This week we check in with Steve Nitz of the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. My questions, his answers ...
1. How does this Northern Illinois team compare to those from the past few seasons?
There are similarities. The team obviously scores a lot of points and features another dual-threat quarterback in Jordan Lynch, who's similar to Chandler Harnish, who started for the Huskies from 2008-11.
What people aren't talking about enough is how good this defense has been. It's a veteran group which has performed very well this year, giving up just 17.9 points per game. Obviously Lynch and the offense get a lot of credit and deservedly so, but I don't think the defense is getting the respect it deserves. I wouldn't expect Toledo to drop 60 points on the Huskies again.
2. Third straight year the West is coming down to NIU and UT. Where does NIU rank this rivalry?
The hardcore NIU fans can't stand Toledo, the Rockets are definitely the Huskies' top rival. NIU and Ball State started playing for the Bronze Stalk Trophy in 2008, but that matchup doesn't compare to when NIU and Toledo face off. It helps that the game has been played for the MAC West title, like you said. We'll see what the rivalry looks like when one of the programs makes a bad coaching hire and goes into the toilet for a little bit.
3. Did people around the football program expect Jordan Lynch to be this good?
All season, NIU head coach Dave Doeren has talked about how he isn't surprised with Lynch's success. However, I highly doubt Doeren expected him to be this good. What's been impressive is how well the offensive line has played in front of Lynch, with five new starters. They've been extremely impressive.
4. From what I've gathered, NIU players have respect for former Huskies linebackers coach and current UT defensive coordinator Tom Matukewicz. What are the players saying this week?
Honestly, his name hasn't really been brought up by any of the players, or media. However, from what people have said about Tuke in the past, I've never heard anything negative. He still holds a nice place in NIU history after coaching the team to a Humanitarian Bowl win in 2010 after former coach Jerry Kill left for Minnesota.
5. UT fans (and the local prosecutor's office) are familiar with Jamaal Bass after he leveled a UT band member last year. Looks like Bass is having a decent season. Is he a marquee guy on NIU's defense?
Not sure I'd call him a marquee player, but Bass has had a solid season. To me, the "marquee" guys on the defense are fellow linebacker Tyrone Clark, safety Jimmie Ward, cornerback Rashaan Melvin and defensive ends Sean Progar and Alan Baxter.
But, Bass has had a nice season in his second year as a starter after what he went through last year and all offseason. He'll be key next season when the two other starting linebackers, Clark and Victor Jacques, are gone.