College football

NIU's unselfish Lynch may be the best QB in college football

2013-11-16T18:00:00Z 2013-11-17T15:44:11Z NIU's unselfish Lynch may be the best QB in college footballMike Nieto mike.nieto@nwi.com, (219) 933-3232 nwitimes.com
November 16, 2013 6:00 pm  • 

The blue-collar kid from Chicago's Mount Greenwood neighborhood is not too concerned whether or not he shares the company of college football's blue bloods.

Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch simply pays no attention to the hype and pageantry. Still, the Mount Carmel grad and Times 2008 offensive player of the year earned a spot among college football's high society last year, finishing seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting and leading the non-BCS Huskies to a BCS bowl. Then they turned the BCS world upside down and upset ESPN College Game Day's Kirk Herbstreit.

The Huskies stayed within seven points of Florida State after three quarters of the Discover Orange Bowl before ultimately losing, 31-10.

That loss aside, Lynch wins football games. He has led the Huskies to 22 victories in their last 23 games. He took over in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's game against Ball State, breaking tackles and making plays to lead the Huskies to a 48-27 win.

Ball State coach Pete Lembo perhaps summed up the feelings of teams that have played NIU in recent seasons: "Obviously, he’s a very good player. He’s fast. He’s built like a linebacker, but he’s got tailback speed. He’s got a lot of savvy. Like Chandler Harnish (Lynch's predecessor), I’m looking forward to him getting his degree and moving on."

NIU has promoted Lynch for the Heisman, college football's most prestigious award. It sent out "Lunch with Lynch" lunchboxes, notebooks and started the website: www.lynchfor6.com.

His numbers fit. Lynch has rushed for 1,273 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is 190-of-290 passing (65.6 percent) for 2,216 yards, with 21 touchdowns compared to five interceptions.

According to NIU, Lynch is one of just nine FBS players all-time to compile 3,000 rushing and 5,000 passing yards in a career. He broke the NCAA record — and the NIU school record — for most rushing yards in a game by a quarterback with 316 yards on 32 carries at Central Michigan on Oct. 19.

He's also a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and the Senior CLASS Award. He is one of 15 semifinalists for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.

While Lynch is a long shot to win the Heisman, his coach, Rod Carey said the 6-foot senior should be considered, especially after his 345-yard passing and 123-yard rushing game against Ball State.

"If Jordan isn’t in the conversation for the Heisman I don’t know what people are watching, they were obviously asleep. In my estimation that trophy goes to the best player in the nation," Carey said after Wednesday's game. "With the performance he had tonight, we had a lot of good plays out there from everybody, but from the performance he had tonight he dang sure should be in that conversation."

There have been just four Chicago-area Heisman Trophy winners. University of Chicago's Jay Berwanger won the inaugural one in 1935, though he was from Iowa. Evanston native Clint Frank won it in 1937 while playing for Yale. Gary native and Michigan running back Tom Harmon, a Horace Mann grad, won the 1940 award. Fenwick grad Johnny Lattner won it while playing for Notre Dame in 1953.

Lynch said that his main concern is winning games, not awards.

"We want to go undefeated and get another BCS bowl bid and we want to win," Lynch said. "I think you win award if your team has wins. That is what this is about."

He said after Wednesday's performance that he just wants to get better.

“I feel like I’m improving every week, in my passing game, my running game, some of the checks I’m making," Lynch said. "I still think the best is yet to come for me and this team."

His high school coach, Frank Lenti, the most winning prep coach in Illinois history, is not surprised by Lynch's accomplishments. He told the story of another quarterback he coached in the 1990s that no college would take a chance on.

"That was the same with Don (Donovan McNabb)," Lenti said. "I would say he did a pretty nice job.

"Jordan is a leader first of all. He was a coach on the field and while he is confident, he is not a cocky kid. He is down to earth and more concerned with winning than his own stats."

Former Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill, who now coaches the University of Minnesota, was the only Division I coach to offer Lynch a try at quarterback.

"He told me straight up that I would have every chance to play quarterback," Lynch said. "I am very thankful to Coach Kill for that opportunity."

Lynch was an understudy to Chandler Harnish at NIU and was the same to Carter Kopach at Mount Carmel. Both schools have produced some great quarterbacks, among them George Bork, Tim Tyrell, Stacey Robinson (aka "The Wishbone Wizard) and Harnish.

"I feel fortunate when you hear those names that I can be in the same company," Lynch said. "I am successful because of my offensive line. They do a great job of protecting me and blocking for us. I have only been sacked three times and it was because I was trying to run. It was not their fault."

"We come out and play with a chip on our shoulders. We still feel we have something to prove."

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