DeKALB – While NFL owners are attempting to reduce the number of preseason games, Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill wouldn't mind the addition of exhibitions to college football.
A preseason prepping against another squad might have calmed Kill's nerves heading into tonight's opener at Iowa State. For now, Kill still has more questions about his team – Did he pick the right starting quarterback? – than answers.
Kill said he's liked what he's seen from his team in intrasquad practices and scrimmages but that, "I don't think anyone knows exactly what their weaknesses or strengths are until you play in a game."
The Huskies return 19 starters, including 11 on defense, so they know a little about their team. The NIU defensive line and running attack again should be strong.
But like every other team in college football, the Huskies lost key contributors and are unsure of how the replacements will handle the pressure of playing in front of 55,000 fans at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa, tonight.
"We just got a young football team," Kill said. "That always makes you nervous. If we were playing at home, it'd be a little bit different. ...We'll just go out there and let it rip and see what happens."
Much of the Huskies preseason speculation has centered around the quarterback position. Kill hasn't name a starter – up for the job are juniors Chandler Harnish and DeMarcus Grady and redshirt freshman Jordan Lynch – and doesn't plan to announce the No. 1 man until gametime.
But the NIU coach has said since training camp started that quarterback was low on his list of worries.
Near the top of that list is the Huskies' field-goal unit.
Freshman Matthew Sim and senior Michael Cklamovski, an Illinois transfer, both have struggled to put the ball through the uprights in practice. But Kill said that's not entirely the kickers' faults.
"Kicking-wise is not our problem right now," Kill said. "I want to make that clear. It's more the getting the snap and the hold and spinning the ball."
Regardless, Kill's confidence, or lackthereof, in his kicking could have significance in a close game.
The Huskies also are playing three new starters on the offensive line: Keith Otis (right tackle), Logan Pegram (left guard) and Scott Wedige (center).
But NIU offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Limegrover said he doesn't fret over playing inexperienced players at a Big 12 stadium.
"I felt real nervous going up to Wisconsin last year with two new starters (on the offensive line) ... It kept me up at night and probably gained 40 pounds leading up to that game," Limegrover said. "But I learned that our defense does a great job day in and day out for preparing you for that kind of game speed and all the different looks and all the different speeds."
NIU also has youthful depth on the offensive line and at linebacker. More concerns that could keep Kill an advocate of preseason exhibitions.
But at least the NIU coach will have answers to some of his team's questions on Friday morning – win or lose.
"On Thursday night, no matter what the outcome is, I can live with it," Kill said. "I just want their best. To this point, they've given me their best. I don't see that changing."