Northern Illinois (12-1) vs. Florida State (11-2)
Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
About the Huskies: Whether you think Northern Illinois belongs here or not, the Huskies didn't get to the Orange Bowl by accident. This is a good, solid football team without any obvious weakness. The strength is a running game that averaged 250.2 yards per game, ninth best in FBS. Quarterback Jordan Lynch is the headliner, with 1,771 rushing yards, a FBS record for a quarterback. He can throw the ball too, with 24 touchdowns and five interceptions on the season. Defensively, Northern Illinois was 34th in FBS against the run, 14th in pass efficiency allowed and 18th in points allowed. It isn't an elite defense, but it isn't one that is easy to exploit.
About the Seminoles: Florida State has one of the best defenses in college football. The Seminoles rank in the top six among FBS teams in yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, passing yards allowed and points allowed. The defense is as good as it gets. Ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Lamarcus Joyner were first-team all-ACC. All four are good NFL prospects and Werner could end up as a top 10 pick. Werner had 13 sacks this season and is the player NIU has to neutralize. Offensively, Florida State has good balance and is led by quarterback E.J. Manuel.
Key number: 1
Northern Illinois has played just one bowl game against a team from a BCS conference: a 27-3 loss in the 2009 International Bowl to Big East member South Florida. It also had a 37-7 loss in the 2006 Poinsettia Bowl against current Big 12 member TCU, but the Horned Frogs were in the Mountain West at the time. Northern Illinois' seven bowl opponents through its history are Cal State Fullerton, Troy, TCU, Louisiana Tech, South Florida, Fresno State and Arkansas State. Florida State will be the eighth.
The breakdown: Welcome to the Kirk Herbstreit Bowl. The ESPN analyst made plenty of people in DeKalb mad when he railed against the Huskies getting in a BCS bowl. Cinderellas aren't as welcomed in college football as they are in college basketball. Yet, Northern Illinois can a household name by winning this game. Much like Boise State shocking Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl six years ago, a victory against Florida State would be remembered for a long time. Florida State can't be too excited to be in this game against a MAC opponent, but it is the better team. The motivation angle is a major one in this game.
Frank Schwab: Florida State 27, Northern Illinois 20
The Northern Illinois story is one of the best in college football this year, but it's asking a lot to beat Florida State and that great defense. I do think Northern Illinois keeps it close and gains a measure of respect by playing Florida State a lot closer than some folks are expecting.
Graham Watson: Northern Illinois 31, Florida State 24
OK, so I'm going to go out on a limb here and give Northern Illinois the win because no one else is going to. Why? Well, because I was at the Utah-Alabama Sugar Bowl and I've seen many non-AQ teams rise up in the face of adversity. Is NIU the better team? No. But that doesn't mean it can't be the better team for one day. NIU pulls off the huge upset.
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