Just typing out loud.
Thought No. 1: Quarterback, running back, strong safety, maybe special teams or all four?
The debate rages on, locally, in St. Petersburg, Fla., this week, and eventually in NFL draft rooms this spring on exactly what position former Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch would play next season. Preparations continue for Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game (3 p.m. on NFL Network) at Tropicana Field.
Of the three quarterbacks on the East roster (Lynch, Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo, and Cornell’s Jeff Mathews), you probably already know who isn’t the best pure passer or the next Ben Roethlisberger among that group. That’s not the issue. You can be sure that East coach Jerry Glanville will give Lynch snaps at QB in practice and come game time. For one, NFL scouts are curious about Lynch’s passing skills in game conditions, too.
The real issue is NFL opportunity. Period.
Who would know better than the Jordan Lynch of the 20th Century – former Huskies dual-threat quarterback Tim Tyrrell, the heart, soul and inspirational leader of the 10-2 Hall of Fame Northern Illinois team in 1983 and a six-year NFL veteran.
Yes, 30 years separates the two MVPs of the Mid-American Conference. Their similarities outweigh the differences. Their size (Lynch at 6-feet, 216 pounds and Tyrrell at 6-1, 204, in his NFL days), dual-threat abilities, feisty demeanor, leadership, mega overachieving and winning attitude at the championship level.
“Thinking back at my NFL career,” said Tyrrell, who played with the Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers from 1984 to 1989, “the No. 1 aspect is just the invitation to the dance. The main thing was having the opportunity to play in the NFL. In my case, the options were fullback, maybe strong safety, and, yes, special teams. With the Rams, I did practice as the No. 3 quarterback.”
Tyrrell’s goal back then: Do everything humanly possible to stay on an active NFL roster.
“Once we got to camp, drills started, and we put the pads on, that dim light of opportunity in my head got brighter and brighter each day as the coaches gave me more responsibility,” added Tyrrell, who became the special teams captain and an All-NFL special teams pick by USA Today with the Falcons in 1985.
“Jordan Lynch? The kid’s a winner. Maybe the best ever at NIU,” Tyrrell said. “(Laughs) He was much better in college than I ever was. I love his style. He’s very humble. The guy exudes leadership. Is he a pure NFL passer? Is (Seattle’s) Russell Wilson? I think there’s a lot of value to Lynch. He can do a lot of things.”
Hopefully, the NFL agrees.
Reports from St. Petersburg this week have Lynch possibly playing from the shotgun or even in the “wildcat” on Saturday. Stay tuned.
Thought No. 2: Every profession generates its own buzzwords or catch phrases. In college athletics, it used to be “the next Boise State” cliché that drove me nuts. Not any more. My new fingernails-on-the-blackboard phrase: “Going to the next level.” Of course, any Huskies fan would enjoy and desire that destination, but how do you realistically make that journey?
Even first-year NIU athletics director Sean Frazier succumbed to temptation, using the “next level” phrase before the Poinsettia Bowl on the Huskie Radio Network pregame show with Mark Lindo. Next level? Utah State 21, Northern Illinois 14. In my opinion, “we” need to worry about “our level” first and foremost.
In that vein, the Indianapolis Business Journal recently ran a story with astonishing financial numbers about the relative value of 116 NCAA FBS football programs – ranging from No. 1 Texas ($875 million) to No. 116 Louisiana-Monroe ($5 million). The IBJ story originated from a two-year, 242-page national study by Indiana finance professor Ryan Brewer.
According to Brewer and utilizing specific and nonspecific revenue data, the Longhorns program brought in about $131 million in its most recent fiscal year. His evaluations are based on “long-term field performance, stadium size, state-by-state growth rates, cash flow, revenues and other factors.”
Every MAC program except UMass, which was not included in the study, ranks in the range from No. 93 (Toledo at $16 million) to No. 110 (Ball State at $11.2 million), including NIU at No. 95 ($15.5 million).
Maybe even more disconcerting is the “next level” in this study: Check out No. 79 Marshall ($25 million), No. 75 Fresno State ($29.8 million) or No. 63 Central Florida ($68.8 million). The lowest Big 12 Conference grid programs? Try No. 57 Baylor ($85.9 million) and No. 41 Iowa State ($152.1 million). That’s “lowest.” With these numbers, “mid-major” might not accurately describe the MAC anymore.
A pertinent side note on UCF – the program that upset Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl – or more overwhelming numbers: Anybody been on its Orlando campus lately? Central Florida not only boasts the second-highest enrollment in the nation (50,968 undergrads and 9,213 grad students – can you say “triple NIU’s student activity fees?”), but a new 45,300-seat football stadium and a 10,500-seat basketball arena – both completed in 2007.
Thought No. 3: Speaking of conferences, with the Division I schools several games into their league basketball seasons, isn’t it bizarre to watch a DePaul vs. Creighton or DePaul vs. Butler game from the “new” Big East or Loyola-Chicago vs. Southern Illinois in the Missouri Valley on TV? Next thing you know, the Houston Astros will be in the American League. Oh. Future shock (again).
Thought No. 4: As the aforementioned Brewer study suggests, everything is larger in Texas. Anybody see the attendance figures for the 10 Texas high school state title games played in November at the home of the NFL Dallas Cowboys at Arlington? The total was 221,339 for all 10 games – including a record 54,374 in the 5A Division I game between Allen and Pearland. That will tell you about prep football in the Lone Star State.
Thought No. 5: Belated condolences to the family and friends of beloved NIU journalism professor Hallie Hamilton, who passed away at age 89 on Dec. 29. The recipient of the NIU Excellence in Teaching Award in 1971, Hamilton taught photojournalism and feature writing from 1960 to 1991. Before his time in the journalism department, he served two years in NIU Regional Services as the sports publicity director – now sports information director.
During our many mentor-student talks, Hamilton and I would discuss aspects of SID-dom, including vying for column inches and winning favor in the treasured Chicago metros. “(Athletics director) ‘Chick’ Evans once suggested that I buy a case of Jim Beam and take it down to the Tribune,” Hamilton said with a chuckle about a conversation from 1958. “How was I supposed to pay for that? ‘With your budget,’ ‘Chick’ would reply.’ What budget?’ “
Over the years, Hamilton told me that story probably 10 times. I always will smile at that one. Some of us knew.
• Mike Korcek is a former NIU sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.