Editors Note: TDdaily is going to be posting an individual preview for every BCS Bowl game. Previews for every other Bowl game can be found in our 2012 College Football Bowl Season Preview.
Teams: No. 15 Northern Illinois (12-1) vs No. 12 Florida State (11-2)
When: Tuesday, Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
The 2013 Orange Bowl features a classic David vs. Goliath match-up with the pairing of Northern Illinois against Florida State.
NIU’s selection to the BCS is unprecedented on numerous levels. The Huskies (12-1) are the first Mid-American Conference program selected for one of college football’s premier postseason games.
“We feel like we’re representing the entire MAC,” said head coach Rod Carey in his weekly press conference. “This is a big step for our conference and NIU.”
NIU is also the first non-automatic qualifier to earn a trip to a BCS Bowl game, the BCS’ 14-year history, despite having a blemish—i.e, a loss—on its record. The Huskies surrendered a touchdown to Iowa running back Damon Bullock in the final minutes of Week 1 to lose, 18-17. NIU has won 12 since, a streak only Ohio State and BCS championship game participant Notre Dame can match, but that wasn’t enough to silence critics of the Huskies’ selection.
That winning streak included a thrilling conference title game defeat of then-17th ranked Kent State. The 44-37 victory, and a series of the right breaks on the regular season’s final week, catapulted NIU from No. 22 in the BCS ratings to the magic No. 16. The Huskies cracked the BCS code, with the help of automatic qualifiers Louisville and Wisconsin—both of which finished rated below NIU.
ESPN personality Kirk Herbstreit unleashed a tirade during the BCS Selection Show that will be the theme of the 2013 Orange Bowl—either as the prologue to the textbook example of power program superiority, or as whiteboard material for future underdogs.
Football logic points to a mismatch. Atlantic Coast Conference champion FSU (11-2) is a traditional power, with the 2013 Orange Bowl serving as a stepping stone on its path back to the top tier of college football.
Rivals.com ranked FSU’s last four recruiting classes Nos. 7, 10, 2 and 6. NIU’s ranked 91, 83, 78 and 94. The Seminole’s offensive line approaches an average weight of 320 pounds. The Huskies’ starting offensive line has an average wight of 296 pounds. In fact, the average weight of FSU’s starting defensive line, 283 pounds, is more comparable.
If the Huskies are to hurl that proverbial stone at Goliath, it must come from junior quarterback Jordan Lynch and some playbook magic out of Carey. The MAC Offensive Player of the Year Lynch flourished with Carey as offensive coordinator, compiling statistics on par with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Lynch heads into the postseason with 2,962 passing yards and 25 passing touchdowns, and another 1,771 yards and 19 touchdowns via the rush. Manziel passed for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns.
“The guy can throw it, he can run it [and] he has weapons around him,” said FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher of Lynch during the Orange Bowl introductory press conference.
Lynch is the third dual-threat quarterback the Seminole defense will have seen in as many games. The junior is a more than capable ball carrier, having set NCAA records for consecutive 100-plus-yard games by a quarterback (11) en route to breaking Denard Robinson’s single season quarterback rushing mark of 1,702.
Lynch is also a more polished passer than the last two quarterbacks FSU faced, Florida’s Jeff Driskell and Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington. Lynch has spread the ball among eight different receivers with 150 yards or more. Leading that group is 6-foot senior Martel Moore with 1,054 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“I didn’t do this all by myself—make it to the Orange Bowl all by myself,” Lynch was quoted as saying. “It’s a game plan, it’s the coaches, it’s the teammates around me [and] the playmakers around me.”
Against FSU, Lynch will be lined up opposite a collection of talent unlike anything he’s seen since replacing 2012 NFL Draft pick Chandler Harnish. The Seminole roster is loaded with players destined for the NFL, including defensive end Bjoern Werner.
The Seminole defense is playing without coordinator Mark Stoops, who left for the head coaching job at Kentucky. There might be a change in leadership, but not in the collection of pro-quality talent in garnet and gold.
Werner, a projected first rounder, paces the nation’s No. 6 ranked scoring defense with 13 sacks. CBSsports.com rates Everett Dawkins, Xavier Rhodes and Anthony McCloud all as selections in this year’s draft—and those are only the Seminoles anticipated for selection this spring.
Conversely, the Orange Bowl is a stage where NIU players, a group who normally don’t get much national recognition, can audition for the NFL.
“You’re not going to get a pass because you go to a smaller school,” NIU defensive end Sean Progar was quoted as saying. “[NFL scouts] are going to compare you to everyone else.”
A weighty sentiment indeed, and one apropos of the game itself. NIU is afforded no bonus points for being a BCS pioneer, or for Carey making his head coaching debut.
The former offensive coordinator will continue to call plays, but also takes on the duties of Dave Doeren, who accepted the North Carolina State vacancy the same day NIU received its Orange Bowl bid.
The last interim head coach in a BCS bowl was Jeff Quinn, filling in for Brian Kelly at Cincinnati in the 2010 Sugar Bowl. Florida blasted the Bearcats in that game, 51-24. Two seasons prior, West Virginia’s then-interim Bill Stewart led the Mountaineers to a Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma.
Carey’s strategy is key if the Huskies are to fell the giants out of the ACC. Lynch emphasized speed, a fast start, as central to the Huskie game plan. If they fail to get off to one, NIU’s BCS glory could be short lived.
Kyle Kensing is a contributor for TDdaily. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.