Jordan Lynch started this season as a relative unknown. The question was: How could he replace Chandler Harnish, last year’s do-it-all Huskies quarterback?
Twelve games into NIU’s season, Lynch has done that – and then some. The numbers say it all – 4,361 total yards, 39 touchdowns, only four interceptions and an 11-1 record.
Ranked 19th in The Associated Press’ Top 25, NIU is set to compete for its second straight Mid-American Conference title tonight at Ford Field in Detroit against No. 18 Kent State (11-1), Lynch has gained notice on the national scene as he’s compiled offensive stats that place him among the nation’s best.
The Huskies’ fate tonight largely rests on the arms and legs of Lynch. His coach is lobbying hard for him to be considered in the Heisman Trophy race, and an impressive performance would make that case even stronger.
On Wednesday, he was honored with the Vern Smith Leadership Award as the MAC MVP, and also was named one of 10 finalists for the Manning Award.
After NIU’s 48-34 win at Western Michigan on Oct. 27, when the junior QB threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another 136 yards and two TDs, Huskies coach Dave Doeren said Lynch deserved to be considered for the Heisman.
In recent weeks, the school’s media relations department has started its own campaign for Lynch. He has an entire page dedicated to him in NIU’s weekly game notes, and his name is becoming more popular on Twitter. Interview requests have grown.
But talking to Lynch, you wouldn’t know it. He’s been asked about the Heisman hype over the past month or so, but it never seems to get to him.
“He’s pretty unfazed by it,” Doeren said. “That’s how he’s built. He’s just having fun playing the game.”
When asked about his Heisman chances earlier this week, Lynch changed the subject to tonight’s game, which could give the Huskies a shot at a BCS berth. Lynch wants to win, and he doesn’t care how NIU does it.
Lynch said he was going to put all the Heisman hype aside, saying he “can’t wait” to make his first start in the conference championship game.
Lynch has no problem dealing with the hype from media, fans and whomever. He goes back to his high school days at Chicago powerhouse Mt. Carmel on the south side. Lynch said his prep coach, Frank Lenti, who just won his 10th state championship at the school last weekend, helped him deal with how things are as a starting quarterback.
“I grew up doing this stuff. In high school. I guess I was one of the top players in high school coming out,” Lynch said. “Coach Lenti helping me along the way, don’t let the fame get to you.”
Numbers, numbers, numbers
Lynch’s statistics don’t lie. His gaudy total yardage numbers rank second in the nation behind Texas A&M freshman QB Johnny “Johnny Football” Manziel, who could be the Heisman favorite.
Lynch can run, he can pass and he doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s in the record book with 10 consecutive 100-yard rushing games, the longest streak NCAA history for a quarterback.
If Lynch runs for 91 yards against Kent State, which basically seems like a forgone conclusion, he’ll own the NCAA record for rushing yards in a season by a quarterback. The mark of 1,702 yards was set by Michigan’s Denard Robinson two years ago.
Although Lynch’s total offense stats often are mentioned, his lack of turnovers seem to be lost. Sure, it’s impossible to ignore the passing and rushing numbers, but Lynch has thrown only four interceptions all season, and has just one in his past eight games.
Tonight, taking care of the ball will be extremely important against a Golden Flashes defense that has forced 35 takeaways this season.
“I think game management is a thing that does not get talked about enough probably when you are talking about a quarterback,” Doeren said. “Not screwing it up is a really big deal when you play that position.
“You see it a lot when you turn on the television. You see a guy throw the ball and, what is he doing right there? [Lynch] has just been a good game manager. He understands his football aptitude. His football IQ is pretty high. He understands how to protect the ball and that people are going to be coming after it. That is the best part about him, I think.”
Bob Cole is in his first year as NIU quarterbacks coach after working with the receivers last season. He says Lynch is mechanically sound, gets the ball out of his hands fast and makes good decisions.
One reason for Lynch’s lack of mistakes lately is that he’s been able to correct them by watching film and listening to coaches, Cole said.
“He takes coaching well. You explain one thing to him and he’ll take it off the film and correct it, which I think is real impressive,” Cole said. “As a coach, you don’t want a player to make the same mistake over and over again.”
Is it enough?
Lynch has put up impressive numbers, and he’s won games. He very well could be a MAC champion on a team playing in a BCS bowl. Still, will it be enough to get him to New York, for at least a shot at the Heisman? It seems unlikely.
Any MAC player faces an uphill battle when it comes to getting recognition for the prestigious award, although Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington took fifth in 1999, while the Thundering Herd’s Randy Moss was fourth in 1997.
The last player from a mid-major conference to take home the Heisman was BYU QB Ty Detmer in 1990.
Doeren hopes that with a big game tonight, in a contest on ESPN2 featuring two Top 25 teams, Lynch finally will be able to show what he can do and get his name into the discussion for college football’s top award.
“I would like to see that. I think he has done everything that he was supposed to do. He did it in a big game on national television against Toledo,” Doeren said. “This is another opportunity for him to play, probably the best defense that he has to play against since Iowa, I would say collectively with what they do with their defensive front and the pressures they bring. It will be his biggest test from that standpoint.”
This has been one of the MAC’s best seasons in years as four teams have been ranked in the Top 25 at one point. But Lynch doesn’t think the MAC, which has two Top 25 teams competing in the championship game for the second time in its history, gets the love it deserves nationally.
“I think people just don’t respect the MAC like they should. I don’t know what else to say,” Lynch said. “We beat BCS teams, we play tough against whoever on the field. We’re just a bunch of kids with chips on their shoulders that think we can play on those big programs.”
Doeren has been on his quarterback’s Heisman bandwagon all along. Earlier this week, he took Lynch’s campaign into his own hands, writing a letter to Heisman voters about what type of player he is and what he means to the team.
“[Lynch] is a blue-collar winner that truly loves and respects the game of football,” Doeren wrote. “His relentless energy and passion for competition and winning is inspirational and contagious. I love to see him practice and play – he is worthy of any and all consideration he gets for the Heisman Trophy.”
Lynch said Doeren’s message showed the belief NIU’s second-year coach has in him running the Huskies’ offense.
“I have a great deal of respect for coach Doeren doing that,” Lynch said. “Just the belief, the trust factor he has in me, how good of a player I am.”
Maybe Doeren’s letter will sway some Heisman voters. There’s a chance a huge game against Kent State, a MAC title and a BCS bowl berth gets Lynch’s name out there. At the same time, maybe it still isn’t enough to get him to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York.
Either way, all the Heisman talk is secondary to Lynch.
“I just want to go out there and win. That’s the main thing,” he said. “I don’t care how we do it, I just want to win.”