TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- As far as Jimbo Fisher is concerned, Northern Illinois is a worthy opponent that deserves to be exactly where it is -- paired with Fisher's Florida State Seminoles in the Orange Bowl to be played on Jan. 1 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
By virtue of finishing 15th in the final Bowl Championship Series standings -- ahead of Big East champ Louisville -- the Huskies automatically qualified for a berth in a BCS game. But that didn't stop college football observers from debating whether NIU, which finished 11-1 and champion of the Mid-American Conference, belonged on college football's premier stage. If based on schedule strength -- the Huskies are near the bottom -- NIU might not have taken the same call.
The Florida State coach, though, didn't have any such questions.
"You don't get in this game unless you're a good football team," said Fisher, just a day removed from winning his first conference title at FSU. "It's easy for talking heads to say that (NIU doesn't belong). They've earned the right to be here, they've earned the right to have this opportunity."
Florida State will have some proving of its own to do, too. The Seminoles (11-2) claimed their first Atlantic Coast Conference title since 2005 on Saturday and are hoping to follow that up by winning their first BCS bowl since beating Virginia Tech in the 2000 Sugar Bowl.
To do that, FSU will have to slow down an NIU offense that ranks ninth in the country in rushing, 15th in total offense and scores more than 40 points per game.
Huskies' quarterback Jordan Lynch has accounted for 43 touchdowns (24 passing, 19 rushing) and amassed 2,962 passing yards to go along with an additional 1,771 yards on the ground.
"We know we're going to get an inspired opponent, an opponent that's going to be ready to prove something," Fisher said. "But more importantly, we're going to play a very good opponent."
Both schools will have new-look coaching staffs come New Year's Day.
NIU just promoted offensive coordinator Rod Carey to head coach following Dave Doeren's departure to North Carolina State. FSU, meanwhile, has yet to determine who will coach its defense after coordinator Mark Stoops accepted Kentucky's head coaching position.
A reporter asked Carey what he'd have thought had he been told at the beginning of the year that he'd make his head coaching debut in the Orange Bowl.
"I wouldn't have believed you," Carey said. "It's been crazy, but things happen for a reason."