Can a Mid-American Conference player win the Heisman Trophy?
The short answer to that is “Probably not,” but that isn’t stopping Northern Illinois from trying. Today they officially launched a campaign for quarterback Jordan Lynch, and you can visit “Lynch for 6” yourself to check it out. Thorough, well-crafted and suitable for a player looking to make MAC history.
Since the conference’s inception, the highest a MAC player has ever finished in the Heisman voting was fourth, a mark achieved by Randy Moss at Marshall in 1997. (The great blog Hustle Belt has a full list of MAC Heisman vote-getters, if you’re interested.)
Lynch came very close to matching Moss last year, finishing sixth behind Johnny Manziel, Manti Te’o, Collin Klein, Marqise Lee and Braxton Miller. He placed in front of Tavon Austin, Kenjon Barner and Jarvis Jones, so he was in really, really good company.
But now the big question: Can Lynch improve on last year’s finish and seriously challenge for the award? It’ll be tough with so many talented, established players at big-name programs (Manziel, Lee and Miller all return and please don’t forget about Teddy Bridgewater, Jadeveon Clowney, Tajh Boyd, Aaron Murray, A.J. McCarron, Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas), but Lynch has a few advantages.
First, he is fairly well known for being the quarterback of Northern Illinois. When Dan LeFevour was putting up video game numbers at Central Michigan, he never had anything like the exposure Lynch had playing in the Orange Bowl – and that was after he had already finished sixth (with perhaps a little assist from head coach Dave Doeren). People voted for Lynch on the merits of his team's record (12-1 with a MAC title) and his numbers, which are staggering:
3,138 yards passing with a 60.2% completion rate, 25 touchdowns and 6 picks, with another 1,815 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground.
Those stats, as mind-blowing as they seem, are repeatable. Doeren left to take over NC State, but offensive coordinator Rod Carey was promoted to replace him, meaning that the system Lynch excelled in won’t be changing. Also not changing will be the Huskies offensive line, which returns all five starters. A few of last season’s productive receivers and backs have departed, but there are enough pieces for Lynch and the offensive line to keep the train rolling.
The schedule is also pretty favorable. In September the Huskies travel to Iowa and Purdue, and while those aren’t the most imposing of BCS conference opponents, those games will at least be on the Big Ten Network. This will get the Huskies – who, again, are coming off a New Years night primetime game – enough exposure to stay in the public consciousness. Heck, they might even ensconce themselves into the Top 25 with a Big Ten sweep.
Then Lynch is going to settle into a bit of anonymity in October, quietly compiling big, big numbers as the spotlight flashes from contender to contender. This is fine. This is part of the plan.
But then November rolls around, and Lynch’s second scheduling advantage appears: weeknight MACtion. The Huskies play on Wednesday twice and Thursday once for their final three regular season games, and then get another potential primetime game with the MAC Championship. The standards are going to be so high for guys like Manziel and Bridgewater that if they falter once or twice, voters will start looking for a new favorite. When they do, there will be Lynch, hypothetically slicing and dicing Ball State, Toledo and Western Michigan on national television and proving his Heisman credentials to any college football addicts who happen to tune in.
It will be a tough, tough task for Lynch to even get invited to New York City, and in perhaps the ultimate sign of disrespect, Bovada isn’t even offering odds on for him to win the award. But if no clear contender emerges and Lynch shines during those late-season, midweek showcases?
Then maybe Lynch can repeat the magic of Ty Detmer’s 1990 season, the last year a player from a non-power conference won the award.