FSU: The Seminoles come into the game with an 11-2 record and won their first ACC title in seven years. The last time the Seminoles were in a BCS Bowl was in 2006 when they lost to Penn State in triple overtime in the Orange Bowl. Florida State was ranked highly in the preseason, but after an ugly loss to North Carolina State and a loss to the Florida Gators, they finished the season ranked No. 12 in the BCS.
Seminoles’ quarterback EJ Manuel is in his fifth year with the program and is 3-0 as a starter in bowl games and 24-6 overall in his career. He lead the ACC in passing efficiency and the Seminoles are 14th in the country in scoring offense. The key for Manuel and the FSU offense will be in getting solid protection from the offensive line, which has been shaky in pass protection at times this season. Northern Illinois’ defense is ninth in the country in tackles for loss and 11th in sacks.
Northern Illinois: The Huskies finished the season with a MAC title, a 12-1 record (they lost their season opener to Iowa) and a No. 15 ranking in the BCS. The Huskies beat then No. 17 Kent State in the MAC title game in double overtime to get to Miami and serve as the MAC’s first representative to play in a BCS Bowl.
NIU was led to the Orange Bowl by quarterback Jordan Lynch, who had a prolific season in his first year as a starter. Lynch rushed for 1,771 yards and threw for another 2,962. He led the nation in offensive yards and was named third team All-American by CBS Sports. He does it all for the Huskies – even punting once this season (he sailed the punt a cool 63 yards).
The Huskies are understandably excited to play in their first BCS Bowl. Some Huskies are more excited than others – like linebacker Victor Jacques, who got a giant tattoo on his left arm commemorating the Orange Bowl.
In an attempt to draw fans all the way from DeKalb, Illinois to Miami, Florida, Northern Illinois offered students free tickets to the bowl game and a travel package for $150 that included transportation on private buses and two nights of hotel stay. The Seminoles practiced with blaring crowd noise on Saturday and Sunday in order to get ready for all the Illinoisans being bused into South Florida.
Keeping things interesting, Jordan Lynch threw a little fuel on to the fire earlier this week when he spoke to Sporting News’ Steve Greenberg about Florida State’s defense, which comes into the game ranked second nationally in total defense and will likely have one of the first defenders picked in the NFL Draft if junior defensive end Bjoern Werner does decide to go pro.
Lynch apparently doesn’t feel threatened by FSU’s defensive stats or their stars and said that he and his teammates “plan on wearing them down in the fourth quarter. We plan to have them on their knees and then just keep pounding away.”
He is boastful of his offense—and rightfully so, judging by the number he put up this year, telling Greenberg that FSU’s defense is “fast. They’re physical. But they haven’t seen anything like our offense.”
NIU head coach Rod Carey defended Lynch’s remarks to the media, saying “What’s he supposed to say? ‘Hey, we’re just hoping to get a first down or a yard or two?’”
The Huskies will likely finish the game with more than just a few yards and first downs, but Lynch’s bulletin board comments served only to motivate FSU defenders even more. FSU’s starting safety Lamarcus Joyner, who is known for his speed and hard hits, said Lynch’s comments “will make the game that much more interesting. When you put that bullseye on yourself, you have to be able to walk the talk. I respect it. I like it. I think it’s cute.”
[Photo via USA Today Sports]