Created:Sunday, August 1, 2010 12:29 a.m.CDT

Stepping forward

Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill has done well in his third season at his previous stops. How far will he take the Huskies in his third season in DeKalb? (Chronicle file photo)

DETROIT – Year 3 has been good to Jerry Kill.

No matter where the third-year Northern Illinois coach has been, whether as a head coach or a coordinator, his third year on campus ended in a winning season.

The numbers don't lie. Kill has established a track record at previous stops for improvement in his third year. As a head coach, Kill is 17-5 in this third season at a school. Add in what he's done as either an offensive or defensive coordinator and that record balloons to 42-7 in his third year with a team.

"It's been pretty good," Kill said at Friday's Mid-American Conference media day at Ford Field in Detroit. "We've been fortunate to do some good things."

In 2003, Kill led Southern Illinois to the FCS playoffs for the first time in 20 years as the Salukis went 10-2 after a 4-8 campaign the season before. That 10-2 season was in his third year with SIU.

With 19 returning starters and coming off back-to-back bowl appearances, the Huskies were picked to win the MAC West. NIU has an experienced defense, a returning 1,000-yard rusher in senior Chad Spann and there has been little turnover on the coaching staff. It appears another big third-year jump could be in order for Kill's team.

"I think you've had a couple of recruiting classes in and the players by that time understand what you want and those kinds of things," Kill said. "I think it's like any organization, whether it's a business or college athletics or whatever. I think it takes people a while to adjust to each other."

Spann provided the best piece of evidence that players and coaches have adjusted to each other and are on the same page in terms of expectations and goals.

"For our summer workouts, the first year coach Kill was here, we had maybe 10 guys stay in May before the team actually came together," Spann said. "Last year we had probably 20.

"This year, we had about 45 guys all throughout May stay and working out, trying to get better."

It's one of a few reasons why optimism is running high in DeKalb and why NIU is favored to play for a MAC title.

"It's kind of like a marriage," Kill said. "You get married, but not everything is perfect the first year or two. You've got to get everybody figured out before you can get things going in the right direction."

Will NIU football win the MAC this season?