Two seasons ago, the Northern Illinois Huskies had a great quarterback named Chandler Harnish. All Harnish did was break 30 NIU records, take the team to two MAC Championship games, win 11 games in each of his final two seasons, one MAC Championship, and get drafted by the Indianapolis Colts. When he graduated in 2011, NIU fans everywhere were very nervous. They had had the same quarterback for four seasons, and he had been very, very successful.
Jordan Lynch, Harnish's backup for two season, had played sporadically, mostly in blowout wins or for just one play at a time. Most NIU fans knew him as the quarterback that came in to run the ball. In 2010, he ran the ball 31 times for 362 yards and 3 scores, he threw the ball 6 times, had 4 completions (one TD) and just 13 yards. Meaning he passed the ball on just 16% of his plays, but hey, he was one heck of a runner! Against EMU that year (a 71-3 win), he had 2 touchdowns in just 2 plays. He ran the ball twice for 142 yards (averaging 71 yards per rush). His second year as backup, in 2011, we got to see him throw the ball a bit more. He was 15-20 for 166 yards and a TD, but he still ran 75% of the time - gaining 246 yards on 45 carries. So last season, when Lynch was named the starter, every one expected him to run, often. And he did. But we also got to see him throw the ball much better than anyone expected.
Lynch, in his first, game against Iowa was a mere 6-16 for just 54 yards passing. He had an offensive line that consisted of all new starters, and looked very shaky. So he did what he does best, and used his legs - netting 119 yards on 18 rushes and had NIU leading the game, until the defense broke down in the final 2:30 and NIU fell 18-17. That was the last time he threw for under 150 yards. That was back before everyone knew who he was. Before he became the most dangerous QB in the MAC, and one of the best in the country.
Since that Iowa game, all Lynch has done is win 16 of 17 games, pass for 3,953 yards (232/game), rush for 2,135 yards (126/game), score 56 touchdowns, break two MAC records, four NCAA records, and 14 NIU records. Only Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M has more yards than Lynch in that time span.
After an outstanding junior campaign, where he became the first quarterback in NCAA history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,500 yards and finished seventh in the 2012 Heisman Trophy voting (the only non-AQ player even to even receive votes), it's hard to imagine he'd be able to have better numbers than he did last year. Yet, so far, just four games into the season, he does. He has more rushing yards, more passing yards, more passing touchdowns, a higher QB Rating, a higher completion percentage, and fewer turnovers, and has led his team to a 4-0 start and a No. 23 ranking.
In the 2012 Orange Bowl, against Florida State, Lynch had his worst game to date. He was just 15-41 for 176 yards and one score. Rushing wasn't much better, he went only 44 yards on 23 carries. That was his turning point. Sure, he had bested the MAC, but against elite competition he was flat.
Lynch said that this years motto for himself, and for NIU, is: "Finish the Job." His goal is to get back to the BCS. And working on his footwork and watching film were the top two priorities for this year. Over the off-season, and so far in his first four games, he has done just that. Lynch has upped his level of play - and it shows. He has fine tuned his mechanics so that he is even more dangerous, completing nearly 65% of his passes this year (the last two games he has completed over 70%), against tougher competition so far. In a rematch against Iowa to start the year, he used his arm to lead the Huskies past the Hawkeyes, going 25-41 for 275 yards and 3 TDs; a much different performance from the 2012 game.
His ability to read defenses has allowed him to look for more receivers before deciding to tuck the ball and run. His 5:1 touchdown to pick ratio shows he has become a more accurate passer and better decision maker. It's those qualities that will lead NIU through the tough MAC West again, hopefully to another Championship game, and a three-peat for the Huskies.
Lynch is on pace to be the first player in NCAA history with two seasons with 3,000 passing and 1,500 rushing yards. After his Top 10 finish in last year's Heisman voting, and with a full fledged Heisman campaign behind him this year, if he can continue to beat teams with both his arm and legs, there is no reason why he shouldn't be in New York for the Heisman ceremony this fall; and no reason his NIU Huskies can't run the table and crash the BCS one more time.