In this BCS-dominated universe, can there be a bigger curse in college football than to be known as a “mid-major” program? Yes, there is. Try living with the dreaded “all-purpose quarterback” tag. Talk about being stereotyped or pigeonholed unfairly. Overlooked, for sure, even in the Internet age.
If you’re not USC’s Matt Barkley, Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron, Kansas State’s Collin Klein or West Virginia’s Geno Smith, or don’t stand 6-foot-5, or don’t throw for six TDs every game, you must be – heaven forbid – a “running” quarterback. So, perception becomes reality to some. No NFL for you, buddy. Or so it sometimes seems.
Welcome to Jordan Lynch’s world.
In August, could the most gung-ho Northern Illinois football fan ever have imagined the extraordinary season Lynch and the Huskies offense have had to date?
All-everything QB Chandler Harnish heads to the NFL and five starters from the offensive line graduate. OK, maybe coach Dave Doeren’s no-huddle spread retreats a bit in 2012?
Not on Lynch’s watch. After only eight starts, seven triumphs, 26 combined touchdowns and 2,759 yards total offense, No. 6 seems to have mimicked Harnish’s numbers, leadership traits and resourcefulness. The 6-foot, 216-pound junior operates the Mid-American Conference’s No. 1 rushing attack, the league’s No. 1 scoring offense and the loop’s No. 2 total offense. Lynch ranks No. 6 in individual FBS rushing (131.1 ypg. average) and No. 9 in total offense (344.9 ypg.).
Somebody please remind the ESPN wags or Sports Illustrated that, unofficially, Lynch is America’s No. 1 major-college rushing QB (1,049 yards) and only the nation’s second FBS 1,000-yard rusher this season behind Nevada running back Stefphon Jefferson (1,248 yards), who reached four-digit real estate in seven games.
Quietly, Lynch has accounted for 74.2 percent of NIU’s total offense and is responsible for 66.7 percent of the Huskies’ 39 team TDs with 26 (13 rushing and 13 passing). Project his current average of 344.9 yards a game over 14 contests and Harnish’s mind-blowing school-record 4,595 yards of total offense set in 2011 will be history by 233 yards.
In a 2012 MAC season expected to be dominated by quarterbacks such as Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton, Western Michigan’s Alex Carder, Miami’s Zac Dysert or Ball State’s Keith Wenning, guess what? The most valuable QB in the league is Lynch, hands down.
“If there was such a thing as the mid-major Heisman,” wrote staffer Bob DiCesare of the Buffalo News two weeks ago, “he’d (Lynch) be no less than a finalist and likely the winner.”
Maybe the best FBS QB in the state doesn’t reside in either Evanston or Champaign-Urbana.
Since 1899, the Northern Illinois 400-Yard Total Offense Club maintained a pretty exclusive roster – Harnish, College Football Hall of Famer George Bork, Phil Horvath and now Lynch.
“He’s a great player and I think everybody knows that now,” Doeren said after Lynch’s career-high 402 yards of total offense in the comeback victory at Ball State.
Recently added to the Manning QB Award watch list, Lynch still deserves more “props.” There aren’t too many QBs on bowl-eligible teams doing a Usain Bolt for a 73-yard TD dash down the Soldier Field sideline against a Big Ten defense, or shredding would-be tacklers on a game-deciding 71-yard keeper on a QB draw in the fourth quarter at Ball State, or running over 6-3, 203-pound Akron defensive back Avis Commack on another TD burst last week (why wasn’t that highlight on ESPN’s “SportsCenter”?).
Lynch’s hit reminded me of a similar open-field play by NIU Hall of Fame QB Tim Tyrrell against Cal State Fullerton DB Mark Pembroke in the 1983 California Bowl. Tyrrell leveled Pembroke big-time. You might guess Tyrrell’s a big fan of Lynch, his feisty mindset, diverse running ability and throwing prowess.
“Lynch is awesome,” said the 1983 Jefferson (now Vern Smith) Trophy recipient and an NFL All-Pro special teams performer with the Atlanta Falcons. “I love his style. He can run it or throw it. That long TD run against Iowa was impressive. The kid’s much better than me, let me tell you, and look what his leadership means to the team.”
For the second time in its football history, NIU boasts America’s No. 1 rushing major-college QB.
Hall of Fame QB Stacey Robinson owned that monicker as the “Wishbone Wizard” who torched the perimeter of opposing defenses for a NCAA single-season record (for a QB) 1,448 ground yards and 19 rushing TDs in 1989, plus 1,238 yards and 19 TDs again in 1990. Thanks to coach Jerry Pettibone’s triple-option, the “Wiz” finished his career with seven NCAA records and 20 school standards, won the 1990 individual NCAA scoring crown (120 points), and directed the nation’s No. 1 rushing attack (344.6 ypg.).
Despite the prolific Huskie numbers and 9-2 record in 1989, option football was a hard sell with the national media and local fans. Yawn, like watching paint dry. To wit: Until the attitude-changer of all-time. Final score: NIU 73, No. 24-ranked Fresno State 18, in 1990. Vindication time.
With a great first step, Robinson was finesse to Lynch’s power and played the game of his life against Fresno. NIU scored the most points ever against an AP Top 25 club, produced a then school-record 806 yards total offense (733 team rushing), and showcased the “Wiz,” who recorded an NCAA-record 308 ground yards and five TDs on 22 carries in less than three quarters.
The week of the Fresno State game, a New York-based writer for Sports Illustrated requested media credentials. Naturally, I gave him the well-practiced Huskie spiel on Robinson, his numbers and our unusual offense. Running QB? Not interested.
“Mike, to be honest,” the SI writer admitted, “I want to interview Fresno’s running back Aaron Craver in person, and DeKalb is the furthest east that Fresno comes this year.”
At halftime, the scoreboard read, 50-18, and Robinson had exploded for 287 yards and scored five TDs (39, 9, 41, 67 and 11 yards – all, by the way, without being touched by the defense). That still is the most rushing yards in one half by any player in NCAA football history. The same SI scribe came over to me and politely asked, “Uh, Mike, do you think I could talk to Stacey after the game?”
Talk about a storybook ending. Robinson made Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Football News and Chicago Tribune National Player of the Week. The NIU-Fresno game was the No. 2 college football story on “SportsCenter” that evening.
Hooray for running QBs. Nothing is ever easy. Jordan Lynch and Dave Doeren can relate. They know the drill. Huskies do things the hard way.
• Mike Korcek is a former Northern Illinois University sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle.