Last spring, Northern Illinois football coach Dave Doeren was just getting a feel for his new program. To him, it was more of an educational period.
This year, the second-year coach learned a lot more about his players by the time spring practice rolled around.
“The biggest thing for me is I know the players. I know their strengths, I know their weaknesses, I know their temperaments,” Doeren said during Wednesday’s Mid-American Conference coaches teleconference. “I know their buttons to push. They know me, they know my routine, they know my expectations.
“I think there was much more of a feeling out period and an educational period going on last year, where they were learning our systems and learning our expectations. We were learning what they can and can’t do within those systems.”
Doeren said that the team’s biggest challenge will be replacing the Huskies’ departed core of linemen. The team lost four starters from last year’s line – tackles Trevor Olson and Keith Otis, guard Joe Pawlak and center Scott Wedige.
One position Doeren isn’t concerned with is quarterback, where junior Jordan Lynch will replace 2011 MAC MVP Chandler Harnish.
Doeren said that Lynch has “home run ability” when running the football, and that he’s faster than Harnish.
“The quarterback position, Jordan Lynch is going to take over and do a phenomenal job, and I’m not going to put any undue pressure on him, but I’m going to tell you he’s really playing well with a lot of energy,” Doeren said. “He’s got everybody’s respect.”
The only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, Lynch and redshirt freshman Matt McIntosh, were able to take all the reps during spring practice. In the fall, the Huskies will add three incoming freshman – Matt Williams (Geneva), Johnny Eagan (Wautoma, Wis.) and Drew Hare (Fort Zumwalt, Mo.).
Doeren did say that McIntosh improved as the spring progressed.
“I thought the last week of practice for him was his best week,” Doeren said. “He’s just going to get better with practice and reps.”
New faces, new places: While Doeren was new in the MAC last season, this year there are three new coaches in the conference – Terry Bowden (Akron), Matt Campbell (Toledo) and Charley Molnar (Massachusetts).
Bowden, who spent the three previous years at Division II North Alabama and was the coach at Auburn from 1993-98, takes over a program that has won just one game in each of the past two seasons.
“We have to start from scratch,” Bowden said. “I’ve never had a challenge like this one in the five other schools I’ve been a part of.”
Molnar is also faced with a uphill climb of his own, as he’s leading the Minutemen in their transition from the Football Championship Subdivision.
The offensive coordinator at Notre Dame the past two seasons, Molnar has had stops in the MAC at Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State and Western Michigan.
“I’m kind of proud of that,” Molnar said of his MAC history. “From the time I was a young coach my goal was to get into the Mid-American Conference and be a head coach in that league. Now that I’ve finally gotten there, I’m really excited.”
The benefits of an indoor facility: NIU will gain a number of advantages when the Chessick Practice Center is completed. The school hopes the building will be ready by August 2013.
Teams that have indoor facilities have the benefits of being able to practice inside at any time, something that also helps recruiting.
At Akron, Bowden is one MAC coach that has the advantage of an indoor practice facility with the Stile Athletics Field House.
He said his team was able to work indoors for 17 of the 20 practices he held this spring.
It’s also something he can sell to high school prospects as he hopes to turn around Akron’s fortunes.
Akron’s football field at the Stile Athletics Field House is 120 yards long. The Chessick center will also feature a full 120-yard field.
“You’re selling a ‘wow’ factor to recruits,” Bowden said of having an indoor facility. “If you recruit a little bit in the south like all of us do a little bit in this conference, and you have players that worry about weather, that’s valuable.”