Jordan Lynch is on his way to New York.
The Northern Illinois senior quarterback was named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy award on Monday. He will join Auburn running back Tre Mason, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Boston College running back Andre Williams.
It is the first time since 1994 that more than five finalists have been chosen to attend the Heisman's presentation ceremony, which will be held at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square on Saturday at 7 p.m. CST.
“It’s a great honor and a great accomplishment, but I couldn’t do it without my coaches, teammates, family and the support staff,” Lynch said. “It’s hard [to get selected from a non-AQ school]. One of the biggest things is you have to win games, have a winning team and your stats have to separate you from the bigger schools. I knew if I had a chance to get there it would be a good individual season, and I knew it would take a great year as a team for us."
Lynch led the Huskies to a 12-1 record this season and a berth in the Poinsettia Bowl. He broke his own single-season record for rushing yards by a FBS quarterback with 1,881 yards and has accounted for a school-record 46 touchdowns this season.
Lynch finished seventh in the voting last year after leading the Huskies to the first Bowl Championship Series bowl game in program history where they lost to Florida State, 31-10, in the Orange Bowl.
“This is a great honor for him and it recognizes the great career he has had," NIU coach Rod Carey said in a press release. "It is so well-deserved that he gets to go to New York. I’m also very happy for NIU, that along with Jordan’s accomplishments, our team and our university will be put on center stage in New York."
Lynch becomes the first player in NIU history to be named a finalist for the Heisman. The Huskies have had standout players in the past, but none of them made it to New York. NIU running back LeShon Johnson finished sixth in 1993 despite leading the nation in rushing and Michael Turner failed to crack the top 10 during NIU's 10-2 season in 2003.
His Heisman campaign started this summer when NIU made "Lynch for 6" lunchboxes as a way to stir up publicity for its senior quarterback. In addition to Lynch's staggering numbers, he also benefitted from national television exposure over the last four weeks of the season, something that Johnson and Turner didn't have when they played with the Huskies. NIU played in primetime midweek slots on ESPN2 for the last three regular season games against Ball State, Toledo and Western Michigan and also during the MAC Championship vs. Bowling Green.
The last two players from the MAC to be named a finalist for the Heisman were Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss in 1997 and Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington in 1999. Moss finished fourth behind Peyton Manning, Ryan Leaf and Charles Woodson while Pennington was fifth, placing behind Ron Dayne, Joe Hamilton, Drew Brees and Michael Vick.
"It's awesome for the MAC conference, it's awesome for Northern Illinois," Lynch said. "It just puts us on the map. It gets us more exposure. It'll help our recruiting, it helps with everything. I wouldn't be here wihtout my coaches and my teammates and my family."
After the turn of the century, the MAC has placed several players in the top 10 of the voting, but none were invited to New York for the final ceremony. Marshall's Byron Leftwich finished sixth in 2002 while Miami (Ohio) quarterback Ben Roethlisberger placed ninth in 2003. Ball State QB Nate Davis was eighth in 2008.
Other recent mid-major players have had their turn at the Heisman ceremony, including Hawaii's Colt Brennan, who finished third in 2008, the highest finish for a non-AQ player in the Bowl Championship Series era, and Boise State's Kellen Moore, who finished fourth in 2010. The last player from a mid-major program to win the Heisman Trophy was BYU QB Ty Detmer in 1990.
Lynch said he's never been to New York, but will be sure to enjoy his time there this weekend.
"Really hasn't sunk in yet," Lynch said. "I'm just happy to be there, spend it with my family, see all the candidates and the previous Heisman winners."