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Saturday’s preview: Northern Illinois vs. Iowa

Coach Dave Doeren Northern Illinois Huskies play Iowtheir seasopener Saturday Soldier Field. | Carlos Osorio~AP

Coach Dave Doeren and the Northern Illinois Huskies play Iowa in their season opener Saturday at Soldier Field. | Carlos Osorio~AP

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Iowa vs. NIU

Where: Soldier Field.

When: 2:30 p.m. kickoff.

Television: ESPNU. Radio: WYLL (1160 AM), WLBK (1360 AM).

Records last year: Iowa 7-6, NIU 11-3

Updated: October 14, 2012 10:09PM

Northern Illinois returns to Soldier Field for the third time in six years to open its season Saturday against Iowa at its home away from home on the lakefront.

The Huskies, coming off their second straight 11-win season and first Mid-American Conference championship in 28 years, carry the nation’s longest Football Bowl Subdivision winning streak (9) into their eighth meeting with the Big Ten opponent.

One thing Northern didn’t do in 2011 that it will have to do to keep that streak alive is post one of its “boneyard victories.” That’s what the players and coaches in the program, dating back to the Joe Novak era (1996-2007), dub their upset wins over a team from a BCS (Bowl Championship Series) conference.

They commemorate it on their locker room wall on a drawing of a bone since it’s something to howl about for the mid-major program.

In the past 10 seasons, NIU has played 22 games against BCS opponents, going 6-16 highlighted by three wins (Maryland, Alabama and Iowa State) in 2003. Their last “boneyard win” came in 2010 at Minnesota (34-23).

Last year’s team lost 49-7 to Wisconsin at Soldier Field and 45-42 at Kansas, which comes to DeKalb later this month. The Huskies are 0-7 vs. Iowa, with the series dating back to 1985.

“I’ve competed against them, obviously at Wisconsin, five different times,” second-year coach Dave Doeren said. “So I know what we’re up against. Iowa’s won their last 11 openers by a margin of victory (of more than) 37 points. They’re 5-0 against the MAC in openers.”

He brings in a team with a veteran defense featuring 10 returning starters and a young offense with four returning starters. Defensive end Sean Progar (Glenbrook South), who is on the Rotary Lombardi Award watch list, heads a tested line and CB Rashaan Melvin (Waukegan) and S Jimmie Ward lead a veteran secondary.

Junior QB Jordan Lynch takes over for graduated Chandler Harnish (Indianapolis Colts) and has talented receivers in senior wideouts Martel Moore and Perez Ashford. Tight end Jason Schepler (Sycamore) returns after missing last season recovering from knee surgery.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, the dean of Big Ten coaches entering his 14th season, has six starters back on offense and five on defense. They include senior QB James Vandenberg and junior linebackers Christian Kirksey and James Morris, who tied for the team lead on last year’s 7-6 Hawkeyes with 110 tackles each.

Ferentz also knows what he’s up against.

“I always felt (Northern) was a sleeping giant type program, if you will, because they had their ups and downs for a while,” he said. “From my vantage point, at least when Coach Novak went there, they did a nice job of recruiting the area.

“There are a lot of good players in Illinois and a lot that maybe get overlooked in some ways. They did a good job (recruiting) … Most important, they’ve been well-coached, first coach Novak, then coach (Jerry) Kill and now coach Doeren.”

The Hawkeyes are banged up with two running backs (sophomore Jordan Canzeri, freshman Barkley Hills) recovering from surgery, but Vandenberg has quality targets back in TE C.J. Fiedorowicz and WR Keenan Davis (50-713).

“(Vandenberg) is a guy that last year threw 25 touchdowns with seven interceptions and for 3,000 yards passing in an offense that’s really not designed for that,” Doeren said. “They do throw, obviously, but they’re not a team that stands there and throws 40 times a game.

“I think he made the most of what he had. He can run, though they don’t have a lot of designed runs for him, but he does get himself out of trouble. He’s very accurate and has a strong arm and I think (Fiedorowicz) may be one of the best receiving tight ends in college football. You like having a 6-7 target.”

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