The similarities are obvious.
Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish and his counterpart in today’s MAC Championship game, Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton, both can beat opposing defenses with their arms and with their feet.
Both have had standout seasons and led their teams to Detroit despite bumps in the road.
“They’re both capable of beating you with the run or with the pass,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “They both have great toughness. It is hard to get those two out of a ballgame. They can take the hits and absorb the punishment. I’m sure they’re both bright quarterbacks.”
The differences, though, are stark.
Harnish was named to several national preseason watch lists.
Just months ago, Tettleton didn’t know he even would be Ohio’s starting quarterback.
After sitting out 2010 because he was buried on the depth chart, the redshirt sophomore competed with senior Phil Bates for the starting spot.
He was told by quarterbacks coach Gerry Gdowski, rather unceremoniously, that he’d be the starter during an August practice before the team’s media day.
“He said, ‘I’m pretty sure coach is going to announce it today, but you’re going to be the starter,’ ” Tettleson remembered. “It was really not your ideal way of telling your quarterback you had the job.”
Tettleton had a feeling at that point that he would have a pretty successful season. He had a veteran team around him and star receiver LaVon Brazill to catch his passes.
Still, he had no idea his season would be this successful. Tettleton was 16th in the country with a 151.9 passer rating, throwing 26 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions.
“I didn’t think I’d be having this great of a year, but I knew I’d be having a great season with the guys around me,” Tettleton said. “The guys around me give me enough time to get the ball to our playmakers. It’s been a great year, just all around, with everyone doing their part.”
Sure, Tettleton and his team have had its valleys this season. During September and October, the Bobcats lost three of four games and fell to 1-2 in the MAC East.
Behind its young quarterback, Ohio closed out the regular season with five straight wins.
“I think all of the offensive guys have rallied around him, and they trust him,” linebacker Noah Keller said. “If you want to be a good quarterback, you definitely have to have good leadership qualities, and he has that.”
Today, he’ll go head to head with Harnish, the conference MVP.
Although the two have similar passing numbers (Harnish ranks 15th nationally in passer rating while Tettleton is 16th), Harnish’s 1,351 rushing yards dwarf Tettleton’s 576.
The Ohio quarterback knows he still has some work to do to reach Harnish’s level. Tettleton said he’s just looking forward to meeting Harnish and shaking his hand today.
Asked whether he’d like to model his play after Harnish’s, Tettleton barely had to take a breath.
“Definitely. I’ve always thought about answering that question,” he said. “Ever since he’s been in the league, I’ve really looked up to him. I feel like we do have a similar playing style and it’s going to be fun to go up against him and get some words with him. He’s been so great for this conference.”