2012 Record: 12-1 (8-0 MAC)
Starters returning: 18 total, four offensive, 10 defensive and four specialists
After defeated Kent State 44-37 in double overtime in the MAC Championship Game, Northern Illinois finished the season ranked 15th in the BCS Standings. Because that ranking was higher than that of both the Big East Champion (Louisville at 21) and Big Ten Champion (Wisconsin, unranked) the Huskies were awarded an automatic BCS at-large birth.
Shortly after winning the MAC Championship, head coach Dave Doren accepted the same position at North Carolina State. NIU quickly named offensive coordinator Rod Carey the head coach (no interim).
NIU is the first MAC team to make an appearance in a BCS Bowl. Schools from outside of the automatic qualifying conferences have a 5-2 record all-time in the BCS.
"I'm pretty sure those guys are looking for this to be like a Boise State and Utah, you know those kind of big wins," FSU safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "So we're not trying to let anyone make a name off of us."
Through the air
Player to watch:
QB Jordan Lynch (R-Jr.)
2012 Passing: 222-353 for 2,962 yards, 24 TDs and five interceptions
2012 Rushing: 271 rushes for 1,771 yards and 19 TDs
There is no question, NIU goes as quarterback Jordan Lynch goes. Lynch accounted for 4,773 yards of total offense this season.
The Huskies averaged 235.6 yards per game passing, as Lynch completed 62.9 percent of his passes. NIU allowed just 14 sacks all season long as Lynch was able to escape pressure and improvise on the run.
"They base their system off one guy and that's the quarterback," Joyner said. "He's a pretty good player."
Lynch's top target this season has been senior Martel Moore. The 6-foot, 183-pound X-receiver has hauled in 71 passes for 1,054 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Sophomore Tommylee Lewis has also had a big year, with 43 catches for 478 yards and five scores.
Tailback Akeem Daniels has a pair of touchdown catches, as does wideout [d]Da'Ron Brown[/db].
Pounding the ground
Player to watch:
AB Akeem Daniels (Jr.)
2012 Rushing: 65 rushes for 439 yards and nine touchdowns
Like the NIU passing game, the rushing attack runs through Lynch. He leads the team with 271 rushing attempts for 1,771 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Lynch's longest run of the year is for 88 yards, and he averages 6.5 yards per carry and 136.2 yards per game.
"He's actually a very physical runner," FSU middle linebacker Vince Williams said. "He runs it 30-25 times a game. He's downhill."
As a team NIU averages 5.6 yards per carry, and 250.2 yards rushing per game. Behind Lynch Daniels leads the way with 432 yards. Leighton Settle was having a nice season before being slowed with an ankle injury. Settle has 453 yards and five touchdowns on 101 attempts.
Freshman Keith Harris has found the endzone four times this season.
Player to watch:
S Jimmie Ward (Jr.)
2012 Stats: 90 tackles, three interceptions, 13 passes defended and forced fumble.
NIU is giving up an average of 356.7 yards of total offense per game this season. 139 yards on the ground, and 217.7 passing. Despite the large chunks of yards given up per game, opponents are averaging just 19 points per game against NIU.
As a team the Huskies have 40 sacks, 15 interceptions and recovered 11 fumbles.
Senior defensive ends Alan Baxter (9.5 sacks) and Sean Progar (8.5 sacks) have been wrecking balls for the Huskies this season up front. Junior DE Joe Windsor also has seven sacks of his own.
"They move a lot," sophomore offensive guard Tre Jackson said of NIU's front seven. "So we're basically trying to pick up their technique. They've got pretty good hands so we're just studying the person across from (us) and picking them up."
In the secondary safety Jimmie Ward leads the way with a team-high 90 tackles and three picks. Outside linebacker Tyrone Clark has also put up impressive numbers, with 82 tackles, including 10 for loss.
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