Tuesday’s Discover Orange Bowl provides relief for all concerned — Northern Illinois doesn’t have to field any more “Do you deserve to be here?” questions, and Florida State doesn’t have to answer any more “Do they deserve to be here?” questions.
Now, 60 minutes of football at Sun Life Stadium gets to answer the questions about perhaps the most curious of all BCS bowl matchups in the BCS era.
Northern Illinois plays the role of Boise State against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl or Utah against Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl and puts it on turbo. For one, it wholly embraces the role on an individual level, considering itself a fraternity of those disdained by more prominent schools for one reason or another. Already, 12-1 NIU has set one unofficial Orange Bowl record: greatest usage of the phrase “Chip on our shoulder.”
“The media is going to say a lot of stuff, but they deserve [to be in the Orange Bowl],” Florida State running back Devonta Freeman said. “I think it’s a great chance to show they can play a great game against us.”
College football fans knew Boise as that funky team with the blue field before that Fiesta Bowl. Though NIU comes out of the heartland, the Mid-American Conference, with more than 100 years of football tradition, nationally it came from nowhere. Few outside the MAC know its offense (up-tempo, run-heavy, quarterback Jordan Lynch running or throwing 73.1 percent of the time) or defense (physical through speed).
Meanwhile, Florida State’s consistency the past 34 years makes the Seminoles a known commodity.
“The difference between them and the MAC, they have talent at each skill position,” NIU linebacker Tyrone Clark said. “I’m not saying the MAC does not, but they are very skilled in each area. So one team might have one running back you have to stop or one wide receiver you have to stop, but they are a complete team. We have our work cut out for us, but we’re built for it.”
Huskies senior wide receiver Martel Moore said. “Size-wise, they probably have a little bit of an advantage. But speed-wise, I feel we’re equal because we do have a lot of speed. They’re from the South, we’re from the South [at many skill positions]. I don’t see any reason for a speed difference.”
And, although FSU stands as college football’s most consistent winners the past 34 seasons, the 11-2 Seminoles’ recent history has not added much to the front of the trophy case.
As wide receiver Reshad Greene said, “It’s been a minute since we’ve been part of a BCS bowl around here at Florida State, so it’s very exciting for us.”
The Seminoles opened as a 14-point favorite and remain there or at 13 1/2 points at most sports books.
But West Virginia-Clemson was supposed to be a thrilling Orange Bowl matchup a year ago. Instead, in the second quarter, West Virginia started scoring on Clemson so fast that Twitter could barely keep pace. The game turned into one of the great laughers in modern big-boy bowl history.
NIU coach Rod Carey referenced that game when asked about early indicators of how the night would go.
“Turnovers,” Carey said. “If we get one and score off of it, it would be a pretty good feeling. If we give up one and they get a score off of it, it would be a pretty bad feeling.
“But that’s normal in any game,” he continued. “Like last year’s game — West Virginia kind of snowballed that thing, and that’s how that happened because those were two fine football teams. And it started with a turnover, it always does. Tim Battle and I talked about that, that one where Clemson was about to go in for a score and they fumble and the West Virginia kid picks it up and runs it in, turned the whole game.”
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, a former offensive coordinator, said he will gauge how things are going early by the rhythms.
“Offense is a thing that goes into rhythm,” Fisher said. “Both their offense and ours, when you’re on offense, you try to get into that rhythm. You know when your kids come off, how they’re responding, what they’re looking at, the look they have in their eyes, how they feel.
“It’s not something dynamic. You can really tell when those kids come off the field where they’re at when you just look in their eyes and their body language.”