shown he can throw with accuracy, NIU's points will come mostly through the running game. Sophomore Me'co Brown ran well during the spring. If the defense can maintain its level of play in 2009, the offense is sure to catch up -- at least a little. The Huskies should win at least seven games and contend for the MAC West title.
How the Huskies will test the Zips: The Huskies have a strong home-field advantage. Stopping the running quarterback is like solving a Rubik's Cube on crack for J.D. Brookhart. NIU's defense is good enough to keep Akron's offense in check, running or passing.
How the Zips will test the Huskies: The Zips will come into this game with nothing to lose. It's a difficult game at a difficult venue. Akron can play loose with the knowledge that the MAC East title will still be in reach because the Zips play three of their last four at InfoCision Stadium. Plus, there's no way that NIU's defense will be as good as last year -- is there? Without a passing game, NIU does not take advantage of Akron's greatest weakness: the secondary.
Way-too-early prediction: Expect a low-scoring game. Akron's big linemen plug the holes to keep NIU's short, shifty running backs contained. NIU's backfield pressure and solid coverage prevent Akron's passing game from thriving. It comes down to field goals, and the accuracy of Huskies senior Mike Salerno pays off. Akron 13, Northern Illinois 16
I launched my campaign Web site today. Check it out, and look for me in the Stow Fourth of July Parade if you happen to be there.
Props to my art director, Kiel Fleming, for a phenomenal design on the Web site.