NCF Nation: Northern Illinois Huskies

Poinsettia Bowl preview

December, 26, 2013

A glance at Thursday night’s San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl showdown between No. 23 Northern Illinois (12-1) and Utah State (8-5), as both programs try to bounce back from losses with a bowl victory at Qualcomm Stadium (TV: ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET).

Who to watch: There are no more Heisman Trophy voters for Jordan Lynch to impress after a third-place finish, but he has one more opportunity for another memorable performance with the Huskies before moving on to the next level. The senior quarterback’s numbers are already eye-popping enough -- 1,881 rushing yards and 2,676 through the air -- and his 45 combined touchdowns have helped the Northern Illinois offense average 41.6 points per game. After a disappointing loss in the MAC title game, Lynch shouldn’t be hurting for motivation as he looks to go out on top against the Aggies.

What to watch: The Aggies have seen their share of prolific scoring attacks and dangerous quarterbacks this season, and more often than not, they’ve found a way to slow them down. Utah State ranks seventh in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 17.3 points per game and holding opponents to fewer than 10 on five occasions. Had the Aggies been able to score a bit more often, this season might have been even more special -- they held USC to 17 points and Fresno State to 24 but lost both games. Senior linebacker Jake Doughty, in particular, will be critical to slowing down Lynch, and he’s proved to be more than capable of chasing down any target this season, with 140 total tackles.

Why to watch: The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl has put together some of the most entertaining matchups in the past few years, and that has provided some wildly entertaining, competitive games. With a Heisman finalist, one of the best defenses in the country and a prime-time broadcast slot all to itself, there’s no reason to skip this one.

Prediction: Utah State 24, Northern Illinois 23

All six finalists have made Heisman case

December, 13, 2013

Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State fans have made their pick, but Jameis Winston is just one of six Heisman finalists.
Six Heisman Trophy finalists will head to New York for Saturday’s ceremony, the most that have received invites to the ceremony since 1994, when there were also six. The last time there were more was in 1988, with eight.

Although the favorite entering the ceremony is Florida State QB Jameis Winston, all six have made a solid case for why they are the best player in the country this season.

QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Although Northern Illinois' bid to be a BCS buster was ended in the MAC championship game, Lynch’s dual-threat ability kept the Huskies in it all season. He had 321 rushing yards against Western Michigan, the most by a quarterback in FBS history, breaking his own record of 316 set earlier in the year against Central Michigan.

Lynch ended the season with 1,881 rushing yards, also an FBS record for a quarterback.

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Manziel’s bid to join Archie Griffin as the only other multiple Heisman winner saw a transformation of his game. While his 2012 season was built more on his legs, his 2013 campaign saw him develop as a passer.

Manziel added a yard to his yards per attempt (from 8.5 in 2012 to 9.5 in 2013). His touchdown percentage also increased from 6.0 percent in 2012 to 8.4 percent this year. Also in 2013, 63 percent of his completions this season have gone for a first down or a touchdown, compared to 57.6 percent last year.

RB Tre Mason, Auburn
Even after a 1,000-yard rushing season last year, Mason wasn't on the short list of Heisman contenders until he finished the season with five straight 100-yard rushing games, including 304 against Missouri in the SEC championship game, the fifth-highest total all-time in an SEC game.

Mason’s 2,137 all-purpose yards this season broke the Auburn school record, previously held by Bo Jackson. Mason’s 22 rushing TDs this season also set a school record.

QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
This is McCarron’s third season as Alabama’s starting quarterback, and he’s improved every season. His opponent-adjusted QBR was 76.7 in 2011, 81.5 in 2012 and 83.5 this season.

He was even better against SEC competition. In conference games, McCarron had an 86.4 opponent-adjusted QBR, tied for the best in the conference. Fellow Heisman candidate Manziel was third (85.5).

RB Andre Williams, Boston College
This season, Williams became just the 16th player in FBS history to run for at least 2,000 yards in a season, and the first since Donald Brown did so for Connecticut in 2008.

Williams also showed big-play ability. He had 26 runs of at least 20 yards, the most by an FBS player since Kevin Smith had 26 in 2007. His 11 touchdowns on such runs are the most for any player in the last 10 seasons.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State
Winston is the clubhouse leader for the Heisman, and as the FBS leader in opponent-adjusted QBR (90.9), he has good reason to be. The leader in opponent-adjusted QBR in three of the last six seasons went on to win the Heisman, including Manziel last year.

Winston has also showed a clutch presence on the field throughout the year. On third downs, Winston has a 98.9 Total QBR, leading all FBS quarterbacks. Over the last 10 seasons, the highest third-down Total QBR in a completed season was also 98.9, by Andrew Luck in 2010.
1. When many schools begin concluding their seasons next week, expect firings and hirings to be done quickly. The NCAA recently revamped its recruiting calendar, hearing the plea of coaches for whom recruiting has become a year-round affair. The calendar took away about two weeks out of the December-January contact period. That means new coaches have that much less time to try to assemble recruiting classes or keep the ones their predecessors assembled.

2. So who gets the four BCS at-large bids? Either No. 14 Northern Illinois or No. 16 Fresno State is in line for an invite. The SEC, with four teams in the top 10, will get one. If No. 6 Clemson beats No. 10 South Carolina, it will get one. That would leave one for the Big Ten or the Big 12. No. 11 Michigan State can solve that by beating No. 3 Ohio State. That would leave No. 9 Baylor on the outside looking in.

3. Sentiment got to me this week when I filled out my ESPN Heisman straw poll. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is on my ballot, a tribute to one of the best college careers in recent memory. Murray, who tore his ACL in the Bulldogs’ rout of Kentucky, will miss his final two games at Georgia after starting the first 52 (35-17). Murray not only leaves with every major SEC career record, but he will be honored next month in New York as a finalist for the Campbell Trophy -- the Academic Heisman. Murray represents the best of the sport.
1. On the ESPNU College Football podcast on Tuesday, I asked Tom Luginbill, our Senior National Recruiting Analyst, to name the head coaches who are the best in the living room, the guys who do the best job of convincing mama to give them her baby. Luginbill went with Dabo Swinney of Clemson, Les Miles of LSU and, in somewhat of a surprise, Jim Mora of UCLA. I say surprise because Swinney and Miles have many years in college football. Mora, an NFL longtimer, has not quite two years.

2. Duke coach David Cutcliffe knows something about teaching quarterbacks. And the essence of teaching is to break down the information into easily understood portions. In discussing his current quarterbacks, Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette, at his press conference this week, Cutcliffe said, “Every play we run at quarterback, the most important thing about the play is that we have possession of the ball when the play ends. Period. You can’t give that lip service.” Everyone understands that.

3. As Saturday night games go, seeing undefeated No. 15 Northern Illinois and its outstanding quarterback, Jordan Lynch, play once-beaten Ball State would be a treat. As a Wednesday night game, it doesn’t get any better. The winner will be the first 10-game winner in the FBS. A victory also will boost the Huskies in their attempt to overtake No. 14 Fresno State in the race for a BCS bid. The Cardinals have gotten to 9-1 by outscoring people. It’s hard to imagine they can do that on the road against an offense led by Lynch.

Video: No. 23 NIU 38, Central Michigan 17

October, 19, 2013

Jordan Lynch rushed for 316 yards, an FBS record for a quarterback, and added four total TDs to help No. 23 Northern Illinois beat Central Michigan 38-17.

Video: NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch

January, 2, 2013

Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch talks about the offense's struggles in a 31-10 loss to Florida State in the Discover Orange Bowl.

Video: FSU safety Lamarcus Joyner

January, 2, 2013

Heather Dinich talks to FSU safety Lamarcus Joyner following the Noles' 31-10 win over NIU in the Discover Orange Bowl.

Video: Discover Orange Bowl preview

January, 1, 2013

Heather Dinich previews the Discover Orange Bowl matchup between Northern Illinois and Florida State.

Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes talks about Northern Illinois' offense, and the team's preparations for the Orange Bowl.

Video: Florida State's Tim Jernigan

December, 31, 2012

Heather Dinich talks with FSU defensive tackle Tim Jernigan about the Discover Orange Bowl matchup against Northern Illinois.

Video: Florida State's Bryan Stork

December, 31, 2012

Heather Dinich talks with FSU offensive lineman Bryan Stork about the group's progress since the last bowl appearance, a win against Notre Dame.

Video: Northern Illinois OL Jared Volk

December, 30, 2012

Northern Illinois offensive lineman Jared Volk talks about blocking for Jordan Lynch and preparing for Florida State's defense in the Orange Bowl.
DEKALB, Ill. -- Rod Carey's first decade in college coaching mirrored those of many others in the profession. The last three and a half months of his career might be unprecedented. One wild weekend certainly was.

Beginning in 1998, Carey made the gradual, typical climb up the coaching ladder, from graduate assistant (Minnesota) to Division III offensive coordinator (Wisconsin-Stout) to FCS offensive line coach (Illinois State, North Dakota) before reaching the FBS as Northern Illinois' line coach in 2010. He was smart, extremely organized and ambitious -- undoubtedly a future coordinator, quite possibly a future head coach, but a guy who "understood chain of command" and "never really stepped on toes," according to his former boss, Dave Doeren.

When Northern Illinois kicked off its season Sept. 1 against Iowa, Carey served as the team's offensive line coach and run game coordinator. When NIU plays Florida State on Jan. 1 in the Discover Orange Bowl, Carey will make his head-coaching debut in the biggest game in team history.

Click here for the rest of Adam Rittenberg's story.

Video: Northern Illinois' Bob Cole

December, 29, 2012

Northern Illinois quarterbacks coach Bob Cole talks about Jordan Lynch's development, and the challenges Florida State presents on defense.

Northern Illinois running back Akeem Daniels talks about being back in his home state of Florida and preparing for the Discover Orange Bowl.