DeKALB – Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill has said that this is one of the youngest teams he ever has had as a coach. Take one look at the depth chart and prom tuxes come to mind before college caps and gowns.
The Huskies have 12 redshirt or true freshmen and 18 sophomores on their depth chart for Saturday's season-opener at Wisconsin. All of that youth can cause coaches to add to whatever list of concerns they have, chief among them for Saturday being how the young Huskies will handle playing in front of 80,000-plus fans at notoriously loud Camp Randall Stadium.
"You can go through practice and you can simulate the game all you want during practice but it's not like going to play Wisconsin in front of [80,000] people that have been partying all day and you don't play until [6 p.m.]," Kill said. "There's no way you can simulate that."
On top of that, as much as NIU looks to sophomore quarterback Chandler Harnish for leadership, he reminded everyone at Tuesday's news conference that Saturday will be the first time for him to play in front of crowd that large.
"To tell you the truth, I haven't done it because last year I was hurt when we went to Tennessee," Harnish said. "We played at Minnesota [in 2008]. Minnesota had about 45,000 and this is about double that size almost.
"It's going to be a different experience but I assume it's going to be a really fun time and I can't wait for it."
NIU went through its routine to prepare for a loud stadium by pumping in music and noise at practice at Huskie Stadium. But, like Kill said, there is very little way to know how three true freshmen expected to see a good amount of playing time – wide receivers Perez Ashford and Martel Moore and defensive end Alan Baxter – will handle the atmosphere.
Moore does come from Warren High School in San Antonio, Texas, and Ashford played in the highly touted "Big 33" game between Ohio and Pennsylvania high school all-stars, which Kill said works in NIU's favor for Saturday.
"Some of them come from very good programs and have played in front of quite a few people," Kill said. "That makes a little bit of difference."
But even if the freshmen don't find success against the Badgers, Kill is anxious to see what the young players can do throughout the season.
"You can't buy enough experience," Kill said. "But you can't get experience standing on the sidelines, either. There's two ways to look at that."