Jordan Lynch: The People's Choice for the Heisman Trophy

Sean FryeFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2013

USA Today

Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch epitomizes the American football hero. He is a jack-of-all trades quarterback, overlooked in recruiting by the major programs, who persevered to become a star. Dibs on the movie rights. 

Those who watch just one Huskies game will become a fan thanks to his palpable passion for the game and hair-on-fire style.  

However, unlike many of his fellow Heisman contenders, Lynch's attitude and backstory are as big a part of his Heisman candidacy as his gaudy numbers.  

The debate rages about what makes the model Heisman Trophy winner. Should character count toward the award? Is it more about individual numbers or how much that player's team wins? 

The Heisman Trophy Trust doesn't say the winner has to be the best player on a BCS conference team; it says it should go to college football's most outstanding player. 

The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.

That describes Lynch. He's a throwback to the glory years of college football, a hard-nosed player who consistently outworks his opponents.

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 2:  Jordan Lynch #6 of the Northern Illinois Huskies dives into the end zone for a touchdown in the 1st quarter during a game with the Massachusetts Minutemen at Gillette Stadium on November 2, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Ask Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey about Lynch and this is what you'll hear.

“I will say this, I haven’t been around anybody and I haven’t personally seen anybody that means more to their team," Carey said. "He certainly, absolutely should be in the [Heisman] conversation and should be looked at that way." 

Carey knows what it's like to have someone carry a team the way Lynch does. In 1989, Carey was a freshman offensive lineman at Indiana, where running back Anthony Thompson was busy rewriting the record books. 

Thompson won the Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards that year, but he lost the Heisman Trophy to Andre Ware, the quarterback of the Houston Cougars.  

What cost Thompson the Heisman that year was wins. Houston won nine games while Indiana won only five. 

"[Thompson] was the best football player in the country that year," Carey said. "That was the year Andre Ware won it. But no one meant more to their team than Anthony Thompson did. He didn’t get it because we went 5-6.”

Lynch doesn't have that problem. 

“We ain’t 5-6,'' Carey said of his unbeaten Huskies, the defending Mid-American Conference champions, "and Jordan means the same to our team as Anthony Thompson did in 1989."

Lynch contributes about 62 percent of his team's offense and 65 percent of its touchdowns. He's the only player in the country who has more than 1,000 yards passing and rushing. He holds 14 offensive school records and six NCAA records, according to NIU Athletics

He's outperformed the higher-profile Heisman candidates in most offensive categories. He accounts for the highest percentage of his team's touchdowns, and only Johnny Manziel racks up a higher percentage of total yards. 

QBs up for the Heisman (As of Week 10)
PlayerPassing YardsRushing YardsPass TDsRush TDsINT% of team's TDs% of team's total yards
Jordan Lynch1,8711,1501912565.361.9
Marcus Mariota2,281511209046.755.2
Jameis Winston2,502153243654.060.4
Johnny Manziel2,867564268856.665.4
NCAA.com

One of the reasons Lynch might not be getting Heisman attention is because of his performance in last year's Orange Bowl. He was limited to just 220 total yards and one touchdown, and looked out of his league against Florida State. 

But already in 2013, he's beaten two Big Ten opponents and put up strong numbers in each game. 

Jordan Lynch vs. Big Ten Teams in 2013
DateOpponentPassing YardsRushing YardsTotal TDs
Aug. 31@ Iowa275563
Sept. 28@ Purdue207354
ESPN.com

Lynch relishes opportunities to beat the Big Ten schools that overlooked him coming out of high school, where he was rated as just a 2-star prospect by Rivals

“Anytime we get to play those Big Ten teams or BCS teams, we have a big chip on our shoulder," Lynch said. "We feel like we could’ve went there out of high school, but we were too small or too short or too slow.”

After a stellar high school career at Mount Carmel High School under Frank Lenti, Donovan McNabb's former high school coach, Lynch's only offer was from Northern Illinois. 

He was able to prove the doubters wrong. 

In his time at NIU, he's accounted for 8,778 total yards and is on the verge of leading the Huskies to a second consecutive BCS berth. In 2012, he became the first player in FBS history to pass for more than  3,000 yards and rush for more than 1,500 in a season. 

Against Central Michigan on Oct. 19, he set an FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 316, and he did it on just 32 carries. One week later against Eastern Michigan, Lynch completed the rare trifecta of throwing, running and catching a touchdown. 

The effort and talent he displayed on the touchdown catch is a microcosm of who he is as a person. 

“Jordan stands out to me because I’m with him day to day," Carey said. "He’s just the same cat every day.”

True to his Midwestern roots, Lynch doesn't buy into his own hype. 

“I try to avoid it at all costs," Lynch said. "I really don’t think about it." 

While Lynch is certainly aware that he's being looked at as a Heisman candidate, he's humble, giving credit to his teammates and coaches every step of the way. 

“I think the season is going well so far," Lynch said. "We’re 9-0 and I try not to look at any individual stats.”

He also hates comparisons, even to former Heisman winners. 

“I don’t like to compare myself to anyone else. I’m not Tim Tebow, I’m Jordan Lynch," he said. 

Oct 26, 2013; DeKalb, IL, USA; Northern Illinois Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch (6) leaps into the end zone against Eastern Michigan Eagles defensive back Willie Creear (4) and linebacker Great Ibe (10) during the first half at Huskie Stadium. Mandatory
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Probably the most vocal supporter of Lynch's Heisman candidacy is Northern Illinois itself. The athletic department has created a website, JordanLynchFor6.com, in an effort to promote its quarterback. 

It's no secret that, without Lynch, the Huskies probably wouldn't be undefeated. They probably wouldn't have gone to the Orange Bowl last season. Dave Doeren, the head coach of last year's Huskies squad, probably wouldn't have gotten the N.C. State job. The list goes on. 

If Lynch gets the invitation his supporters feel he deserves to New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist, he'll be one of just three guys from a non-BCS schools to make that trip since 2000. None of those guys went on to win the award. 

Heisman Trophy Finalists from Non-BCS Schools since 2000
YearPlayerPositionSchoolPlace
2000LaDainian TomlinsonRBTCU4th
2007Colt BrennanQBHawai'i3rd
2010Kellen MooreQBBoise State4th
Heisman Trophy website
Not only is Lynch performing well, but he is also doing it without a hint of the entitlement that has come to define college football stars in the BCS era.
  
"Senior year of college football, it doesn’t get any better than this," Lynch said.