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Dr. Saturday

Northern Illinois gets its shot on the big stage, and Florida State blows the Huskies out

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Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)

If you like Cinderellas - and most of the time its seems that type of fan enjoys only college basketball - then the Orange Bowl was a nightmare.

Everything that was said criticizing Northern Illinois' inclusion in the Orange Bowl turned out to be pretty accurate. The Huskies were overmatched. Florida State won 31-10.

Sure, it got interesting for a few minutes when NIU scored a touchdown in the third quarter, got a surprise onside and drove deep into Florida State territory. That intrigue ended when NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch threw a third-down interception. And while that quick spurt made the game watchable for a few minutes, it was an aberration. For most of the evening, everyone watching could plainly see Florida State was a far better team. There's little question that Oklahoma - which was the team knocked out of the BCS mix when Northern Illinois was let in - would have put on a better show.

NIU's performance won't help smaller schools get the benefit of the doubt in the future.

The narrative from the Orange Bowl could be that Florida State's defense full of future pros did a great job against a very good offense. Or how FSU's talented quarterback E.J. Manuel had a fantastic night, hitting his targets with great efficiency to keep the Seminoles offense moving, while becoming the second quarterback (along with West Virginia's Pat White) to win four bowl games. Florida State is capable of soundly beating many teams in college football.

But Northern Illinois was the big story, with its surprising BCS inclusion, and everyone wanted to see how it would compete. It wasn't pretty.

Even though the score was close for most of the first half, the game was one-sided. By halftime, Florida State had a 322-110 edge in yardage. A touchdown late in the first half gave FSU a 14-3 lead. In Northern Illinois' first six possessions, it had five three-and-outs. Had NIU punted instead of running a successful fake punt on its third drive, it would have been six-for-six in drives without a first down to start the game.

By the end, Florida State had a 530-271 edge in yardage. The Seminoles were too fast on defense, making Lynch hurry his passes and throw many off target, and bottling him up on the many occasions he tried to run. Lynch had 1,771 rushing yards coming into the game, a FBS record for a quarterback, but he couldn't get anything going against the Seminoles. He had 44 yards on 23 rushing attempts. He completed just 15-of-41 passes. Offensively, the Seminoles were too tricky for their own good most of the game, passing the ball when NIU had little shot at stopping Florida State's powerful rushing attack. Florida State averaged 6.6 yards per rush, and the average was well over seven before many runs straight into the line late in the fourth quarter when the Seminoles were graciously trying to run out the clock.

This looked more like a 2-seed facing a 15-seed than Butler making a run to the Final Four.

Northern Illinois had a great season. The Huskies earned their Orange Bowl bid within the rules set forth in the BCS. They had the misfortune of going against a spectacular defensive team. The details won't be remembered in future arguments, only that the little guy got a shot and was blown off the field for most of the game.

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