MIAMI SHORES, Fla. – Northern Illinois was thin at running back at the end of the regular season, and the Huskies won't have too much experience behind Akeem Daniels during the Orange Bowl.
Speaking to reporters after NIU's practice at Barry University in south Florida Wednesday, NIU head coach Rod Carey said Keith Harris Jr. and Leighton Settle won't be available.
Harris has been dealing with an ankle injury, and Carey wouldn't say what Settle's status is, just saying "he won't be playing."
When asked if Settle was still on the team, Carey said "we'll just leave that for another time." Settle hasn't played since the Central Michigan game, and isn't listed on the team's roster in the Orange Bowl media guide.
Prior to the MAC Championship Game, former NIU head coach Dave Doeren said Settle was still dealing with the ankle injury.
Backing up Daniels will be sophomores Giorgio Bowers and James Spencer. Bowers has 12 carries for 64 yards this season, while Spencer has ran the ball twice for 30 yards.
At the start of the season, Daniels wasn't at the top of the depth chart. However, the past two games, he's come up huge. Daniels ran for 112 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Eastern Michigan Nov. 23, and rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown in the Huskies' Mid-American Conference Championship win over Kent State.
Carey certainly didn't understate how big Daniels is to the Huskies' offense.
"Really important. He does everything. He lines up at fullback, tailback," Carey said. "He can line up at quarterback if we wanted him to but we've got a pretty good kid there."
• NIU is currently a 13-point underdog to Florida State and Carey will probably use that as motivation for the game.
Sophomore linebacker Jamaal Bass said this game is a chance for the Huskies to show what their program's really about.
"I don't feel we're getting enough respect," Bass said. "I feel this is an opportunity to go out and showcase what we have."
• NIU has eleven players from the state of Florida, including Bass, who grew up in Miramar — five miles from Sun Life Stadium.
Bass has been to Miami Dolphins and University of Miami games, and played at the Orange Bowl in high school. On New Year's Day, he'll play at Sun Life Stadium for the first time.
"It's a dream come true basically," he said. "I never imagined us going to the Orange Bowl."
– Steve Nitz, firstname.lastname@example.org