By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) While walking through the West Loop on Monday, I spotted a moving truck poking out from a loading dock down a side street. On its cardinal hood, the vehicle bore the name “HUSKIE 1” while its trailer shouted “GO HUSKIES,” along with a Northern Illinois University logo.
Now, as to why the truck was in Chicago, I don’t know. But as I strolled past, I couldn’t help but muse about the possibility that it was in town to deliver the hype for NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch.
Expect to hear plenty of that in the coming months.
Late last month, NIU launched an official “Jordan Lynch for 6” Heisman Trophy campaign – complete with a website and Twitter handle – aimed at promoting it’s the candidacy of its strapping senior QB who last season merely led the mid-major Huskies to the Orange Bowl and became the first player in FBS history to throw for more than 3,000 yards and run for more than 1,500, while producing more 100-yard rushing performances (12) than any other player in 2012.
On Tuesday, SportsOnEarth.com columnist Matt Brown wrote bluntly that, “Jordan Lynch will not win the Heisman Trophy in December. This is neither a profound statement nor a negative response to the Northern Illinois athletic department’s active campaign on behalf of its star quarterback. Barring some new level of statistical success, it’s simply reality, and everyone knows this. It also doesn’t matter: Lynch, Northern Illinois and the MAC should fight for all the attention they can get, despite the long odds.”
And they indeed should. After last season’s eye-popping performance, Lynch deserves every ounce of Heisman hype that NIU can heap upon him, even if Brown is right that the guy has little chance of actually winning the iconic award.
I would argue, however, that Lynch – who finished seventh in Heisman voting in 2012 – hardly need to win the trophy to establish his himself as an icon in Illinois. Placing in the Top 10 again should do that.
Since the Heisman Trophy was first handed out in 1935, only 14 players who have played Division I football in the Land of Lincoln have ever finished in the Top 10 of voting.
Illinois has had eight players achieve the feat in Buddy Young (fifth in 1944); John Karras (sixth in 1951); J.C. Caroline (7th in 1953); Bill Burrell (fourth in 1959); Dick Butkus (sixth in 1963, third in 1964); Jim Grabowski (third in 1965); Dave Wilson (tied for 10th in 1980); and Tony Eason (eighth in 1982).
Northwestern has had three in Otto Graham (third in 1943); Darnell Autry (fourth in 1995, seventh in 1996); and Damien Anderson (fifth in 2000). NIU, meanwhile, has had two in LeShon Johnson (sixth in 1993) and Lynch (seventh in 2012), and the University of Chicago – back when it was a member of the Big Ten – has had one in Jay Berwanger (who won that first Heisman back in ’35).
Out of those athletes and the 77 years of voting prior to this one, the only local products to crack the Top 10 twice are Butkus and Autry. The former is of course considered one of the greatest linebackers of all-time, while the latter will forever be cherished as the running back who helped lead the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl – and into college football relevancy.
Last month, Tulsa World columnist Jimmie Tramel lamented that Lynch is unlikely to be considered a true contender for the Heisman, which hasn’t been won by a non-BCS player since BYU’s Ty Detmer in 1990.
“We – fans, media, coaches, everybody – are incredibly biased when it comes to judging players by employer rather than employee,” wrote Tramel. “If you don’t play a program in an alleged power conference, it is automatically assumed you are some kind of lesser species. Put that fellow in with the big boys and he’ll be just another guy – except that he often isn’t.”
Since 1992, only three non-BCS athletes have even finished in the top three of Heisman voting with San Diego State’s Marshall Faulk placing second in 1992, Alcorn State’s Steve McNair placing third in 1994 and Hawaii’s Colt Brennan placing third in 2007.
Perhaps Lynch can turn that Top 3 trick this season. But if he even turns in another Top 10 performance, it still will be one for the ages in Illinois.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.