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.