CHICAGO – Rod Carey knows he has to name a starting quarterback at some point.
Exactly when the second-year Northern Illinois football coach makes his decision remains unknown. Which one of three candidates will replace Jordan Lynch at the helm of the Huskies offense? Carey doesn't know that, either.
But this much is known. There will be a dedicated starter rather than a multiple-quarterback scenario and how successful NIU's offense will be this season – and precisely what it looks like – ultimately will depend on how well the starter – whomever that might be – plays.
Carey believes he has three quarterbacks capable of starting. Two of the three – redshirt junior Matt McIntosh and redshirt sophomore Drew Hare – saw time last season, when Lynch finished as a Heisman Trophy finalist. Sometime between now and NIU's season opener against Presbyterian, Carey will decide between McIntosh, Hare and redshirt sophomore Anthony Maddie, who sat out last year after transferring to NIU from Western Michigan.
Carey just can't predict – or promise – when that will be.
"We've got to battle it out," Carey told ChicagoFootball.com Monday at NIU's Chicago Media Day at Ditka's Steakhouse. "But there will have to be some time (with a starter in place) before the game because everyone on the team has to know who it is. [The media] has to know who it is and we have to know who it is because we have to get into that rhythm.
"Is that three days (before the opener), one day before, 10 days before? I don't know yet."
Lynch's accomplishments have been well-documented: 24-4 as a two-year starter, left NIU with three single-game, 16 single-season and six career records while also establishing five NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision rushing records. Lynch's two seasons at starter followed up a solid career by Chandler Harnish, starting a five-year stretch of quality quarterback play that Carey said Monday has been as good as anybody in the country.
Carey made it clear Monday that whoever lands the starting job can't attempt to replace Lynch, but instead, must make the position their own. Are there big expectations in place? Certainly. But the fastest way not to meet them, Carey said, is for the new starter to try to mirror the last one.
"They have to be themselves – whoever wins the job," Carey said. "That's what we're going to be looking for."
Carey and his staff spent the spring rotating between McIntosh, Hare and Maddie to give each equal opportunity to establish some comfort with an offense that returns all three starting receivers along with 1,000-yard rusher Cameron Stingily and all five starting offensive linemen from a year ago.
As important as veteran skill players are, however, who engineers an offense that will, Carey said, depend on the starter's strengths will be equally as vital. Carey said although he believes each of the candidates has the ability to take charge of NIU's offense this season, it's much different than actually doing it.
The deciding factor will come down to one thing.
"How they lead the football team down the field," Carey said. "That's as simple and small as you can make it. They need to lead the football team down the field – how they do it doesn't matter – whether it's throwing it, handing it off, running it, whatever it is."
That's where each of the three candidates differentiate from one another. Maddie is the dual-threat option. Hare, while possessing the ability to run, fits more of the Pro Style mold. Then there's McIntosh, who Carey characterized as an exceptional runner, also puts touch on the deep ball, giving Carey and his staff plenty to mull over.
Who the starter ends up being doesn't matter much to the skill players who will surround NIU's new quarterback. Because the offense spent time working with each of the three over the spring, a confidence with each one has been formed – at least in a small way.
Like with Carey, the expectation among the new starter's teammates isn't to pick up where Lynch left off last season, when the Huskies went 12-2, losing the MAC Championship Game and the Poinsettia Bowl in Lynch's final game after NIU won the first 12 games of the season.
Receiver Da'Ron Brown said Monday he and his offensive teammates will believe in whoever starts, saying that all three operate about the same when working with the first-team offense. Exactly how similar are they? Brown said receivers closed their eyes at the end of routes and couldn't tell which quarterback had thrown the pass.
With a foundation set, Brown said the rest is up to NIU's new quarterback – whoever it is by the start of the season.
"It's not about who is going to replace Jordan Lynch – it's about who is going to step in and make their mark," Brown said. "We just tell them, 'You've just got to step up' – that's all that is."