Iowa (7-6, 4-4 B1G Leaders in '11) is meeting Northern Illinois (11-3, 7-1 MAC West and MAC champs in '11) for the eighth time ever. Iowa holds the series 7-0 and in 2007 beat the Huskies 16-3 in the lone meeting in Solider Field in Chicago.
Iowa entering 14th season under coach Kirk Ferentz has won 11 straight season openers. Northern Illinois enters the second season under former Wisconsin defense coordinator David Doeren as head coach. Iowa lost 30-31 in '10 vs. Wisconsin. Iowa's season went south the past two seasons to a degree, while the Badgers have won back to back Big Ten titles.
Iowa has two new coordinators in 2012 with former Texas OC Greg Davis at Iowa, hired after a season off. New defensive coordinator is 13 year DB coach Phil Parker, who was promoted to replace mentor Norm Parker, who retired, after 13 outstanding seasons as Iowa's DC for Ferentz.
Iowa isn't the only team with a new coordinator. Northern Illinois welcomes its third OC in three seasons as former Minnesota and Northwestern OC at Mike Dunbar returns to the Big Ten. Dunbar, like Iowa's Davis was out of college coaching in '11. His most recent job was at New Mexico State. He was 0-2 vs. Iowa, while at Minnesota.
Iowa returns 40 letterwinners from 2011, including six offensive, five defensive starters and a junior placekicker Mike Meyers. Senior QB James Vandenberg, LG Matt Tobin, C James Ferentz, WR/KR Keenan Davis, DE Steve Bigach, CB/PR Micah and SS Tom Donatell are the only seniors starting for Iowa entering '12. Kirk Ferentz's youngest team in 14 seasons. Four true freshmen appear in the two deep with starting punter Connor Kornbath and second team RBs Greg Harmon, Michael Molloy and CB Kevin Buford.
Iowa does appear to have a good core of junior and senior leaders lead by captains for today's game Vandenberg, Ferentz, Hyde and junior MLB James Morris. Three guys named James and a Micah, who may earn the nickname Jim this season.
Northern Illinois returns 53 letterwinners, including four offensive, eight defensive starters and both kickers in '12 from a team that opened 2011 losing three of first five games. NIU's nine game win streak is the longest in FBS. The Huskies won the MAC and beat Sun Belt champ Arkansas State 38-20 in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
The Huskies have some holes to fill on offense and must get adjust to third offensive coordinator in three seasons. Junior Jordan Lynch must replace school-record holder Chandler Harnish, who lead the Huskies in rushing and passing. Also, the top running back has departed, and sophomore 5-7 183 Akeem Daniels is listed as starter. He ran for 303 yards, 3 tds and 5.4 ypc. Only one of the top two receivers are back, lead by senior Marvel Moore.
In the offensive line, injury has knocked out senior Logan Pegram, so all five starters are being replaced by three redshirt freshmen, sophomore LT Tyler Loos didn't play in '11 and missed spring due to injury, while junior RT Matt Krempel is a career back up first at LG and then tackle. JunIor PK Matt Sims is an all-MAC performer back.
Two of the three top Huskie tackles have departed of the three players missing on DC Jay Niemann's defensive unit. However, the Huskies gave up an average if 30.3 ppg in 2011, including 4.0 yards running the football.
So, a Big Ten vs. MAC match up is hard to judge here, with the Huskies limited success vs. Big Ten foes. NIU will challange Western Michigan in the MAC West in '12.
Northern Illinois has Iowa in Chicago, while MAC rival Western Michigan opens today downstate in Champaign at Illinois. We can see Western Michigan beating Illinois today. They have been a thorn for Iowa (0-2 in Ferentz era.
Iowa has done well vs. Miami-OH, Northern Illinois and other MAC programs, not named Western Michigan.
Our prediction in Chicago: IOWA 27, Northern Illinois 15.
The Gazette this morning favors Iowa in four of five categories this morning from run and pass offense to run and pass defense. Only special teams appear in the Huskies column. If Northern Illinois is going to make this a game, turnovers and special teams are often big areas to watch in season openers.
Other games of interest on Saturday. We already mentioned Western Michigan at Illinois. Former Toledo coach, another MAC school, has departed after a 9-4 season (3 years at Toledo) and is new head coach at Illinois. Upset alert!
Notre Dame will defeat Navy and will head home to host Purdue in Week 2.
Southern Miss who finished '11 wIth a record of 12-2 and #20/19 in AP/Coaches Polls travels to LIncoln to face #24 Nebraska (9-4, 5-3 B1G Leaders in '11). New Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson was DC for South Carolina the past four seasons. South Carolina beat UNL 30-13 in the Capital One. Southern Miss won the Hawaii Bowl 24-17 over Nevada last season.
The FCS playoff team, the Northern Iowa Panthers travel to Madison to face defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday. First meeting and the Bangers have won 16 straight in Camp Randall openers. Tough draw for the underdog, as former Maryland Terps' QB Danny O'Brien takes over for one year Badger and former ACC opponent Russell Wilson at QB.
Tulsa is favored in the road at Iowa State. ISU coach Paul Rhodes enters his fourth season at the helm in Ames, in clearly the toughest season opener in four seasons. ISU won the prior meeting in '61. ISU will travel to Iowa City in Week 2 for the Cy-Hawk series showdown. Tulsa was 8-5 last year and 7-1 in C-USA West, coming off 21-24 loss to BYU in Armed Forces Bowl.
The top game is defending BCS champion and #1 Alabama traveling to face #13 Michigan, who won the Sugar Bowl in OT over ACC champion Virginia Tech. It should be an interesting game.
Former Nebraska coach Frank Solich leads his eighth Ohio U team (10-4 in '11) to Happy Valley to face Penn State, and its first new coach after 46 seasons under Joe Paterno. Bill O'Brien a career assistant returns to college football, after being on the New England Patriots staff, since 2007. He was QB coach mostly, but OC his final season. He is a former OC in college at Duke for two seasons and two seasons at Georgia Tech. Upset alert!
The Urban Meyer era begins at Ohio State with Miami-OH. How will the season play out with the Buckeyes on NCAA probation.
Coach Danny Hope begins his fourth season leading Purdue as he faces Eastern Kentucky, FCS school he coached for five years before returning to Purdue. With Ohio State and Penn State on NCAA probation, can Purdue surprise in '12 and make a run in the Leaders division race?
On Saturday night, coach Kevin Wilson (1-11 in one season) and Indiana host FCS and in-state foe Indiana State (6-5 last year from Mo Valley). Wilson's only win last year was against a FCS opponent.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald begins his seventh season as head coach at Northwestern with a road opener at Syracuse. The Wildcats opened on the road last year and pulled out a win at Boston College. In 2010, they pulled off a close one at Vandy. Northwestern opens OOC with three BCS opponents... at Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College. Can they make it three in a row?