For the Seminoles' vaunted defensive line, this game might be its last hurrah.
Injured seniors Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius Carradine have already wrapped up their careers at FSU, and senior tackles Anthony McCloud and Everett Dawkins will follow. All-American defensive end Bjoern Werner projects as a top-10 pick in the NFL draft should he choose to forego his senior season, which means it's likely FSU's line will look a lot different in 2013. The Orange Bowl is a final opportunity to showcase their talents on the national stage.
For Lynch, however, the Orange Bowl represents his first chance to become a household name.
Few quarterbacks in the nation have posted more impressive numbers than NIU's junior quarterback has. A dual threat, Lynch finished third in the country in total offense with 4,733 yards and 43 touchdowns passing and rushing.
Of course, a lot of quarterbacks get tagged with the "dual threat" label. That doesn't do justice to the danger Lynch presents. With just 38 passing yards against FSU, he'll become the first quarterback in FBS history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,500. He also set an FBS record by rushing for at least 100 yards in 11 consecutive games. He's a danger to create a big play on every snap.
All-America junior defensive end Bjoern Werner will be important in slowing down NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch.
That should make for an interesting matchup for FSU's front four, which will be forced to play a less aggressive style of pass rush given Lynch's mobility. At the same time, Lynch's athleticism hasn't been tested against a defensive front as agile and physical as FSU's all season.
Werner, in particular, should be an thorn in Lynch's side. The junior from Germany has exceptional speed and athleticism, and while he leads the nation in sacks, he's also been dominant against the run and broken up seven passes. He has the instincts and ability to keep Lynch from finding running room outside the pocket, and finding a way to make Lynch one-dimensional will be a priority for the FSU defense.
On the other side of the line, however, freshman Mario Edwards Jr. figures to get his second career start in place of Carradine, who tore his ACL in the regular season finale. Edwards held up well against Georgia Tech's triple option offense in the ACC championship game, but Lynch will be an even bigger challenge.
Up-and-comers to watch:
Florida State RB James Wilder Jr.: The sophomore tailback has had something of an up-and-down campaign -- a strong start in a reserve role, diminished playing time midseason, then a strong finish in the ACC title game. Wilder's size -- 6-foot-2, 235 pounds -- makes for an intriguing matchup against an undersized NIU defensive front, and the four weeks off has allowed Wilder some time to rest a shoulder injury that nagged him throughout the season.
While Wilder figures to split carries with fellow sophomore Devonta Freeman, he's also proven to be a weapon in the passing game, catching 19 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Northern Illinois LB Jamaal Bass: The redshirt sophomore is a South Florida native, making the Orange Bowl a prime opportunity to shine in front of his hometown fans. Bass finished third on the Huskies defense this season with 76 tackles while racking up five TFLs and an interception.
Recruits to impress:
Matthew Thomas(Miami/Booker T. Washington): There could not be a more convenient situation for Florida State and the top prospect on its board than for the Seminoles to be playing in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1. It gives the Seminoles their second opportunity to play in Thomas' hometown this season, having already defeated rival Miami (Fla) in ACC play. A five-star prospect, Thomas will begin to take some official visits in January, including one to Tallahassee.
Alex Collins (Plantation, Fla./South Plantation): Like Thomas, FSU playing in Miami also affords Collins the opportunity to see FSU in his neck of the woods again. Collins, the Seminoles top remaining target at running back, is a major priority as signing day draws closer. He already took his official visit to Florida State back in October, so chances for FSU to directly impress hold a lot of value. Collins is also considering Florida, Wisconsin, Louisville, Arkansas, USF and Miami.