Relevant observations, pertinent notes, questions, minutiae and Huskie Trivial Pursuit from your local, retired sports information director:
Observation No. 1: “Touchdowns Reponsible For” might not be the gaudiest, most attention-grabbing NCAA football statistic on the books. At least not in a league with the more traditional national rushing, passing and total offense leaders. As awkward as “TRF” sounds, a player’s total season rushing and passing TDs might be the most accurate stat barometer in regards to his value to his school’s team offensive production.
Two weeks into the 2011 season, the national “TRF” leader is not Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, Stanford QB Andrew Luck, TCU’s Casey Pachall, Michigan’s Denard Robinson or Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. Nope, Mr. “TRF” this week – Northern Illinois University senior QB Chandler Harnish at an eye-opening 33.0 points per game.
To date, the 6-foot-2, 221-pound Harnish has thrown for seven TDs and rushed for four more or been responsible for 66 of his team’s 91 points this fall. I know it’s early in the year and bigger Huskie priorities loom on the horizon – such as Wisconsin this Saturday at Soldier Field and the eight-game Mid-American Conference schedule beginning Oct. 1 – but No. 12 could be headed to more unchartered territory in the NIU record book.
With a school-record 8,011 career total offense yards in 37 appearances and 10 regular-season games remaining, Harnish ranks No. 7 among active NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision athletes in both career total offense and career “TRF” (64) and – barring unforeseen injury – projects into an 11,000-yard plus total offense performer. Then consider the previous NIU career record-holders in that stat – QB Chris Finlen (6,778 yards in 1997, 1999-2001) and College Football Hall of Fame QB George Bork (6,402 yards in 1960-63). Can you say separation?
Question No. 1: Want a reason to purchase Wisconsin-NIU tickets this week? How about the two opposition QBs? Wisconsin transfer Russell Wilson (No. 2 in NCAA passing efficiency with a 237.64 rating and No. 40 in total offense at 258.5 yards per game this week) vs. Harnish (No. 6 in NCAA passing efficiency at 197.96, No. 10 in total offense at 339.5 yards per game, and No. 15 (tie) in scoring at 12.0 points per game). Another 45-42 thriller, perhaps?
Question No. 2: Why wouldn’t NIU intercollegiate athletics promote/market the 105th homecoming game (vs. Western Michigan on Oct. 15) by number on its official schedule cards, posters and website? There’s not too many universities with a triple-digit homecoming celebration – including our two Big Ten Conference in-state rivals. Sometimes we complain about a lack of tradition here. Our homecoming legacy dates to a documented alumni game on Oct. 10, 1910, and that story is a future column in itself. Kudos, though, to Huskie band director Thomas Bough for using that 105thhomecoming figure this semester.
Observation No. 2: In journalism – even sports journalism – the concepts of (1) “first” and (2) “never” are absolute. You either are or aren’t. No gray areas there. So, imagine my surprise last Saturday morning in two newspaper previews of the NIU-Kansas matchup that stated the Huskies never had headed into a game against a BCS opponent as the favorite on paper or in Las Vegas, i.e., “the line.” Interesting, but wrong.
My first reaction to such a statement? Iowa State on Sept. 27, 2003. If you recall that was the magical, dream season when head coach Joe Novak’s 11 started 7-0, skyrocketed to an unprecendented No. 12 in the AP poll, and a “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” No. 10 in the first BCS rankings. In its Aug. 28 opener, NIU upset No. 15-rated Maryland in overtime. On Sept. 20, the Huskies made further history by upending No. 21 Alabama on the road. The week of the Iowa State game, NIU rose to No. 20 in the AP poll and No. 22 in the ESPN/USA Today polls. Logically, in this case, how could the so-so Cyclones be favored?
So, I did what Hall of Famer and consummate journalist Bud Nangle taught me decades ago. I didn’t Google. No, I did some research by heading to NIU’s Founders’ Memorial Library and checking the Chicago Tribune on microfilm. According to the Tuesday, Sept. 23, edition, the Trib sports agate page listed NIU as a 6½-point favorite over Iowa State. For the record, the good guys beat ISU, 24-16. By the way, this event occurred in 2003, not pre-WiFi 1903. Sorry, misinformed media types.
The more I think about it, we might have been favored over rebuilding Kansas State in both 1989 (NIU won, 37-20) and 1990 (NIU won 42-35). Let someone else do the research. I’m retired.
Déja Vü No. 1: Three weeks ago in its Michigan State grid preview, the Chicago Tribune stated that the Spartans’ newly promoted offensive coordinator Dan Roushar, a former NIU quarterback (1981-82) and Huskie assistant coach (1997-2002) “never” had held such a responsibility. Huh? Am I hallucinating? Roushar had served as Novak’s offensive coordinator. I was here. And then at the University of Illinois. What parallel universe is this?
So I Googled Michigan State’s official athletics website. In the second paragraph of Roushar’s updated 2011 bio, it read that this was the fifth time in his career as an offensive coordinator – at Illinois (2004), NIU (1998-2002), Ball State (1994) and Butler (1989-92). Fifth time, I kid you not.
Over the years in this racket, I guarantee you that I’ve made my share of typos, errors, misspellings, poor judgment and, even worse, predictions. That said, these are two examples of bad sports journalism, no doubt. Like the oft-quoted Chicago City News Bureau story: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
• Mike Korcek is a former Northern Illinois University sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle.