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‘O’ is the show as Northern Illinois looks to keep magic alive

Quarterback Jordan Lynch NIU stunned more than few by winning berth Orange Bowl against FloridState. | Getty Images

Quarterback Jordan Lynch and NIU stunned more than a few by winning a berth in the Orange Bowl against Florida State. | Getty Images

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The schedule


31 at Iowa, 2:30


14 at Idaho, 4

21 Eastern Illinois, 6

28 at Purdue, 11


5 at Kent State, 2:30

12 Akron, 4

19 at Central Michigan, 2

26 Eastern Michigan, 2:30


2 at UMass, 11

13 Ball State, 7

20 at Toledo, 7

26 Western Michigan, 6

Key game

Nov. 20 at Toledo. This offensive juggernaut perennially decides the winner of the MAC West. In last season’s meeting, quarterback Jordan Lynch passed for 407 yards and ran for 162.

Key departure

Tight end Jason Schepler. Schepler was a blocking tight end that is in camp with the San Francisco 49ers after signing with the team to be a fullback.

Key arrival

Fullback Rob Sterling. Sterling, a junior, has seen playing time for the first time as a walk-on the last two seasons. But when Sterling arrives at camp, he’ll come to the team as a scholarship player for the first time in his career.

Updated: September 5, 2013 6:53AM

Northern Illinois is a member of the Mid-American Conference, arguably the most offensively driven league in the nation, and its success is tied to what it can do when it has the ball.

Luckily, it returns nearly all of its key offensive personnel from its Orange Bowl team of a season ago.

The Huskies will undergo somewhat of an overhaul on defense, but considering the pressure the offense will face, that’s the unit with the most questions entering training camp.

Will Jordan Lynch best his performance of 2012?

Though it’s hard to imagine the senior quarterback replicating his 2012 season — when he became the first player to pass for more than 3,000 yards and rush for more than 1,500 — this team might need that type of performance if it hopes to match its success.

Lynch has attracted national attention, which should cause opposing defenses to direct even more attention his way. A big key is that Huskies return their entire offensive line. But Lynch, a Heisman hopeful, can’t afford the types of mental lapses that were sprinkled through his 2012 season.

Who will emerge as Lynch’s new go-to targets?

Wide receiver Martel Moore, who had a team-high 75 receptions for 1,083 yards and 13 touchdowns, graduated. All of his receiving numbers at least doubled those of any other player on the team as he accounted for half of the Huskies’ receiving touchdowns.

The likeliest candidate to replace Moore is Tommylee Lewis, who returns for his junior season after catching 48 passes for 539 yards and five touchdowns. The challenge: Moore was a good target at 6 feet and Lewis is only 5-7.

How will Rod Carey fair in his first season as a head coach?

When Dave Doeren left for North Carolina State last season, the decision to promote Carey — then the offensive coordinator — seemed prudent. NIU was hoping to maintain consistency.

Carey is a career offensive-line coach who first started calling plays at the Division I level in the middle of last season. Players seem to like Carey, whom Lynch described as a player’s coach, but the true test will come when Carey oversees game-planning for the first time in his career.

Is left tackle Tyler Loos heathy?

Loos suffered a season-ending knee injury against Toledo. Until then, he had been having a stellar season in his first year starting at left tackle. Carey says Loos is ready for camp and stresses that offseason workouts have helped the line build on last season’s continuity.

Will tailback Akeem Daniels be able to shoulder some of the offensive load?

It’s unfair to judge Daniels from last season, considering Lynch got so many of the Huskies’ rushing attempts. But Daniels proved with his 6.6 yards per carry that he can be productive when called upon.

While Lynch is likely to be the primary rusher again this season, Daniels gives Carey a secondary big-play option. Daniels also had nine rushing touchdowns last season and provides the Huskies a running option in the red zone.

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