A package containing a Jordan Lynch lunchbox and notepad recently arrived on my desk.
The lunchbox touted Lynch, Northern Illinois' senior quarterback, as a Heisman candidate this season.
Undoubtedly, the lunchbox is right. Lynch recorded 4,953 yards of total offense and accounted for 44 touchdowns while leading NIU to a 12-2 record and a second consecutive Mid-American Conference championship last year. Only one returning quarterback posted better numbers and just four recorded as many victories.
But there's a major difference between being a "Heisman candidate" and actually winning the award.
While it's impossible to know exactly what Lynch and the Huskies would have to do for Lynch to be accepting college football's most prestigious honor come December, we can generate a fair estimate based on recent Heisman races.
The most essential Heisman Trophy statistic is wins. A quarterback has won 11 of the last 13 Heismans and all but two of them (Tim Tebow, 2007; Robert Griffin III, 2011) had 10+ wins before the bowl games started.
Lynch and the Huskies met that standard last year, going 12-1, and it still wasn't enough as Lynch finished seventh in the voting.
The case of former Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, who was twice a Heisman finalist, shows the importance of wins and, more specifically, an undefeated season for a mid-major quarterback like Lynch.
In 2006, Brennan posted the best numbers of his career, throwing for 5,500 yards and an FBS-record 58 touchdowns. However, his team was 10-3 before the bowl game and he finished sixth in the voting. In 2007, Brennan threw for "just" 4,000 yards and 38 touchdowns, but Hawaii went undefeated and earned a berth in the Sugar Bowl. Brennan would finish third.
Another NIU loss to Iowa or a MAC loss to Ball State or Toledo would raise the same questions about whether NIU (and therefore Lynch) is on the same level as their counterparts from BCS conferences.
That's why NIU would have to rattle off 13 straight wins and win a third consecutive MAC championship for Lynch to have a chance.
Many mid-major quarterbacks have captained undefeated teams in the last decade. TCU's Andy Dalton (2010), Boise St.'s Kellen Moore (2009) and the aforementioned Brennan come to mind, but none of them posted the out-of-this-world stats necessary for players from mid-major conferences. And none of them won the Heisman.
Lynch had crazy numbers last season. He broke the FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback and only Johnny Manziel had more total yards. Lynch had 11 consecutive 100-yard rushing games and put up 569 yards of total offense against Toledo alone.
But the loss to Iowa in Week 1 stuck.
So what kind of numbers would Lynch have to post this year in addition to an undefeated regular season?
No mid-major player has won the Heisman since BYU's Ty Detmer in 1990. That season he threw for a then-record 5,188 yards and 41 touchdowns.
While it may be tough for Lynch to touch some national records like the 5,976 total yards posted by Texas Tech's B.J. Symons in 2003, Lynch would likely need to top last year's totals and be the national leader in several statistical categories.
5,000 total yards and 50 touchdowns might do the trick, yeah?
A HEISMAN MOMENT
Even as statisticians create more ways to objectively define the best players in sports, Heisman Trophy winners all have that "defining moment" that solidifies the ballot for most voters
Over recent years these moments are easy to recall. Manziel took down Alabama in Tuscaloosa last year, RG3 dominated a ranked Texas team at home in the final game of the regular season, and Cam Newton rallied Auburn to a win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl before winning the SEC title.
While many will point to NIU's non-conference games against Iowa and Purdue as such opportunities, most of these defining moments tend to happen late in the season and closer to the award ceremony. Look at what happened to West Virginia's Geno Smith after he threw for 636 yards in Week 4 last season.
The MAC Championship provides the best situation as the Huskies will be at Ford Field and in front of a national TV audience. Ohio is the preseason favorite in the MAC East, and the Bobcats could also be ranked with a favorable schedule following their season opener at Louisville.
500 yards, five touchdowns and a dominating win would leave quite a final impression. Maybe another highlight-reel run like this one against Akron last season.
It will be a tall task for Lynch to end up on stage at the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan this December.
Getting to 13 wins, 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns is no easy feat. In fact, it's never been done before by any quarterback in FBS history.
However, it's not unprecedented for a surprise candidate to take home the Heisman. Nobody had Manziel and Griffin pegged as the Heisman favorites four months before they won the award.
And nobody thought Lynch would take NIU to the Orange Bowl last year either.
- Ross Jacobson, firstname.lastname@example.org, @RossJacobson