DeKALB – College football fans will hear a lot about Northern Illinois over the next few days.
People across the country certainly are more familiar with NIU’s program after last season’s Orange Bowl berth, and this season’s 12-0 start that nearly led to another spot in the BCS.
This weekend, there will be even more of a spotlight on the Huskies with quarterback Jordan Lynch heading into New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
“We have a really good thing here at NIU. Obviously, with the university, it’s not just the football program, this is a great university,” NIU coach Rod Carey said Tuesday. “So, it’s something when we can have that stage – we like it because it does get us out there.
“That’s not first here. The first thing here is Jordan, and his family and his parents and his brother.”
NIU has had Heisman contenders in the past. Former tailback LeShon Johnson took sixth in 1993 despite not having the national TV exposure Lynch has had this season. Garrett Wolfe finished 11th in 2006, starting the season with a blaze before sputtering at the end.
No player from a mid-major conference has won the Heisman since Ty Detmer in 1990. Marshall receiver Randy Moss is the Mid-American Conference’s highest finisher; he took fourth in 1997.
Five years ago, Lynch was a prospect who had only one offer to play quarterback coming out of Chicago’s Mt. Carmel High School. Thankfully for Lynch and NIU, former Huskies coach Jerry Kill decided to take a chance on a player who ran a triple-option offense as a prep and hardly threw the ball.
“No matter where you go, what level or what conference, you can be a contender for the Heisman,” Lynch said. “I think that helps us with recruiting. It just goes to show you, no matter where you go, if you can play football, they’ll look at you.”
In the past, NIU was known more as a tailback school. There was Johnson, then Michael Turner and Wolfe. Chad Spann was the MAC’s MVP in 2010.
However, these days, it’s going to be tough for people not to think of NIU for its quarterbacks. The past two – Lynch and Chandler Harnish – could be argued as the best two signal-callers in school history.
Carey said NIU’s offense, as well as the recent string of strong QBs makes the school more enticing to recruits who are considering taking snaps for the Huskies.
“Obviously, with Chandler, Jordan and that success we’ve had here, people are going to take a hard look at us, and rightfully so,” Carey said, “because spread offenses are quarterback-driven, and that’s what we are.”