Lynch's footwork gets him to Orange Bowl stage
Seems like every half-century, a quarterback from Northern Illinois does something never seen previously in college football.
In 1963, the buzz hovered around George Bork's passing.
This season, the acclaim was over Jordan Lynch's running.
It's not a stretch to say that without Lynch's footwork, Northern Illinois wouldn't have busted into the Bowl Championship Series and gotten a spot in the Orange Bowl against Florida State. Lynch can throw the ball - 24 touchdowns against only five interceptions this season - but he seems better when he takes off running.
The native of Chicago's south side entered the Orange Bowl with 1,771 yards rushing, the most by any quarterback in any college season.
He also carried a streak of 11 straight 100-yard rushing games into the matchup with the Seminoles, another NCAA record for quarterbacks.
''Probably the toughest player I've ever seen,'' Northern Illinois quarterbacks coach Bob Cole said.
Ask Lynch about his records, and he'll simply shrug.
Ask him about people raving over his toughness, and he'll happily start talking.
''Living in Chicago and growing up, I think you're sort of blue-collar, always got a chip on your shoulder, always do things the right way and respect the game,'' Lynch said. ''Always tough. The neighborhood was a bunch of guys like me, just liked to get after it, blue-collar guys, always playing football in the street, tackling instead of two-hand touch, stuff like that.''
So in other words, a perfect primer for the offense he's operating now.
Northern Illinois thrives on going no-huddle, up-tempo, with Lynch operating the read option. When he throws it, he's typically accurate - of all the quarterbacks in the nation with more than 350 attempts so far this season, only three had fewer interceptions.
When he takes off, the former running back tends to forget he's a quarterback.
''I think the best part is he delivers the blow most of the time,'' offensive lineman Jared Volk, Lynch's roommate. ''He's not a quarterback that's going to slide. He's going to go into you head-first and he's going to make you regret trying to tackle him. So I think that's the best part about Jordan. He gets a lot of respect from the offensive line for the way he runs.''
But wouldn't it be a little easier if Lynch tried to avoid contact every now and then?
''I know Jordan,'' Volk said. ''He's never going to slide.''
Lynch doesn't see reason to change his ways, certainly not now.
He also can't help but wonder if his rugged style might be his ticket to the next level as well. In this era of young, dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL, Lynch said it gives a 6-foot-1, 220-pounder like himself hope of getting there.
''I think the quarterback level is definitely changing in the NFL,'' Lynch said. ''I mean, there's only a select few Peyton Mannings.''
Even after all the accolades that Lynch has received this season, he's hardly the first Northern Illinois quarterback to be widely celebrated.
While it's certainly possible that many college football fans didn't know much about the Huskies until they got invited to the Orange Bowl, the program is steeped in both the game's history - and its innovation. It was somewhere around the early 1960s that Northern Illinois was credited with bringing what was then called the ''shotgun spread'' offense into the game, and in 1963 Bork threw for a then-college-record 3,077 yards.
The 3,000-yard mark was history-making for Bork.
And in the second quarter of the Orange Bowl, it was for Lynch as well.
He entered the Orange Bowl needing only 38 yards passing to become the first player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,500 more in the same season. And it took him 14 attempts against the Seminoles to do it, but his third completion of the Orange Bowl gave him 40 passing yards for the night and 3,002 for the season.
''How does he practice?'' Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher asked. ''I mean, he does so much in the game, I don't know how he's got the energy to practice all week. The guy runs the ball for 130 yards a game and throws it for 250 or whatever. It's amazing what he does and the pounding and the beating ... I mean, he's not an extremely big guy. He's well built, but he's not a huge guy, and to do the things he does he's a great competitor.''
And the Seminoles are quick to point out that Lynch isn't Northern Illinois' only competitor.
''They've won all but one game, and there's other weapons besides Jordan Lynch that we're going to have to be prepared for,'' said D.J. Eliot, Florida State's defensive coordinator for the bowl game before he departs for Kentucky. ''They've got good speed, and their offensive line is very effective. They work well together. So you know, we're conscious of more than just one player.''
Still, for Lynch, it's funny how things can change so quickly.
Lynch wasn't even the starting quarterback at Northern Illinois until this season. Coming out of high school - where he ran the triple-option - he had exactly one scholarship offer for college.
And then came this breakout season, where he was seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting and gets to finish on the BCS stage.
''I thought he would have a good season,'' Volk said. ''But I didn't think he was going to have a season like this.''