A little under 15 months ago in Soldier Field on a dreary day in a summer that seemed desperate to find its way to fall, I got my first look at NIU Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch. NIU was taking on the Iowa Hawkeyes of the (not-so) mighty Big Ten in Chicago in what was billed as a “neutral” site game but looked more like Kinnick East.
The Huskies were looking for an early win over a BCS school to bolster their program. At the time, they probably thought little of making the MAC’s first ever Bowl Championship Series appearance. The focus was really on showcasing what the program had become in front of the metro area and the national audience.
“I wish we could play (in Chicago) every year,” then NIU head coach Dave Doeren told me after the game. An opportunity to play a Big Ten opponent in a place like Soldier Field so close to home is a profile-raising endeavor for a MAC school, regardless of outcome.
During the game, Jordan Lynch ran the ball effectively, leading NIU out to an early lead and busting a 73-yard touchdown run, but he was ultimately ineffective as a passer in the inclement weather, and a late Iowa touchdown gave the Hawkeyes a 18-17 lead. What happened next was relatively unexpected.
I filed a game story praising Lynch’s athleticism but questioning whether or not the Huskies were explosive enough to win the MAC without Chandler Harnish. Jordan Lynch and the NIU Huskies would go on to win their next 12 contests and earn a trip to the Orange Bowl, and Lynch would rack up an additional 4,780 yards in the process.
The athletic department launched a modest Heisman Campaign surrounding Lynch’s gaudy numbers and NIU’s BCS charge, and I did this story on their efforts, politely declining to mention what I thought of Lynch after his first start in Chicago.
Tonight, the NIU Huskies face their last major obstacle of the 2013 regular season with a trip to Toledo. Six days after that, I’ll be up in DeKalb covering the game hoping to follow up on NIU’s repeat quest for the BCS and Jordan Lynch’s pursuit of an invitation to New York City for the Heisman Trophy Ceremony.
But, in order for my trip next week to be worthwhile, NIU will have to continue their assault of the Mid-American Conference, this time handling 7-3 Toledo.
Toledo gave the Florida Gators and Missouri Tigers (a pair of SEC East schools) more than anyone could have expected in their first two weeks in the season, and with just one loss in the MAC (to Ball State), a win over NIU would force a three way tie in the MAC West. They have a potent rushing attack headed by David Fluellen and Kareem Hunt, and they’ll hope to power their way to victory against an NIU defense that gave up 156 yards rushing to Jahwan Edwards of Ball State last week.
The Toledo Rockets are all that stand between NIU and a return trip to the MAC championship.
They’re all that stands between the NIU Huskies and one more shot to impress the voters–both the ones that affect the BCS standings and the ones who decide the Heisman.
They’re all that stands between me and a great story.
Toledo is formidable, yes, but NIU has so thoroughly dominated the MAC the past few seasons (winning the last three MAC West titles and the last two conference championships as a whole), that it’s hard to imagine anybody knocking off the Huskies. At least not now.
NIU is seated just behind Fresno State and Jordan Lynch is on the cusp of Heisman contention. Both an invitation to New York City for Lynch and an invitation to the BCS for NIU appear to be longshots right now, but there’s really only one way of remedying either situation.
Win, and win big.
The Toledo Rockets are another chasm in the road on the way to building the next dominant non-AQ program in the NCAA, and make no mistake about it, NIU could be that program.
They’re positioned within a couple hundred miles of an area rife with talent, and the two Big Ten schools they compete against for these recruits are both struggling mightily. They’ve got the best facilities in the MAC, and they’re riding a wave of publicity off their recent success.
The Jordan Lynch-led Huskies are on national TV tonight (ESPN 2 at 8 PM ET) with another chance to make that dream a reality. Next week, with me in attendance, they’ll get another shot, and, should they take care of business, they’ll get a chance again in the MAC Championship.
And that’s all they can really ask for at this point:
A shot at a MAC title, a shot at the Heisman (or at least a trip to New York City) for Jordan Lynch and another shot at the BCS for the NIU Huskies.