Florida State Seminoles: MAC

Instant analysis: FSU 31, NIU 10

January, 2, 2013
1/02/13
12:49
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It wasn't exactly the easy win so many predicted, but Florida State's size and speed advantage helped the Seminoles outlast upstart Northern Illinois 31-10 to win their first Orange Bowl since 1996.

Record-setting NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch found no room to work, and Florida State's dominant defense showed few flaws in its first game without departed coordinator Mark Stoops, while EJ Manuel accounted for 321 yards of offense and two touchdowns to lead the Seminoles.

It was over when: Xavier Rhodes forced a fumble from Da'Ron Brown on a second-down run with 11:15 left to play in the game. Northern Illinois had just converted a fourth-and-1 and was driving in hopes of cutting FSU's lead to seven, but the fumble was the dagger that ended any hopes of an upset. The play was reviewed, but officials ruled the ball was coming out of Brown's grip before his knee hit the ground, and the Seminoles quickly capitalized on the turnover with a Lonnie Pryor touchdown.

Game ball goes to: Pryor. The senior fullback has toiled in the shadows for four years at Florida State, earning immense respect within the locker room but relatively little fanfare outside it. Tuesday's game was different. While the rest of the FSU running game struggled, Pryor was brilliant. He opened the scoring with a 60-yard touchdown run -- the longest of his career -- and put the icing on the cake with his 37-yard touchdown after NIU's fourth-quarter fumble.

Turning point: There were plenty, but NIU's two turnovers were killer. The fumble by Brown was the last straw, but a third-quarter interception by Terrence Brooks squelched another promising Huskies drive. Brooks picked off Lynch at the FSU 13-yard line to protect a slim seven-point lead.

Stat of the game: Lynch entered the game as one of the most dynamic offensive players in college football, but he found out yards are far tougher to come by against Florida State. Coming into the game, Lynch had racked up 1,771 rushing yards -- fourth most in the nation -- and was averaging 6.5 yards per carry. But Christian Jones, Telvin Smith, Vince Williams and the FSU linebacking corps was exceptional, hitting him repeatedly and giving him nowhere to run. Lynch had bragged earlier in the week that NIU planned to wear FSU down late, but the opposite was true, and the junior quarterback finished with just 44 yards rushing on 23 carries, while completing just 36 percent of his throws.

Unsung hero: It's tough to call Manuel an unsung hero, but in a season in which he's earned just as much criticism as praise -- and maybe more -- he wrapped up a five-year career at Florida State with a solid performance. Manuel completed 27 of 39 passes for 296 yards through the air and added another 26 rushing with a touchdown. He missed a few passes -- something his critics will be happy to note -- but he connected on far more. When the FSU offense needed him, he made the throws he had to make. Manuel never lived up to his immense promise at FSU, but he was surely a very good quarterback, and he ends his career as an Orange Bowl champion and winner of four straight bowl games.

What it means: Northern Illinois shrugged off the legions of doubters and proved an unexpectedly competitive opponent, but in the end, Lynch and the Huskies simply didn't have enough to make a late charge. For Florida State, it was yet another inconsistent performance in a season that has been filled with them. But it was also the school's first BCS win in 12 years, and it marked just the second time in program history that FSU has won 12 games in a season.

Video: Florida State's Rashad Greene

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
3:00
PM ET

Heather Dinich talks to FSU receiver Rashad Greene about the Noles' season, and the Discover Orange Bowl matchup against the MAC champion.

Video: Florida State's EJ Manuel

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
11:49
AM ET

Heather Dinich talks to FSU quarterback EJ Manuel about his season, the Discover Orange Bowl matchup against Northern Illinois, and his mother's battle with breast cancer.

Discover Orange Bowl

December, 6, 2012
12/06/12
9:11
PM ET
Northern Illinois Huskies (12-1) vs. Florida State Seminoles (11-2)

Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET, Miami (ESPN)

Northern Illinois take from ACC blogger Heather Dinich: In a matter of hours Sunday, Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey was named head coach and found out by watching ESPN that his first game in that capacity would be against No. 12 Florida State in the Discover Orange Bowl. Carey was hired to replace Dave Doeren, who left to become head coach at NC State.

Carey, who was previously the team’s offensive coordinator, said he had no idea the program would be this year’s BCS buster. Northern Illinois earned its 12th straight win with a 44-37 double overtime victory against No. 17 Kent State in the MAC championship game in Detroit on Friday. The win catapulted the program into BCS consideration for the first time in school history.

“Things happen for a reason, and here we are,” said Carey, a first-time head coach. “It’s a tribute to our kids and our players.”

The Huskies’ offense is led by quarterback Jordan Lynch, who leads the country in rushing yards (1,771) and total offense yards (4,733).

Northern Illinois enters the Orange Bowl riding a school-record 12-game winning streak. The program’s first BCS bid comes on the heels of back-to-back 11-win seasons in 2010 and 2011. NIU is the only program in the country to win 21 of its past 22 games and joins Oregon as the only two schools with three straight 11-win seasons. The seniors are the winningest class in school history with 41 victories. The Huskies haven’t lost since their season opener against Iowa.

“It’s the biggest game NIU has been in because it’s the biggest stage,” Carey said. “It’s an earned thing, too.”




Florida State take from NoleNation's David Hale: After 11 wins, a conference championship and a bevy of dominant performances, Florida State has made its case to be lumped in with the best teams in the country. But as the Seminoles look for only the second BCS bowl win in their history, the reviews from fans are definitively mixed.

Has FSU turned a corner, marching back to national relevance after its first ACC championship in seven years? Or have the Seminoles padded their résumé in a weak conference without the weekly challenges faced by teams in the SEC or Big 12?

Is this the offense that hit 50 with ease early in the season behind what looked like a Heisman-caliber quarterback or is it the unit that couldn't crack 30 in three of its past four games as EJ Manuel struggled through mistakes?

Is this the dominant defense that ranked among the best in the country or is it a unit in turmoil after losing one of its leading tacklers (Tank Carradine) and its defensive coordinator (Mark Stoops)?

The Orange Bowl may not answer all or, perhaps, any of these questions, but that seems to be of little concern for Jimbo Fisher and his Seminoles, who are far happier to simply paint an optimistic portrait of 2012 rather than worry about any perceived shortcomings.

After all, when was the last time a Florida State team came close to such heights -- even during some other dismal years for the ACC? Sure, the season began with hopes of a national championship -- hopes that were derailed by losses to NC State and Florida -- but FSU has moved on.

"We've been trying to get here for a long time," defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "Get back into the national title conversations, winning ACC championships and Orange Bowls and those types of games. We're Florida State. That's what we're supposed to do."

For these Seminoles, it was about reestablishing those standards and putting a decade of mediocrity behind them by any means necessary. Some weeks, that meant Manuel and an explosive running game carried the load. Some weeks, Bjoern Werner, Lamarcus Joyner and a stout defense were at the forefront. And with 11 wins already secured, the final piece to the puzzle will be burying that 1-5 BCS bowl record, too, with an Orange Bowl victory that FSU hasn't enjoyed since the 1995 season.

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