Shrine Game: Where a Heisman finalist takes back seat to FCS quarterbacks

Cornell quarterback Jeff Matthews is one player getting more attention at the Shrine Game practices than NIU's Jordan Lynch. Photo: Cornell Athletics

There is no denying the impact quarterback Jordan Lynch had at Northern Illinois the past two seasons, smashing school records and becoming the face of the school and the MAC in leading the Huskies to a BCS bowl appearance, the first of its kind for the MAC, and earning a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. Lynch was one of the best college football players over the past two seasons and a fierce competitor, yet this week the Heisman finalist may be taking a back seat in the spotlight to a pair of quarterbacks form small schools you may have easily missed this past season.

Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois and Jeff Matthews of Cornell are in St. Petersburg, Florida this week to prepare for the annual Shrine Game. On the same roster as Lynch, representing the East, Garoppolo and Matthews are thought to have better pro potential than the Northern Illinois star, and both got off to a solid start in practices in front of NFL scouts on Monday. According to the Monday practice notes by Eric Galko, Director of Scouting for Optimum Scouting, Matthews jumped out to an early lead among the quarterbacks on the East team. 

"Easily the best passer of the three quarterbacks, Mathews consistently spun a tight ball, showcased plus mechanics when altering his release for quick or seam throws, and showing better-than-on-film footwork," Galko said in his Shrine Game notebook update. "He progressed through reads (albeit them being simple 1-2 reads on Day One) well and was on point when targeting the middle of the field."

Matthews may be a player who can help himself path his NFL Draft profile starting now. The senior season at Cornell did not exactly go as planned despite putting up some good numbers for a dismal Cornell football team. His decision-making time has proven to be a letdown this season. He was sacked 29 times over an eight-game stretch in 2013 but he leaves Cornell with 44 school records and 17 Ivy League records with his name attached to them. He did end the year on a thrilling note though, leading Cornell from behind in a 42-41 victory against Penn by throwing for 467 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for a fifth. If the NFL Draft is all about momentum, then Matthews is in a good position to be chosen by some NFL team in April. But there is still a lot of time between now and then.

There is some history for Matthews to make with a strong week in practice and good showing in Saturday afternoon's Shrine Game as well. Cornell has had just four players selected in the NFL Draft dating back to 1975, and the school last had players drafted in consecutive years in the mid 1950s (1954-1955-1956). Offensive tackle J.C. Tretter was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and Matthews has late round potential swinging in his favor right now.

Matthews may have been the big winner on day one, but the top pro prospect under center this week for either team (including Tommy Rees of Notre Dame and Washington's Keith Price on the West roster) remains Garoppolo. As Galko makes note, Garoppolo did not do anything to overly impress scouts on the first day of practice, but he also did not do anything to harm his draft stock. One of the things to focus on this week may be how well he adjusts to his receivers. Accuracy will be key of course. Garoppolo will very likely be drafted in the upcoming NFL Draft, which will make him the school's second quarterback in program history to be selected in the NFL Draft. Jeff Christensen, not Tony Romo, was the last EIU player to be drafted, back in 1983 in the fifth round by the Cincinnati Bengals. He was not exactly a memorable figure from that wonderful QB class of 1983, with just one career touchdown to three interceptions.

I will go out on a limb here and say Garoppolo throws more career touchdowns in the NFL than Christensen does, but 208 and counting by Romo could end up being a different story.

Yesterday I noted Lynch as one of the top five players to watch this week. My list was subjective and did not necessarily reflect the top pro prospects, but instead tried to point to players that could have something to prove this week. Lynch is known for his tough running but can use this week to show what he can do with his arm as well. This week is equally important to Lynch as it is to a guy like Matthews. There is a chance scouts will not view Lynch as a quarterback worthy of an NFL Draft pick, although we should not throw him in the same category as Boise State product Kellen Moore. Moore was also a Heisman finalist in 2010 but went undrafted because scouts were not convinced he had the size or the running ability to play in the NFL. While not drafted, Moore was quickly signed by the Detroit Lions. If Lynch is not drafted the odds are probably pretty good he will be signed with little delay by some NFL team as well.

Photo credit: USA Today Sports

Kevin McGuire is the managing editor of Crystal Ball Run. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

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About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to's College Football Talk, Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Host of the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher Radio and iHeart Radio. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.