Harnish, a four-year starter and the 2011 offensive player of the year in the Mid-American Conference, skewered the Rockets for 1,141 total yards and 13 touchdowns in posting a 3-1 mark against NIU’s nemesis.
With Harnish gone, having earned the somewhat dubious distinction of Mr. Irrelevant after the Indianapolis Colts selected him with the final pick in the NFL draft, Toledo’s chances of breaking through the glass ceiling in the West division seemed to increase.
Not so fast.
With respect to Toledo’s scintillating running back David Fluellen, and Kent State’s dynamic Dri Archer, the player with the daunting task of replacing Harnish is the clear-cut choice as the best offensive player in the league. Twelve months ago only ardent fans around the country recognized the name Jordan Lynch, who has since developed into a veritable clone of the dual-threat sensation Harnish.
"You turn on the film and it’s almost the same guy," said Toledo coach Matt Campbell, whose team’s league title hopes hinge tonight on stopping Lynch.
Campbell added that Lynch is "truly one of the best players in the country."
Harnish, who threw for six touchdowns in last year’s blurry affair, made his mark as a 6-foot-2, 220-pound wrecking ball, while keeping coordinators honest with an above-average arm. Lynch, a fourth-year junior who possesses those same attributes, is two inches shorter and a glass of water lighter.
"He can do the same things as Harnish," UT safety Jermaine Robinson said. "Just by his numbers, he’s right up there with him."
Although its efforts are likely to be fruitless, NIU’s athletic media relations department is pushing Lynch as a Heisman Trophy contender. In a section in its game notes titled "Vote Lynch," a statistical comparison shows the Chicago product has produced a season superior to three quarterbacks who receive more national fanfare: Kansas State’s Collin Klein, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, and Alabama’s AJ McCarron.
None of those contestants for college football’s highest individual honor compared favorably to Lynch’s rushing yards (1,342) or his passing yards (2,175).
Lynch already established the NCAA record for 100-yard rushing games in a season by a quarterback with eight and has not turned the ball over in NIU’s last six games. Surely to be deducted points for playing in a non-BCS conference and for a team that, despite its 9-1 record, has not cracked the top 25, Lynch is a long shot to be invited to the Heisman ceremony.
His fast rise from understudy to star may be a surprise to most, but not to his coach, who predicted Lynch’s ascent would be tied to the development of five new starters on the line.
"Jordan has been nothing but impressive ever since the day I got on campus, and not just athletically but competititvely," second-year NIU coach Dave Doeren said. "He’s one of the best competitors I’ve ever coached in 16 years. I knew he was going to be great. I just didn’t know if we could protect him as well as we’ve been able to."
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