De'Vonte O'Malley
Northern Illinois star De'Vonte O'Malley will be a cornerstone on defensive this fall for the Huskies (PHOTO CREDIT: NIU Athletics)

Northern Illinois Football Could Experience a MAC Revival in 2023

A sneak peak of the 2023 Northern Illinois Huskies and their chances of making a MAC conference title this season.

Mid-American Conference football will be back in 2023 for the Northern Illinois Huskies in just a few weeks. This season could see a significant upswing after an abysmal 2022. The team has improved after last year and hopes to be competitive in 2023.

Northern Illinois 2023 Preview

The conference: Mid-American Conference (West Division)

2022 record: 3-9

Conference finish: 2-6

Head coach: Thomas Hammock (fifth year at school and fifth year overall: 17-27)

Five all-start candidates: Devonte O'Malley, defensive tackle (35 tackles, 5.5 sacks); Rocky Lombardi, quarterback (645 passing yards, 5 touchdowns); Trayvon Rudolph, wide receiver (892 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns); Antario Brown (689 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns); CJ Brown, defensive back (76 tackles, 1 interception)

The newcomer: DaRon Gilbert, defensive back (transfer from Lafayette) (1 forced fumble, 1 interception, 54 tackles) 

Nolan Potter

Northern Illinois offensive lineman Nolan Potter is just one special player in the MAC this fall. (Photo credit: NIU Athletics)

The Breakdown

The Northern Illinois Huskies will have a soft schedule but with formidable divisional opponents. This year, the Huskies have gotten quality transfers from the transfer portal, helping to replace recruits they lost. After a disastrous 2022 season, the expectations for the Huskies this year while low — include hopes for improvement.

The Huskies have gotten some promising prospects from the transfer portal this year, including running back Gavin Williams, defensive back DaRon Gilbert and others. The transfers could help the team's depth in case of injuries. Injuries were a key reason the Huskies struggled last year, and they need to be healthy to contend. 

Expectations will be low due to last year's bad season, but they could be a sleeper for the MAC title. New co-defensive coordinator Nick Benedetto should help improve the defensive game plan. The defense had gotten back starters from the portal, which will help solidify the defense for the 2023 season. With the defense using a mix of last year's system with new plays, they could surprise people. 

The Key Game and Why

A key game for Northern Illinois will be against the Toledo Rockets on Sept. 30. With the defense improved after last year, they could beat the Rockets in a close game. Toledo is a formidable opponent for North Illinois, having a 17-33 record against them.

The Toughest Game and Why

A game that could be tough for the Huskies this season would be a redemption game against Tulsa. After falling short in its rally against the Golden Hurricane last year, Northern Illinois is looking for payback. This writer believes the game will be challenging due to downplaying opponents last year.  

The Chances of Reaching the Conference Title Game

While the team looks strong on paper, the chances are slim of the Huskies getting to the conference title game. The West Division, especially those on top, is improving, and the Huskies could be lost in the mix of those pursuing the MAC title matchup.

The Prediction

This year will be good for Northern Illinois, but they will not make it to the title game. The Huskies will have a soft schedule, with about seven winnable games. They will have an eight-win ceiling if everything goes right for the team.

MORE: MAC Football Preview: Will Toledo and Ohio Have a Title Game Rematch?