Five Who Will Challenge Jordan Lynch
By Clyde Hughes
Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch dominated the Mid-American Conference postseason awards last fall, capturing the conference’s offensive player of the year nod and the Vern Smith Leadership Award trophy.
The recognition was well-deserved for the Heisman Trophy candidate, leading the Huskies to an 11-2 mark, the MAC’s first Bowl Championship Series appearance (Discover Orange Bowl), along with back-to-back conference titles. His 1,611 yards rushing, 2,750 yards passing and 39 touchdowns in 2012 will certainly get people talking Heisman again for his senior season in the fall.
Lynch will be favored to capture both titles again as Northern Illinois will try for the MAC football version of the Triple Crown. But there are several conference players who are saying don’t be so fast in coronating Lynch the MAC best player in 2013.
Here are five players who should challenge Lynch as the conference’s best player in 2013.
Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State: What makes Wenning so intriguing is not only the impressive numbers he racked up last season, but the weapons he has returning as well. Wenning passed for 3,095 yards, completing 301 of 460 passes (65.4 percent), including 24 touchdowns. He led the Cardinals to a 9-4 record and a bowl game. Wenning surrounds himself with probably the best offensive talent in the MAC, including running back Jahwan Edwards, who rushed for 1,410 yards a year ago. Wenning will throw to three first-team All-MAC performers from a year ago in tight end Zane Fakes and wide receivers Willie Snead and Jamill Smith. Here is what Ball State coach Pete Lembo is saying of his senior QB after spring ball.
“Keith has really broken out of his comfort zone first and foremost. What I mean by that is he has gotten a lot more vocal in the locker room. He has become a lot more vocal even with me. He will come into my office now and tell me what is on his mind. I think he is progressing in terms of his leadership.”
Dri Archer, RB, Special Teams, Kent State: Archer is not only the fastest guy in the Mid-American Conference (a supposed 4.2 40-yard dash); he can hurt you in so many different ways. The MAC’s special teams player of the year in 2013 returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and led the national with a 38.2 yard kickoff return average last year. Then we get into his 1,429 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns on the ground. He added 561 yards on 39 receptions and four touches as a receiver. New Kent State coach Paul Haynes is threatening to throw the ball more to Archer this season to get him into the open field. Less we forget, Kent State was two overtimes away from beating Northern Illinois and winning the MAC title last year. Seeing Archer in the open field more could be a lot of fun.
Roosevelt Nix, DT, Kent State: Nix probably has the best shot as a defensive player to win the MAC’s top honor. Frankly, there isn’t too much more for Nix to win. The senior has been named first-team All-MAC for the last three seasons. He began last season on the Outland, Nagurski and Lombardi watch lists and likely will be on the latter again this year. His 52 tackles for loss rank him second all-time at Ken State and his 20.5 sacks place him fourth all-time.
David Fluellen, RB, Toledo: Fluellen enjoyed a breakout junior season, rushing for 1,498 yards and 13 touchdowns, earning him first-team All-MAC honors on a Rockets team that averaged nearly 32 points a game. He had 32 catches for 246 yards out of the backfield. After flirting with entering the NFL draft this spring, he decided to return for his senior year to the delight of Rockets fans and coach Matt Campbell. Fluellen is the brother of former Syracuse running back Jhamal Fluellen.
Beau Blankenship, RB, Ohio: Blankenship is another running back in a high-octane MAC offense. The former Iowa State back rushed for 1,604 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2012, earning him second-team all-conference honors. He rushed for more than 100 yards nine times, including a 24-14 victory against Penn State.