NIU-Akron positional breakdown, prediction

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Daily Chronicle beat writer Jeremy Werner breaks down the Northern Illinois-Akron matchup position-by-position. The Huskies and Zips kick off Saturday at 5 p.m. The game will not be televised. Follow the Huskie Wire live blog beginning about an hour before kickoff.

Quarterback

The Huskies should be in good shape if the Zips are forced to go to the air. Akron sophomore quarterback Patrick Nicely has an efficiency rating of 93.70 and is completing 44.1 percent of his passes. After Chad Spann’s 223-yard performance against Minnesota, NIU coaches think Chandler Harnish could have a big day on the ground and through the air.

Edge: Northern Illinois

Running back
Akron seniors Nate Burney and Alex Burney have split carries and combined for 479 yards. But Spann will look to continue what could be a special season against a shaky Zips defense. Though, look for Cameron Bell to get more work after a solid showing at Minnesota, and Jasmin Hopkins and Ricky Crider should continue to get a few touches.
EDGE: Northern Illinois

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Jeremy LaFrance (17 catches, 232 yards) is the Zips’ top offensive weapon. With no other Akron receiver with more than 10 catches, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound receiver should receive special attention from the Huskies secondary. Martel Moore (13 catches) has been a reliable target for Harnish, but look for Landon Cox to be more involved as MAC play begins.
EDGE: Northern Illinois

Offensive line
The Huskies offensive line held up well during nonconference play, especially against the Big Ten defensive lines, allowing just four sacks and powering the MAC’s top rushing offense through four games. Akron, meanwhile, has an experienced line but gave up 13 sacks and averaged 3.7 yards per rush during nonconference play.
EDGE: Northern Illinois


Defensive line
Shawn Lemon (3.0 SACKS) could give NIU fits off the edge, and Almondo Sewell is one of the best interior lineman in the MAC. The Huskies defensive line held its own in nonconference, now is their time to shine. Though they will be without end Alan Baxter, the Huskies have even more depth withStephen O’Neal and Joe Windsor playing well in spurts.

EDGE: Northern Illinois

Linebackers
Zips linebackers Brian Wagner and Mike Thomas are athletic and move well sideline-to-sideline, combining for 72 tackles through four games. NIU’s linebackers showed better toughness and tackling ability against Minnesota, and Devon Butler is starting to become the playmaker in the middle that coaches have envisioned.
EDGE: Tie

Secondary
NIU has been hit hard by injuries in the secondary. Starting cornerbacks Patrick George (ankle) and Chris Smith (thumb) have already missed time, and star safety Tracy Wilson will miss his second game in a row with a groin injury. But corner Rashaan Melvin (shoulder) returns to give them a boost. Akron’s Manley Waller could bother NIU wideouts despite his diminutive 5-foot-8, 160-pound frame.

EDGE: Northern Illinois

Special teams
Josh Wilber (40.9 yards per punt) continues to punt well after struggles in NIU's opener.Michael Cklamovski gave NIU its first taste of stability in the kicking game with a 2-for-2 field goal and 4-for-4 extra-point performance at Minnesota. But can he do it twice in a row? Akron kicker Igor Ivelilic is 5 of 7 at field goals and 7 of 8 at extra points.
EDGE: Tie

Intangibles
It’s Akron’s Homecoming and they’re celebrating the Zips’ final-seconds victory over NIU in the 2005 MAC Championship game. That could be a mistake. NIU already is pumped for this game, its first step in its quest to return to the MAC Championship.
EDGE: Northern Illinois

PREDICTION:

Northern Illinois 31, Akron 14

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Will the NIU football team play for the MAC title this year?
Yes
No
Too soon to tell