NIU-ISU position breakdown, prediction

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Daily Chronicle beat writer Jeremy Werner breaks down the Northern Illinois-Iowa State matchup position-by-position. The Huskies and Cyclones kickoff the season Thursday in Ames, Iowa, at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on Comcast SportsNet.

NIU coach Jerry Kill still hasn't named a starter in its three-man race, but his decision would be easy if he had Austen Arnaud, Iowa State's dual-threat quarterback. Arnaud's passing production slipped last season (2,792 yards and 10 interceptions in 2008 to 2,015 yards and 13 interceptions last year), but his most important stat, wins, increased (from two to seven).
EDGE: Iowa State

Running back
Both teams have Doak Walker Award candidates. NIU's Chad Span rushed for 1,038 yards and 19 touchdowns last year. ISU's Alexander Robinson totaled 1,195 yards and six touchdowns. Both teams have depth as well.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
NIU senior Landon Cox will be the best receiver on the field and could play on Sundays, and Nathan Palmer shined during training camp. ISU has experienced and lengthy starters (all three are 6-foot-1 or taller).
EDGE: Northern Illinois

Offensive line
NIU will start three new starters on the offensive line and don't have much for depth.  The Huskies average 308 pounds. ISU returns three starters – including second-team All-Big 12 performer Kelechi Osemele – and average 316 pounds.
EDGE: Iowa State

Defensive line
The Huskies feel comfortable rotating eight or nine defensive lineman and will need its smaller front to find ways to penetrate the massive Cyclones offensive line. The Cyclones are deep at defensive tackle but have questions at defensive end.
EDGE: Northern Illinois

NIU has two new starters, while ISU replaces all three starters. The smaller Huskies group could have troubles if the defensive line doesn't eat up blockers.

ISU junior Leonard Johnson could be the best defender on the field on Thursday, and Cyclones head coach Paul Rhoads touts his secondary as the strength of his young, but athletic, defense. NIU has the experience edge but are weakened with returning starter Patrick George doubtful (ankle).
EDGE: Iowa State

Special teams
Jerry Kill raves about ISU kicker Grant Mahoney. He probably wishes the ISU junior could solve his questions at kicker. NIU punter Josh Wilber had a strong camp, but this game could come down to extra points and field goals.
EDGE: Iowa State

Iowa State should have a raucous crowd of 55,000 behind them. And Cyclones fans are excited about the veteran duo of Arnaud and Robinson leading the offense. NIU has played composed in BCS environments recently and shouldn't be spooked by the Big-12 crowd.


Iowa State 24, Northern Illinois 20
If the Huskies can keep a leash on Arnaud and Robinson, they could go blow for blow with Iowa State. But this could come down to kicking, and that's not a good thing for NIU.

(HuskieWire season record 0-0)


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How do you feel about NIU's recruiting class?
NIU couldn't have done better
Huskies went to a BCS bowl in 2012, it's disappointing
Talk to me in three years