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Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas Preview Q&A with some MACtion

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This is one of the most intriguing non-conference matchups for the Razorbacks in a while, simply because we don't know a lot about Northern Illinois. Norman Miller, the NIU editor over at Hustle Belt helps shed some light on the Huskies.

Chris Trotman

1. What is more shocking: NIU is a 14.5 underdog coming off a BCS game appearance, or Arkansas being a favorite after only being two years removed from the John L. Smith era?

Being a two touchdown underdog is a bit perplexing given NIU's road record.  Arkansas' big win over Texas Tech, coupled with NIU letting UNLV back into the game last week has altered how people view both of these teams.  It seems the Texas Tech victory has been deemed a bit of a "turning point" for Razorback nation and winning is back and alive in Fayetteville.  While at the opposite end, the NIU collapse in Las Vegas has signaled that things may not be as surprisingly positive as we thought for our young Huskies. But that's just the nature of sports.  Sometimes you're only as good as your last game.  Had this game been last week, with NIU coming off an easy victory at Northwestern and Arkansas sitting at 1-1 with no quality wins, the line may have stayed at 8.

2. What position unit for NIU must have an outstanding game for them to pull the upset?

I don't recall the last game where both offensive lines were the main topic of conversation among fans, but it's really where the game will be won or lost for the Huskies.  NIU must sustain their drives on offense.  That means holes for the backs and a pocket for Drew Hare. If they go three and out too often, too early, the Huskie defense will be on the training table by half time.  The defense can't be on the field for 35+ minutes. If the offense can keep the time of possession close, this game is within reach.

3. Arkansas hasn't had to throw the ball the past two games. Will NIU be able to stop Arkansas' rushing attack enough to where the Hogs must have a balanced attack?

This seems to be the million dollar question.  It's strength against strength.  I'm really curious to see this one play out.  There seems to be a bit of a misconception that the Huskies are small on defense.  They are small at the defensive end position, yes.  But they have good size up the middle. Plus, they're in a 3-4 often. With out breaking down every player, they basically rotate three, 300-pound tackles and their middle linebacker goes 245-pounds.  They may get labeled small because some of their best players in the front 7 are of the smaller, athletic variety, but they rotate often between size and speed.  The Huskies will by no means stop Arkansas.  But I don't think they'll be running at will on them.

4. To be honest, Arkansas fans have no idea what to think of you guys. Arkansas doesn't normally play MAC teams. Tell us something interesting about the NIU program that we couldn't just google.

Legend has it, Northern Illinois created the term "home coming".  It's an ongoing debate between the University of Illinois and NIU who should get credit for being the first school to have a home coming game.  I'm not sure on all the dates, but I think it goes like this: U of I's claim is that their game was an official one that occurred in 1906.  NIU suggests they had an alumni homecoming game in 1903 and officially used the term home coming in print.  No one's ever clarified or proven who's right.  The debate still goes on. This is the state of Illinois football I guess.

5. What's your prediction for the game? (Feel free to be as homer as you want. It doesn't hurt my feelings).

Last week I had this game a 10-14 point loss for NIU.  While the Huskies have been to the Orange Bowl, been to Iowa, and been to Kansas, those places aren't SEC country.  From what i've heard it's a bit of a different experience down there on game day.  And while NIU is road seasoned, the starting QB isn't. But, (here comes the homer, there goes the good sense) this team has risen to the occasion far more often than it has failed.  They know how to win and believe they can.  Plus, this game means more to the Huskies.  I'm moving the line a little closer.  And if it's close the Huskies team experience will rise up and be the difference.  Arkansas will be leading by 10 in the 4th, make a mistake and let NIU back in the game.  The Huskies close it out and win 31-27.