With a record-setting leader, a young protégé and many key weapons returning, the group is hoping to lead Northern Illinois back to Ford Field for the Mid-American Conference Championship in 2011.
Senior Chandler Harnish was a first team All-Mid-American Conference selection, the first Huskie quarterback to receive the honor, last season after compiling a school-record 3,366 total yards of offense and 28 touchdowns.
The Bluffton, Ind., native closed 2010 as the MVP of the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl to cap his record-setting junior season. His 2010 numbers and No. 11 national rank in passing efficiency, put Harnish on the preseason Watch Lists for the Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Quarterback Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year honor.
“The expectations are very high, not just for myself, but for the team in general,” Harnish said. “The MAC Championship is the only thing in our minds. If we’re able to complete that goal, many individual goals will follow.”
Fans shouldn’t expect Harnish’s numbers to drop this season with the arrival of head coach Dave Doeren and offensive coordinator Matt Canada. At DeKalb Football Media Day on Aug. 9, Doeren said,“Chandler bought in the day I walked in the office and that part I really appreciate. He’s a consummate team guy.”
“It’s not very often you get a new job with nine seniors returning, including a fifth-year senior like Chandler,” Canada said. “Obviously Chandler is the leader of that group and he did a great job last season.
“He’s a great leader and the kids follow him and they do a great job responding to the way he leads. He’s everything you want as far as a leader. He wants to be good, he’s a student of the game and certainly a great guy to have lead the team.”
In the multiple offensive sets the Huskies use, it’s no doubt that Harnish will be a primary weapon for Northern Illinois in 2011. The rest of the quarterback corps includes redshirt sophomore Jordan Lynch and three true freshmen.
Lynch played in nine game, including the MAC Championship, in 2010. The native of Chicago only made six pass attempts during the season, but completed four, including one for a touchdown at Ball State. Lynch did most of his damage on the ground as he finished the season with 362 yards and three touchdowns.
He has been working with the No. 2 offense during fall camp and will be available to spell Harnish like he did last year. Canada sees the improvement in Lynch’s development as a passer.
“Jordan is throwing the ball well and I think he’s really coming on,” Canada said. “If you look back to where he was early in the spring with his decision-making, it’s improved a lot. He’s now throwing the ball well and putting it where it needs to be, so I’ve been really happy with the way he’s playing.”
Lynch feels confident about his decision-making as well.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot in reading defenses – seeing where the safeties go and seeing where to throw the ball,” he said. “I’m releasing the ball quicker and I’m not pitter-patting my feet anymore. It’s 1-2-3 throw now.”
Leadership is not an issue at the quarterback position, with Harnish at the forefront. But Lynch recognizes his leadership role as well.
“Right now if Chandler was to go down I’d be the one to step in, so I have to earn respect from all guys on the field,” he said. “I think I’ve done that with work ethic, being on the field early, hanging out with the receivers and building chemistry with them.”
The relative unknowns for the season are freshmen quarterbacks Matt McIntosh, Devin Rose and Sean Strehl. At the DeKalb Football Media day, Doeren declared McIntosh as the No. 3 quarterback, behind Lynch on the depth chart.
“They’re all working at it right now,” Canada said. “There’s a lot to put on a quarterback at the beginning of camp. They’re all good kids, working hard, learning as much as they can and fighting to get better everyday.”
There is no doubt that the present-day looks pretty good for the Huskies with Harnish at helm. But with a seasoned Lynch under his wing, and three freshmen learning and developing, the quarterback position appears in good hands for the 2011 Huskies.