DEKALB – When Jordan Lynch steps under center for the first time on Saturday, it will mark his first start as Northern Illinois’ quarterback. He’ll look across the line to an Iowa defense and a Hawkeye team that has never lost to the Huskies (7-0). Oh, and the game is at Chicago’s Soldier Field, a gridiron Lynch grew up 20 minutes from, which will be filled with friends and family.
Talk about a grand entrance.
“It’s great, this is going to be, my fourth,” Lynch said while also confirming the number to himself. “The fourth time, I think playing on this field. I played on there in high school. I know what to expect. I like to play in there. It’s real grass. It smells like football. It’s exciting.”
The reason the junior is so nonchalant about his first start start is because it won’t be the first time he finishes one. Lynch’s original big entrance came last year in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. With starter Chandler Harnish — arguably the best quarterback in the history of the program — Lynch took over with the Huskies trailing 13-7.
The backup completed 4 of 4 passes to lead the Huskies on a seven-play 78 yard drive capped off by his three-yard plunge into the endzone. It gave the Huskies a 14-13 lead, their first lead of the game, and one they never relinquished. It also ignited a fire within Lynch, one that still burns heading into Saturday.
“It definitely gave me a lot of excitement for this year,” Lynch said. “I came in, went 4 for 4 throwing, a touchdown and ever since that, my confidence has carried over.”
Confidence will only take him so far. The last time Northern Illinois had a new face starting at quarterback was 2008, when Harnish took over. From there he cemented himself in Huskie lure, setting 30 school records and becoming the winnnigest signal caller since the team joined the FBS in 1969.
“I’m not Chander. Chandler made me the player I am today,” Lynch said. “I’m not going to go out there and try to break any of Chandler Harnish’s records. I’m just out there trying to win games. If I do that everything else will fall in place.”
Coming out of high school, Lynch — like Harnish — was listed by Rivals as as two-star dual-threat quarterback. As a high school senior Harnish was 6-3, 210. Lynch stood at 6-2, 205. Still Lynch arrived at NUI extremely raw in the passing game, as an option quarterback at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago.
Harnish was the perfect mentor for Lynch being a balanced rusher and passer. Last year Harnish was the only Northern Illinois player to eclipse 1,000 yards on the ground. He also threw for 3,216 yards through the air.
This year the backup becomes the starter as Lynch tries to take all the pointers he learned from Harnish and translate them into the game.
“We’ll find out. I think that’s part of growing as a quarterback, is managing the game and protecting your defense and not making a play that will put them in harm’s way if you don’t have to,” Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeren said. ” Those are all things we’re talking a lot about with our offense and with our quarterbacks and, obviously, it’s up to him to take that information to the field and use it.”
Helping Lynch translate those skills onto the field has been first year quarterbacks coach Bob Cole.
“I think ever since Chandler left he assumed the leadership role,” Cole said. “He did a great job in winter workouts, spring ball, in the summer time, so it came natural to him. Because he did play a lot last year, it wasn’t like a brand new guy stepping in.”
With his flashes of success last year in the absence of Harnish, fans still might not expect similar offensive production, but don’t expect a drop in the most important stat either — wins. Northern Illinois is one of 10 FBS teams to win at least 11 games the past two years and owns the longest active winning streak at nine.
But the streak and the back-to-back 11 win seasons falls into the same category as the homecoming to Soldier Field and replacing Chandler Harnish: Things that don’t concern Jordan Lynch.
“We don’t have to worry about that,” Lynch said. “We need to take one game at at time. If we do that, then everything should fall into place.”