The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Today at No. 64: Northern Illinois

Analysis compiled by Matt Murschel.

Coach: Dave Doeren (11-3, second season)


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2011 record: 11-3 (7-1 in Mid-American Conference, first in West Division)

Look back: It’s hard to top what Dave Doeren accomplished in his first season at the helm of Northern Illinois. All he did was win 11-games – for the second straight season – and capture the Mid-American Conference Championship. He led the team to an appearance in the GoDaddy.com Bowl and an impressive 38-20 win over Arkansas State. It was the program’s fourth bowl victory. Which begs the question: What can he do for an encore?

Offensive starters lost/returning: 5/6

Defensive starters lost/returning: 2/10

Key losses: QB Chandler Harnish, RB Jasmin Hopkins, C Scott Wedige, T Trevor Olson, WR Willie Clark, LB Jordan Delegal, LB Pat Schiller

Top returnees: WR Martel Moore, WR Perez Ashford, DB Jimmie Ward, CB Jhony Faustin

Strengths: Sure, losing your top two linebackers hurts but Northern Illinois returns a great deal of talent on the defensive side of the ball. Which is a good thing considering the team finished ninth overall out of 13 team in the Mid-American Conference in total defense. Jordan Delegal and Pat Schiller will be tough to replace – 197 total tackles and 14.5 tackles for loss – but the secondary is intact led by defensive back Jordan Ward. Ward was second on the team in total tackles (100) and tied for second in forced fumbles (1).

Weaknesses: After two high-powered season, the offense will take a major step back in 2012. Quarterback Chandler Harnish leaves the school with tons of records in tow including those for passing, rushing and total offense. He finished last season throwing for 3,216 yards with 28 touchdowns while adding 1,379 yards with 11 touchdowns on the ground. The Huskies will look to Jordan Lynch, as the starting quarterback going into 2012. The redshirt junior spent the past two seasons as the primary backup to Harnish. Running back Jasim Hopkins follows Harnish out the door which leaves the team leaning on Akeem Daniels to carry the load in the backfield. Daniels was third on the team in rushing with 303 yards and three touchdowns. The offensive line, which had been a strength of this team, loses several key starters and will need to reload in 2012.

Outlook: It will be difficult for Doeren to duplicate the success that Northern Illinois found in 2011. The Huskies will have to rebuild the offense around Lynch and Daniels, however several players at receiver including Martell Moore and Perez Ashford, should help the transition. The defense looks to be in better shape than it has been in years which is good because they will need to step up as the offense goes through some of its early season growing pains.

2012 Schedule
Sept. 1 vs. Iowa
Sept. 8 Tennessee-Martin
Sept. 15 at Army
Sept. 22 Kansas
Sept. 29 Central Michigan
Oct. 6 at Ball State
Oct. 13 Buffalo
Oct. 20 at Akron
Oct. 27 at Western Michigan
Nov. 3 UMass
Nov. 14 Toledo
Nov. 23 at Eastern Michigan

Rest of the countdown:

No. 65 Utah State

No. 66 Louisiana-Lafayette

No. 67 Marshall

No. 68 Western Michigan

No. 69 Louisiana Tech