The pressure is on Iowa in opener

QB Lynch and Huskies begin anew after 12-2, Orange Bowl

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March 28, 2014 | 7:32 pm

Northern Illinois was a tough, little Mid-American Conference muscle ball that took the Hawkeyes to the brink at Soldier Field in last year's opener.

The Huskies will try once again to beat their I-88 Big Ten neighbors. Here is what they'll bring:

-- Quarterback Jordan Lynch finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting while rolling up nearly 5,000 yards of total offense, setting an NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,815) and leading NIU to a school-record 12-1 record and the first-ever BCS berth for the MAC. The Huskies fell to ACC champ Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said Monday he expects a better Lynch in '13.

"Jordan would tell you this, too. He is not a finished product," said Carey, who heads into his first regular-season game as NIU's head coach (he took over for Dave Doeren before the Orange Bowl when Doeren left to become head coach at North Carolina State). "He's 21-years-old. He's still growing into himself. He's got a lot of things from throwing the ball to running the ball to reads to running the offense, everything, and he did a great job in fall camp of getting better at all of those things."

-- Yes, Iowa finished 4-8 last season, handing the Huskies their only regular-season defeat. The 4-8 might mute it, but if the Huskies pull it off Saturday at Kinnick Stadium (2:30 p.m. kick on Big Ten Network), it will still be the MAC over the Big Ten on the Big Ten team's home turf.

And that will ring out in the college football world.

Northern Illinois is a team of players who've been picked over by Big Ten schools and left with a "no thank you." If they didn't already have the chip on their shoulders, Carey made sure to chisel it in Monday.

"You're in the MAC," Carey said. "By default, you've been told you're not good enough for this, you're not good enough for that at some point in the recruiting process."

Lynch (6-0, 216-pound senior) is still riding the Heisman wave. Northern Illinois started a Heisman push in July, promoting the Mt. Carmel, Ill., native with a lunch box mailer and a website, JordanLynchfor6.com.

"If we want to get back to where we were last year," Lynch said, "we have to beat these Big Ten teams and BCS teams. It's not good enough to come close anymore. It's not good enough to lose by a point. We want to finish the fight and that's our motto for the year."

Lynch won't lack motivation for the Hawkeyes, who held him to his lowest offensive output of '12. Lynch gained just 173 yards total offense, including a 73-yard TD run. In the Orange Bowl, Florida State held Lynch to 220.

"He's got big-play capability and that's something we've got to respect," Iowa linebacker James Morris said. "I'm not going to take anything away from him. He's earned everything he's got. He's a self-made player."

-- The pressure is on Iowa.

If the Hawkeyes lose, it's the "MAC at home" factor and the outside world will pile on a program that was picked pretty much universally to finish fifth in the Legends Division of the Big Ten. Iowa's losing streak would move to seven games (it's tied for seven-longest in the country right now with six).

In this regard, it's Iowa's most important opener since . . . You could argue 2003, when Ben Roethlisberger and Miami (Ohio) took a Heisman campaign into Kinnick and fell 21-3, with the future two-time Super Bowl champion throwing four interceptions and taking four sacks.

Only in '03, Iowa was trying to keep the momentum going from 11-2 and an appearance in the Orange Bowl. Now, it's trying to find its way.

"The stakes are higher and the risk-reward is bigger," Morris said, "but, at the same time, there is that reward if you win. I like it."

Northern Illinois finished fifth in the UPS Team Performance Index last season.

Leaders
Passing Yards:J. Lynch3138
Passing TDs:J. Lynch25
Rushing Yards:J. Lynch1815
Rushing TDs:J. Lynch19
Receiving Yards:M. Moore1083
Receiving TDs:M. Moore13
Interceptions:J. Ward3

Offense (FBS Rank)
Yards:6574 (10)
Passing Yards:3239 (47)
Rushing Yards:3335 (10)
Points per game:38.6 (13)
Yards per game:469.6 (21)
Touchdowns:70 (5)
Field Goals:15 (49)

Defense (FBS Rank)
Yards:5171 (75)
Passing Yards:3121 (85)
Rushing Yards:2050 (64)
Points per game:19.9 (21)
Yards per game:369.4 (40)
Touchdowns:32 (26)
Field Goals:15 (73)

Iowa finished 79th.

Leaders
Passing Yards:J. Vandenberg2249
Passing TDs:J. Vandenberg7
Rushing Yards:M. Weisman815
Rushing TDs:M. Weisman8
Receiving Yards:K. Davis571
Receiving TDs:K. Martin-Manley2
Interceptions:G. Castillo2

Offense (FBS Rank)
Yards:3725 (116)
Passing Yards:2249 (104)
Rushing Yards:1476 (106)
Points per game:19.3 (113)
Yards per game:310.4 (117)
Touchdowns:22 (121)
Field Goals:17 (37)

Defense (FBS Rank)
Yards:4579 (33)
Passing Yards:2634 (34)
Rushing Yards:1945 (52)
Points per game:22.9 (33)
Yards per game:381.6 (50)
Touchdowns:32 (24)
Field Goals:18 (105)

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