Can Lynch Really Win The Heisman Trophy?
By Clyde Hughes
Last month, Northern Illinois unleashed its first salvo in its push to get its quarterback Jordan Lynch attention for the Heisman Trophy.
"At a certain point, any Heisman campaign is about Jordan and what he and NIU accomplish on the field," Northern Illinois associate athletic director Donna Turner said in a news release. "Our goal at this time is to make sure people realize what Jordan did last year, and that one of the most dynamic and multi-talented players in college football is back. This is phase one, and we’re excited to get it started."
Northern Illinois will need a lot more help to get Lynch viewed as a serious Heisman Trophy candidate.
It's not that Lynch didn't have a good enough junior season. Lynch accounted for 44 touchdowns — 25 passing and 19 rushing — more than 50 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in 2012. He rushed for 1,815 yards and threw for 3,138 more while accounting for 75.3 percent of NIU’s total offense. He broke four NCAA records in the process.
The first challenge for Lynch is not becoming a victim of his own success. Any drop-off in those gaudy numbers will be seen as a step back from 2012. Secondly, since he is playing in the Mid-American Conference, there will be little Lynch can do in conference games that will build his Heisman's credentials.
Lynch's Heisman Trophy fate may come down to two games this season: the opener at Iowa on Aug. 31 and a Sept. 28 at Purdue. Northern Illinois' schedulers didn't do Lynch any favors. The tough competition shows up early. Fairly or unfairly, Heisman voters directly will compare Lynch's numbers in those contests to another Heisman candidate, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.
Since Iowa and Purdue are both from the Big Ten, Heisman voters will give more weight to what Lynch does in those contests than anything he will do in the MAC. In short, Lynch can't just lead the Huskies to victories in those games, but he will have to run up statistics in anticipation that Heisman voters will play close attention.
Lynch's Heisman's hopes will ride on something else he will have little control over: a national ranking. It is rare, this short of Paul Hornung rare, that a player will receive serious consideration for the Heisman without playing for a nationally-ranked team. Northern Illinois this year will begin the season outside of the Top 25.
That's not to say it cannot be done. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel came out of the blue to become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012.
There are two examples where players won the Heisman Trophy on pure numbers.
Barry Sanders was a little-used running back at Oklahoma State in 1988 sitting behind All-American Thurman Thomas. While many expected the Cowboys to have a drop-off in production after Thomas's departure, Sanders had one of the greatest seasons for a running back in the history of college football, averaging 237.5 yards per game in winning the Heisman Trophy.
The following year, no one had heard of Andre Ware when he took over Houston's "run-and-shoot" offense when he threw for 4,699 yards and 44 touchdowns on his way to breaking 26 NCAA passing records to win the Heisman Trophy.
The key to those Heisman wins were that Sanders and Ware performed at a high level against everyone — bad teams and good teams, teams ranked high and teams no one cared about. Because of that, Heisman voters gave both the benefit of the doubt in casting their votes.
The key for Lynch is consistency against every level of competition. That's a high standard, but for him to overcome what some will consider a middle-of-the-road schedule, big numbers will be his key to serious Heisman consideration.
Regardless, Lynch and Northern Illinois already are benefiting from the conversation. Huskies coach Rod Carey said the award talk brings attention to Northern Illinois and his teammates, so they look forward to the chase.
"I think a Heisman campaign isn’t off of what he could do or will do, but what he’s done," said Carey said in a news release. "What he’s already accomplished in one year as a starter is more than what some people do in a career. I know that every coach in America would sure love to have a leader like Jordan on their team.
"When you have a leader like him, he will always defer to the team and know that he can’t be there without his team. The attention to the team and to the program is well-deserved based on what’s been going on here not just last year but over the last 10 years."