Monday was the official day the NCAA transfer portal opened, creating the newest tradition in college football – the annual “RECRUITMENT 100% OPEN” social media message day.
What better day than to put this season’s disappointing Northern Illinois campaign in the rearview mirror and start looking ahead to what the Huskies need to accomplish to bounce back in 2023. After all, if they went from winless in 2020 to 2021 Mid-American Conference champs, a three-win 2022 is quite the head start.
So here are the areas the Huskies need to improve – some fixable in the portal, others not so much.
With Eric Rogers and Jordan Gandy in the portal, the cornerback position is going to look different next year. There’s going to need to be a lot of improvement in the unit if NIU is going to be successful.
After all, the front seven kept getting better. The Huskies had 30 sacks this year, tied for 35th in the country. They allowed 142.8 rushing yards per game, 52nd in the country. But the pass defense was 99th, allowing 252.8 yards per game – and for much of the season it was much worse.
You would have to think this is the No. 1 area the Huskies are targeting in the portal. Teams could throw at will against NIU. There are some young corners who got some spot starts, and guys such as Cyrus McGarrell showed glimpses.
Factor in a safety group that should improve with Jordan Hansen and Devin Lafayette entering their fourth year as starters (or at least have seen significant playing time) – not to mention C.J. Brown likely will be back – and you see the path to improvement for this group. But an established cornerback would go a long way toward that goal.
After Rocky Lombardi (expected to return because of a medical redshirt) and Ethan Hampton went down with injuries, the Huskies ran into a quarterback problem.
Justin Lynch, a transfer from Temple, did not throw the ball much – 28 times, with 18 of those coming in a 24-17 loss to Ohio. He ran 64 times for 280 yards and ran basically a Wildcat offense when he was in there.
That led to Nevan Cremascoli handling passing duties. The true freshman completed 48% of his passes for 600 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Players such as Jeffrey Lomax and Dustin Fletcher (now in the transfer portal) didn’t even get on the field.
This is probably more of an internal fix than going through the portal. Lombardi and Hampton should both be back next year. But it seems like if there’s a quarterback on the roster, especially a guy such as Lynch who played at Temple, they should be able to step in and run, maybe not the full offense, but a reasonable facsimile thereof.
Didn’t think I’d be typing this a week ago, but with Harrison Waylee entering the portal, the Huskies are left with one proven back (Antario Brown), one young back who got pressed into service because of injuries (Jaiden Credle), and a whole lot of high-potential talent (Tristan Nash, Terron Kellman, Nathan Castor, Joshua Brown).
It’s the second year in a row the Huskies will lose their leading rusher through the portal (Jay Ducker went to Memphis after the 2021 season). But like last year, it seems the Huskies can build up the position internally and deepen it through traditional recruiting of high school prospects. It’s worked so far.
There are a couple of other things the Huskies need to work on, but I didn’t think they needed their own subheads. The first is to stay healthy. I don’t know what can be done about that aside from some sort of ancient ritual or something, but I can’t imagine there was a team that missed more games to injury than the Huskies.
The next is punt returner. Trayvon Rudolph should be back next year, and that could help. But we’ve seen how important Cole Tucker was to the return game, and he has graduated. It seems weird saying that about someone who returned four kicks for 10 total yards. But he knew when to field a kick. He knew when to let a kick go. And against Miami, a game in which he was injured, field position woes doomed the Huskies in a loss.
Obviously, news and rumors will fly fast for the next couple weeks, but Dec. 21 will be our first round of answers on the early football signing day.