Orange Bowl: Florida State-Northern Illinois

Can Florida State keep Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois from pulling an upset in the Orange Bowl?

Key Matchup

Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch was boasted by the school and some segments of the media as a Heisman Trophy candidate. He is a fine player and had a great season, but this game will challenge everything written and said about him.

The Seminoles, who are ranked No. 2 nationally in total defense, are a completely different animal compared to anything Northern Illinois has faced. But if Lynch can post the kinds of numbers that have become the norm this season, the Huskies will be right there in the fourth quarter with a chance at pulling off the upset and justifying their spot in a BCS bowl, which has been widely criticized.

Lynch has completed 63 percent of his pass attempts for 2,962 yards with 24 touchdowns and five interceptions and he has run the ball for 1,611 yards and 16 scores. Eight times this season Lynch passed for at least 200 yards and ran for at least 100, and in a victory over Toledo, Lynch passed for 407 yards and ran for 162. He ran for 100 or more yards in all but one game.

Versus Iowa, by the way, he completed just 6 of 16 attempts for 54 yards.

Player to Watch

The Seminoles would like to roll up some points in this game, especially since head coach Jimbo Fisher’s offense has been criticized as vanilla at times, including in the second half of the ACC title game. As much as Florida State may want to open up things it must run the ball well, and that’s why tailback James Wilder Jr.'s role is so important.

If the MVP of the ACC Championship Game posts big numbers and can get into some open field, he will devastate the Northern Illinois defense and give Florida State the balance it seeks.

Wilder, who has run for 583 yards (5.9 per carry) and 11 touchdowns, will split the carries with Devonta Freeman, who has run for 100-plus yards in two of the last five games.

If Wilder has a big game, the entire FSU ground game — which includes what QB E.J. Manuel does with his feet — will chug along.

Final Analysis

Northern Illinois played just three teams that have a winning record, three of its MAC victims totaled just four wins overall, and also took on FCS member Tenn-Martin. The Huskies’ loss was an 18-17 decision versus Iowa, which finished 4-8 overall and 2-6 in a down year for the Big Ten.

Gauging the overall strength of the Huskies isn’t easy, as the stats must be taken for what they are worth, given the level of competition. There are no common opponents to help get a gauge this matchup, though Florida State’s two defeats (17-16 at North Carolina State, 37-26 at home versus Florida) are much more respectable than Northern Illinois’ defeat.

With that in mind, however, bowl games can be unpredictable, and many results depend on which team is inspired to be there. That might be Florida State's greatest challenge, even though this is its first BCS bowl in seven years.

The Pick: Florida State 46-14

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