Ferentz says the Hawkeyes closed the preseason with strong workouts, and the team is ready for the next challenge.
"They've done a great job the last couple of years. They've beaten Big Ten teams in recent history, and there's no saying it couldn't happen again this week. That's our No. 1 thing, focusing on them." - UI head coach Kirk Ferentz
"We've had a productive preseason," he said. "The past three weeks the guys have worked hard, had a good attitude and gotten some things done. Now it's another step for us with it being the first game week."
The Hawkeyes head to the Windy City to face a Huskie team that has won nine consecutive games, the longest winning streak among Football Bowl Series teams in the country. NIU has won 22 games over the past two seasons and 15-of-its-last-16 Mid-American Conference games.
"They've done a great job the last couple of years," said Ferentz. "They're an excellent football team. They're very experienced on defense and special teams."
"They've beaten Big Ten teams in recent history, and there's no saying it couldn't happen again this week. That's our No. 1 thing, focusing on them."
Iowa is 7-0 all-time against Northern Illinois. The series began in 1985, and the Hawkeyes defeated the Huskies, 16-3, in 2007 -- the last meeting that was also played at Soldier Field.
Following the season-ending injury to freshman running back Barkley Hill on Aug. 18, Ferentz said all three running backs -- sophomore Damon Bullock and freshmen Greg Garmon and Michael Malloy -- will see action Saturday.
"We're down to three guys we can envision going into the ball game," he said. "Damon is the most experienced, and he has played, but he's hardly a seasoned player. All three of those guys will be in there and we'll go from there."
Ferentz is hopeful that the Hawkeyes can get off the "rollercoaster" when it comes to the Iowa special teams, but he realizes there could be some bumps in the road with true freshman punter Connor Kornbrath.
"That's one of our goals," said Ferentz. "There's going to be some in the punting game. Probably no different than when Eric Guthrie started a year ago and Donnie (Ryan Donahue) four-or-five years ago. We think Connor has that kind of potential to end up being a really good player."
Kornbrath is one of four true freshmen who are expected to play Saturday, along with Garmon, Malloy and defensive back Kevin Buford.
During the course of camp, Ferentz has seen progress from his inexperienced defensive line, and he expects it's going to be a collective effort against Northern Illinois and throughout the season.
"The guys are working hard and have a good attitude," said Ferentz. "I would envision us playing six, seven, eight guys during the course of the game. I'm not sure we have somebody that can go out there and play 70, 75, 80 snaps right now. It's going to be a collective effort."
Ferentz says it is a win-win situation for both the players and fans when playing a neutral site game in Chicago.
"Our fans seemed to enjoy it and embraced it, which is good," said Ferentz of the previous meeting in 2007. "I don't want to say it is a convenient game, but at least it's a lot better than going to the West Coast in my mind."
Iowa lost key players from 2011: