Random Northern Illinois thoughts on a cold, winter day:
Thought No. 1: Who needs this new-fangled, fancy BCS football playoff in 2014? Earlier this month, sports columnist Dave Ruthenberg of the News & Eagle (Enid, Okla.,) figured out the 2012 national champion without polls, computers, politics and – even better – fallible humans.
Ruthenberg’s winner? The 2-10 Eastern Michigan Eagles. No kidding. It might be the oldest media trick in the book (Bud Nangle showed us this one decades ago). Logic city. If P, then Q. Ruthenberg’s own stream of BCS consciousness: Eastern Michigan beat Western Michigan, which beat Connecticut, which beat Syracuse, which beat Louisville, which beat Florida, which beat Texas A&M, which beat Alabama. Go EMU. I can hear Kirk Herbstreit griping now.
Thought No. 2: This is no wild assumption. At 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch is a physical specimen and then some.
Lynch’s 688 plays last season, the school-record 4,953 yards total offense, plus 44 touchdowns (19 rushing and 25 passing), all attest to that fact.
His extraordinary numbers make you wonder: Did Lynch play prep football at Mount Carmel or Smallville?
As Howard Fletcher successfully rode the “Blitz-T” shotgun in the mid-1960s and Jerry Pettibone perfected his vision of the triple-option “Spread” during 1987-90, Dave Doeren and Rod Carey found the ideal Huskie offense for multipurpose quarterbacks such as Chandler Harnish and Lynch the past two years with the uptempo, no-huddle, “Pistol.” Or, not to be overly critical, is it? I’m just a fan, but think about it. Can there be too much of a good thing?
Peruse the list of NIU’s top all-time single-season rushers. Tailback Michael Turner (338 attempts in 2002) heads that group. Tailback LeShon Johnson (327 carries in 1993) follows. Turner (310 in 2003). Tailback Garrett Wolfe (309 in 2006). Lynch (294 in 2012). Fullback Mark Kellar (291 in 1973).
Smack in the middle of four of the greatest rushers in NCAA history, there’s a quarterback, an All-American one at that. Not even the celebrated Stacey “Wishbone Wizard” Robinson carried the ball that much (223 attempts in 1989 and 193 in 1990). Couldn’t someone at tailback take some heat off Lynch? Nobody’s asking for LeShon or “The Burner.” How about 700 yards at TB?
Ironically, in a program renown for 1,000-yard tailbacks in the past two decades, NIU has struggled with production at that spot in recent seasons. Proof? According to the final offensive statistics for the past decade, an unprecedented 18 different players carried the ball last season, 15 in 2011, 11 in 2010 and 2009, 12 in 2008, 11 in 2007, nine in 2006 (Wolfe’s senior year), 10 in 2005, 11 in 2004, and 11 in 2003 (Turner’s senior year). Looking for something? What was that TV program? “In Search of...?”
Or what’s the cliché? Necessity is the mother of invention? So I understand the “Jet” sweeps, the play-calling imagination, etc.
When the debate arises in the media and among bloggers about the best all-time NIU football team (1983, 1989, 2003, and 2012 are my “finalists”), my brain goes into old-school mode and screams “balance.” As phenomenal as Lynch was in 2012, one player making up 75.3 percent of your total offense spells trouble, particularly in a high-profile mid-major situation or in the ultimate FBS arena, the Orange Bowl.
Think what you like, but the 2003 Huskies with an underrated Josh Haldi at quarterback (2,544 yards passing), Turner at tailback (1,648 yards rushing), and P. J. Fleck (77 catches for 1,028 yards) at receiver gave the opposition (Maryland, Alabama, Iowa State and a much tougher Mid-American Conference schedule) much more to think about on defense, in my opinion.
Coach Carey, can we find a viable tailback? The 2013 version of Lynch Lite would be more effective (and healthier).
Thought No. 3: Memo to writer Thomas Wolfe. Wrong again, literary breath. You can return home. Just ask NIU men’s basketball Hall of Famer T.J. Lux. In his second season as boys basketball coach at his Merrillville, Ind., High School alma mater, Lux has led his Class 4A Pirates to an 11-1 overall record, 9-0 in the Duneland Athletic Conference, and is ranked No. 9 in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association state poll and No. 13 in the current Sagarin ratings this week.
The 6-9, 230-pound Lux, a three-time CoSIDA Academic All-America pick, still ranks No. 1 in career Huskie scoring (1,996 points) and rebounding (1,110 boards). After his NIU playing career (1995-2000), Lux played pro ball in Germany and France before returning home. “No matter where I went, I knew I would always return to Merrillville,” Lux told the Northwest Indiana Times upon getting the MHS head coaching position. In 2011-12, Lux’s Pirates finished 16-8.
Thought No. 4: It seems every time I mention the two words “Lee Corso” in this column, everyone’s blood pressure spikes to record levels. Remember, Corso had a pro football “out clause” in his NIU contract and left for a guaranteed $450,000 and the USFL. Look, I’ll pull a Mantl Te’o here: What would you do?
That said, the recent discussion of Joe Novak’s former Huskie staff in 2001 reminded me about this particular group. Say what you want, Corso knows a lot of people in the game and put together an impressive NIU braintrust in 1984.
Here’s his full-time staff: Offensive coordinator Bill Lynch (head coach at Butler, Ball State, and Indiana), defensive coordinator Ted Huber (interim NIU head coach and Ball State head man), wide receivers coach John Boyd (unknown), up-and-coming offensive guard-center coach Lawrence Cooley (Cincinnati aide before his death in an auto accident), offensive tackle-tight end coach Dave Magazu (32 years in coaching, last 10 in the NFL), running backs coach Frank Verducci (32 years in coaching, eight in the NFL), interior linebackers coach Bob Chmiel (recruiting coordinator at Notre Dame and Michigan, plus current TV analyst), defensive line coach Ted Daisher (35 years in coaching, six in the NFL), and secondary coach Mike Sabock (NIU’s longest tenured FBS assistant).
What was missing then that resulted in a 4-6-1 season after the California Bowl year? The intensity, dedication and drive of one Bill Mallory.
Thought No. 5: Heartiest congratulations to former NIU sports information student Tim Sassone, who will be inducted into The Northern Star Alumni Hall of Fame on March 2.
Sassone, nominated for the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Elmer Ferguson Award in 2007, has covered the Blackhawks for the Daily Herald since 1988 and might rate as the best NHL beat writer in the market. He is a regular contributor to The Hockey News. Before the Daily Herald, Sassone worked at Pro Football Weekly. Always love to see our successful NIU grads.
• Mike Korcek is a former Northern Illinois University sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle.