Team preview: Northern Illinois

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(All information as of June 20, 2007)


The dream remains very much alive in DeKalb.

For the last 11 years, the Huskies have gone into each season under head coach Joe Novak with hopes of winning their first MAC championship.
After going 1-10 and 0-11 in Novak's first two years, the program has made major strides in attempting to achieve that goal.

NIU has been to a pair of bowl games, including last year's trip to the Poinsettia Bowl, over the last three years. It has won shares of four MAC West crowns over the last six years and even played in a MAC title game in 2005, but the conference crown continues to elude the Huskies.
"We have still not won a championship," said Novak, who has produced seven straight winning seasons and sent more than a dozen players to the NFL over that span. "We've been close, but we haven't been able to grab on to it."

Maybe Year 12 under Novak will be the lucky one for the Huskies, who enter the season younger -- only 10 seniors are on the roster -- and without two of the best players to every play in DeKalb.
The biggest loss is all-time leading rusher Garrett Wolfe, who was drafted by his hometown Chicago Bears in the third round of the NFL draft in April. Four-year starter and two-time first-team All-MAC tackle Doug Free was drafted in the fourth round by the Dallas Cowboys.

The duo played a huge role in NIU rolling up 164.77 rushing yards per game, which ranked second in the MAC and 32nd in the nation.
"I don't think we can [replace them]," Novak said.

The Huskies are going to try, likely with a running back by committee approach to offset Wolfe's 148.3 rushing and 167.5 all-purpose yards per game.

The line is young but has three players back with starting experience, and the receiving corps returns everyone, so those are areas of strength.