DETROIT – Jordan Lynch wasn’t going to win the Heisman Trophy. He probably won’t be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Now he might not even make it to New York. But at least his ride at Northern Illinois has been a whole lot of fun.
The Huskies’ senior had arguably his worst game of the season, throwing two interceptions as Bowling Green upset No. 14 Northern Illinois, 47-27, at the MAC championship in Detroit on Friday night.
"You begin to see that people are still human," Bowling Green senior defensive back Aaron Foster said. "A lot of the media people like to hype them up as being that they can't be stopped, can't be tackled, can't be contained. We took that really personally. We wanted to make sure you guys knew he was still human."
With how steady and consistent he was all year, it reached the point where if Lynch wasn’t rushing for 300 yards or engineering a 99-yard drive, he disappointed. Late in the first half against the Falcons, he threw his first interception since the Oct. 9 game vs. Central Michigan, and he threw another early in the fourth quarter down 34-20. The Falcons capitalized and tacked on a game-sealing score on the ensuing possession.
While many of the other top-tier quarterbacks in the nation aside from Florida State’s Jameis Winston and maybe Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater had clunkers here or there over the course of the season, Lynch was consistently good-to-great ... until Friday night. There was an expectation that against MAC opponents he would always shine. Bowling Green had him figured out, holding him to 21-of-40 for 219 yards, 126 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.
Any buzz of Lynch as a darkhorse candidate for the Heisman Trophy is gone, and it would take an upset of unprecedented proportions to keep Winston from winning at this point.
"I never turn the ball over," Lynch said. "I think I had six turnovers on the year going into this game. Two turnovers is unacceptable. I expect a lot out of myself. I just didn't live up to my expectations."
The loss by the Huskies makes the BCS bowl pairings more enticing nationally, although it’s maybe not an ideal end to the senior’s career. Clemson, Oregon and Baylor (and even Michigan State) are purring kittens. Lynch is relegated to racking up video game numbers in a lesser bowl instead of getting a chance to avenge his mediocre performance in last year’s Orange Bowl.
The Huskies still have one more game to play. And everyone able to separate conference affiliation and this-guy-is-better-than-that-guy should be thankful for that. Over the course of the year, some haven’t been able to ignore phrases like “draft stock” or “quality of competition” from the sheer fact Lynch has been a joy to watch as a college football player the past two seasons.
These guys – like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel or Bridgewater or Winston or many other standouts – are comets that streak across our field of vision so fast we don’t have time to truly appreciate them. Blink and we miss them. It isn’t until they’re gone that we realize we won’t see that particular type of celestial oddity for years. Awards be damned, college football needs as many players like Jordan Lynch as it can get regardless of which conference they play in.
None of this is to discount what Bowling Green was able to do in Detroit. Amidst rumors of their coach’s name being attached to jobs like UConn or Wake Forest, the Falcons looked like the more complete team. Sophomore quarterback Matt Johnson threw for 393 yards and five touchdowns, including four touchdowns in the first half. He should have plenty of connections with receiver Ronnie Moore over the next couple years. The freshman caught four balls for 145 yards and a touchdown.
Northern Illinois seemed uninterested in playing defense over the middle, leaving BGSU receivers uncovered for easy scores. Whether it was blown assignments or Falcons coach Dave Clawson exploiting something he saw on film, the Huskies couldn’t figure it out, allowing 574 total yards on the day.
Playing from behind forced NIU out of its game plan, and the Huskies had to go away from the ground and pound style of play they used to win 24 of their last 25 games coming into Friday.
Clawson has built Bowling Green from the ground up, just as he did at Fordham and Richmond. If he opts to leave for another shiny happy job after this season, the next coach is stepping into a really good situation.
"You can build for seasons or you can build programs," Clawson said. "People were trying to run us out of town three years ago because we were 2-10. At that point we were redshirting players and we were trying to lay the foundation because when we got good we wanted to stay good. A lot of people aren't allowed to do that. I'm very fortunate I have a president and an athletic director that allowed us to build a program the right way so it can sustain itself. We're good this year. We just won a championship, and I think we're built to be good for a long time."
Bowling Green is one of four teams to increase by three wins or more between the 2010-2012 seasons and was the only one of those teams to improve again in 2013. The team ranked first in the conference in just about every defensive category, including scoring defense, total defense and red zone defense. And whoever takes over for Clawson would also be able to use a brand new MAC championship trophy, the school’s first since 1992, to aid in recruiting. If Clawson opts to stay, the conference’s East division – and the conference as a whole – is in a lot of trouble. If he goes, both he and Northern Illinois’ dynamic quarterback have left their undeniable mark on the MAC.