As long as he’s been around, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has never had the opportunity to be a participant in the Orange Bowl.
“Been to a bunch of Sugar Bowls, Cottons, but this will be my first Orange Bowl,” said Fisher, who prior to becoming Bobby Bowden’s successor in waiting in 2007 spent the bulk of his career earning his coaching stripes at Auburn and LSU.
“When I was a young man, when I became a Florida State fan in 1979, they played Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl in back-to-back to years. I remember watching [FSU’s] Ron Simmons, how they couldn’t block him. To me, this game has such great tradition. We’re very proud, excited for our guys to be here.”
If Fisher and the Atlantic Coast Conference champion Seminoles (11-2) feel good about playing in their first Bowl Championship Series game in seven years, imagine how Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois (12-1) and coach Rod Carey are feeling.
The 79th annual Discover Orange Bowl on Jan. 1 isn’t just the first BCS appearance in Huskies history, it will be Carey’s first game ever as a head coach. Sunday, Carey was named the successor to Dave Doeren, who left for North Carolina State — a day after the Huskies won their conference title and crashed the BCS party.
Before Carey took a seat on the opposite end of a poolside table from Fisher on Wednesday afternoon at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, he was able to sneak an hour’s worth of sleep on the plane ride down from DeKalb., Ill. It was one of the few hours of sleep Carey, 41, has been able to get since being named coach.
“It’s been a crazy four days for me personally and our team, but really this is about our team, not about me,” said Carey, a University of Indiana grad who took over the offensive coordinator duties when Mike Dunbar left the team for health reasons after the first game of the season.
“Our team has earned this by going out and doing what they have to do on the field, and we’re super-excited to be part of this Discover Orange Bowl and have a great opponent like Florida State. It’s a thrill for us.
Fisher, whose team is an early two-touchdown favorite, said he isn’t buying any of the expert talk that the Huskies, who finished 15th in the BCS rankings, are not worthy of playing in one of college football’s premier games. Aside from having high praise for Huskies star quarterback Jordan Lynch, who leads the nation in both total offensive yards (4,733) and total rushing yards (1,771 yards), Fisher said Northern Illinois “had an unbelievable season.”
“You look at the numbers and the people they’ve beaten and the things they’ve done. They’re a great opponent. They’ve had a tremendous year. And to me, it’s disrespectful to Northern Illinois [to question its BCS validity]. We definitely don’t think that way. We know what kind of opponent they’re going to be.”
Fisher, who lost two assistants himself recently, said former defensive coordinator Mark Stoops and defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot may come back to help the Seminoles prepare for the Orange Bowl once the recruiting period goes dead later this month. Stoops is the new head coach at Kentucky. Eliot, who will be Stoops’ new defensive coordinator according to Fisher, “will definitely come back and coach in the game.”
“I was hoping he wouldn’t,” Carey joked after Fisher shared the news of Stoops’ potential return for the bowl game.
The Seminoles, who have never faced Northern Illinois, rank second in the nation in the total defense (253.8 yards per game) and boast the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year in end Bjoern Werner and Rookie of the Year in cornerback Ronald Darby.
Neither of them are from South Florida, but the Seminoles, who have begun to tap into Miami-Dade and Broward County heavily again under Fisher, said he has a lot of players who are excited to be coming home again.
“This is a prime-time area, home base for us,” Fisher said. “The more we can come back here, the more it enhances our ability to get those players.”
Northern Illinois has a handful of players from South Florida, including four defensive starters: linebacker Jamaal Bass from Miramar, defensive tackle Ken Bishop from Sunrise Piper, safety Demetrius Stone from Miami American and linebacker Victor Jacques from Miami Columbus.
“We had a team meeting yesterday, and they were ecstatic,” Carey said. “I don’t know if they were happy because they don’t have to fly back from Christmas break or excited about the game. But I think both.”
The Huskies, who currently have a commitment from Miami Pace linebacker Robert Jones, are already seeing a difference in recruiting, according to Carey, now that they can call themselves a BCS program.
“They call back, which is a new thing,” Carey said. “So yes, absolutely, we are using that. And why wouldn’t we be?”