DeKALB – 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.
With 19th-ranked NIU set to play for its second consecutive Mid-American Conference title tonight at Ford Field in Detroit against No. 18 Kent State, Lynch has become a household name.
On Wednesday, he was honored with the Vern Smith Leadership Award as the MAC MVP, and was also 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 head coach Dave Doeren said Lynch deserved to be considered for the Heisman Trophy.
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 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 today’s game, which could give the Huskies a shot at a BCS berth.
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. 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.”
Do numbers add up?
Lynch’s statistics don’t lie. His gaudy total yardage numbers rank second in the nation behind Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny 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 in NCAA history for a quarterback.
If Lynch runs for 91 yards against Kent State, which seems like a forgone conclusion, he’ll have 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 2 years ago.
Although Lynch’s total offense stats always seemed to be mentioned, his lack of turnovers seem to be lost. He’s thrown just four interceptions all season, and has just one in his last eight games.
Tonight, taking care of the ball will be extremely important against a Golden Flashes defense which 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.
“[Lynch]’s 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.”
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?
Any MAC player faces an uphill battle when it comes to getting recognition for the prestigious award, although Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington took fifth back in 1999, and 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 quarterback Ty Detmer in 1990.
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 [is] 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 driving 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 and talking about what type of player he is and what he means to the team.
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.”