Dec. 31, 2012
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- For Florida State, Jan. 1, 2013 has been a long time coming.
Tuesday's game against Northern Illinois (12-1) will be the first in exactly one month for the Seminoles (11-2) after capturing the conference title but the lengthy wait extends much further than that. No, this one is of the seven-year variety -- as in, FSU hasn't appeared in a BCS game since the 2006 Orange Bowl when it fell to No. 3 Penn State in what was then called Pro Player Stadium.
It's now Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens but what's on the line remains the same: the 'Noles are trying to win their first BCS game since they were crowned 1999 national champions.
"We need to go win one," said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, who is 2-0 during his tenure in bowl games. "... we are excited about that and I think it's another chance for our program to grow playing on the national stage and catapult us into next year with a very experienced team coming back and a very good group of guys."
First, FSU has to get past a very good NIU team.
The MAC-champion Huskies from Dekalb, Ill. aren't in a BCS conference but that didn't stop them from rattling off 12 consecutive victories this season and earning a berth in the Orange Bowl. Boasting one of the nation's most exciting players in quarterback Jordan Lynch, NIU will be looking to play the role of small-school spoiler against the 'Noles like Boise State and several others have done since the inception of the BCS in 1998.
"We know that they have good players and they are a solid team that we know is going to come into that game hungry so we've got to be able to match that," FSU junior linebacker Christian Jones said.
And Jones and the Florida State defense, which has been without coordinator Mark Stoops the past month after he accepted the head-coaching job at Kentucky will have a tall task in matching wits with Lynch.
The quarterback put himself squarely in the early Heisman talk for 2013 by producing a junior season this year that won't soon be forgotten. He enters the game against the talented FSU defense third in the entire country in total offense per game with an average of 364.08 yards per contest and fourth nationally in rushing with 136.23 yards per game. He's also 25th in the country in passing efficiency.
"What 73-75 percent of what they do goes through him; it's him," Fisher said. I'll tell you what he is: he's more athletic, he's very slippery, very athletic, he's strong, can throw it. There's a lot of qualities to him. He's very competitive. He's a heck of a competitor."
With 1,771 yards rushing, 2,962 yards passing and 43 combined touchdowns this year, Lynch literally can do it all for the Huskies and that is exactly what he is asked to do.
FSU has faced mobile quarterbacks like B.J. Daniels, Tajh Boyd, Logan Thomas and Jeff Driskel this year but Lynch presents more challenges than each of them because of the way he is used in NIU's offense.
"The difference between this game is a lot of times with NIU they will call plays specifically for him to run the ball," FSU redshirt senior linebacker Vince Williams said. "They're quarterback-designed runs rather than broken plays or things like that."
What FSU does to limit Lynch could be the most important aspect of the primetime game and it will be defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot's job to have the Seminoles in position to do so. Before joining Stoops in Lexington, Ky. as the Wildcats' new defensive coordinator, Eliot will handle those duties for the 'Noles for the first and only time. He will also be assisted by predecessor Sal Sunseri, who will be on the sidelines after being hired in mid-December.
Tuesday's game not only marks the end of the Eliot era and that of assistant coach Eddie Gran, who is headed to be the offensive coordinator at Cincinnati, but it is also the final game for a host of long-time 'Noles like EJ Manuel, Rodney Smith, Lonnie Pryor, Everett Dawkins and Williams. There are also several underclassmen that will be facing a decision about their immediate future by game's end.
Manuel has the chance to keep his undefeated bowl record in tact and Smith has the chance to tie the school record for consecutive passes caught in a Seminole uniform.
Most importantly, all of FSU's players have a chance to end a winless BCS era, too.
"A lot of people throughout their four-year, five-year career in college don't get to play in a BCS Bowl," FSU sophomore running back James Wilder, Jr. said. "It's a big deal and we are going to do whatever we can to get this last win."