Carifio: The good, the bad and the ugly of the 2024 NIU football schedule

Southern Illinois' Desman Hearns intercepts a pass intended for Northern Illinois' Kacper Rutkiewicz late in their game Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Huskie Stadium at NIU in DeKalb.

The Mid-American Conference announced the 2024 football schedules for member teams Tuesday, and a bunch of stuff stuck out.

So let’s break down the good, the bad and the ugly of the NIU schedule.

The good: An actual bye week

NIU heads to Notre Dame on Sept. 7. Then, something happens that’s taken place only once since Thomas Hammock became head coach of the program.

NIU gets a full-on bye week. There is no game Sept. 14, then the Huskies open play in the new, divisionless MAC against Buffalo on Sept. 21.

No more having to count those 11-day off-periods that occur between the end of Saturday games and the start of midweek MAC play (later renamed MACtion) – though the Huskies do have two of those this year, as well.

Plus, it comes at a potentially good time. The Huskies may be coming off a tough loss at Notre Dame ahead of an early start to league play. The week to flush any bad vibes from the trip to South Bend may prove critical.

Although the last time the Huskies had a true bye, they followed a 44-8 loss to Nebraska with a 24-18 loss to a Vanderbilt team that finished the year 3-9.

The bad: The return of the short week

The MAC giveth, and the MAC taketh away. While the Huskies have the luxurious bye week in Week 3, the schedule features the return of the six-day week. After a home game against Akron on Nov. 13, the Huskies head to Ohio to face Miami on Nov. 19.

On the bright side for NIU, it also will be a six-day turnaround for the RedHawks in the Mallory Cup showdown.

NIU is 0-2 in short-week games since Hammock took over. The last time the Huskies had a short week was in 2021, when after winning in Buffalo in overtime, they lost the season finale to Western Michigan. Of course, they already had wrapped up the MAC at the time and were resting quarterback Rocky Lombardi, letting Ethan Hampton make a start under center.

In 2019, the Huskies lost 45-17 to Eastern Michigan at home six days after winning 31-28 at Toledo. They’d finish 5-7 that season, Hammock’s first.

The program’s last win after a six-day week was in 2018, and the Huskies actually had two short weeks that year. They beat Toledo 38-15 six days after winning 36-26 at Akron. One week after the Toledo win, they lost to Miami 13-7 on a Wednesday and then lost the regular-season finale 28-21 at Western Michigan on a Tuesday.

The ugly: An FCS team right out of the gate

OK, in theory this shouldn’t really be good or bad. Pretty standard, actually. But given the Huskies’ recent track record against lower-level teams, this could be a very ugly start to the season.

Since Hammock took over, the Huskies are 3-1 against FCS teams, and only one of those wins is by more than 14 points. Not coincidentally, the year they beat Maine 41-14 was the year they won the MAC.

So it seems that Aug. 31 game against Western Illinois could be a big bellwether for the season as it has in the past. Struggle with the FCS team, struggle for the rest of the season.

It also may be worth pointing out that after a game against Holy Cross on the books for next season, the Huskies don’t have another FCS opponent scheduled, according to And they have four nonconference FBS teams slated for 2026 and 2027.

No comment: Five Saturday home games

Most people would qualify this as good. There seems to be a backlash to MACtion, and some blame dwindling attendance numbers on no one wanting to sit outside in DeKalb until 10 p.m. on a Tuesday in November.

I, however, am a firm believer that MACtion is a net positive. Attendance is dropping everywhere. Saturday numbers at Huskie Stadium or anywhere else aren’t what they were a decade ago. Getting a night to yourself in the spotlight, and the cash from the contract, are good things. People know what MACtion is. It’s a tremendous branding job.

It’s the first time NIU has had that many Saturday home games since 2012, when the team played five times at Huskie Stadium on a Saturday and once at Soldier Field.

In that time, three Saturday home games in a season has been the norm, and occasionally (2023 and 2021 in Hammock’s tenure) there have been four Saturday home games. Perhaps coincidentally, Huskie Stadium hosted the IHSA state football championship games in odd years from 2013 to 2021.

Not that I think Saturday home games are bad, but I think I may be a little higher on MACtion than others, if online forums and social media are real life, which we all know they are.

Eddie Carifio is the Daily Chronicle sports editor. Write to him at

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