ACC: Orange Bowl-2012

FSU wins in unconvincing fashion

January, 2, 2013
1/02/13
2:46
AM ET

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Memo to Florida State fans who want to jump in celebration of the 31-10 Discover Orange Bowl win against Northern Illinois: Don’t jump too high, you might hit your head on Florida State’s ceiling.

Because this is it.

This is what you get with back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes, with a roster bursting at the seams with talent, size, speed and depth, and a defense worthy of a national title. You get a flat, disjointed offensive showing against the MAC champs. You get the same inconsistent effort against a lesser opponent that became the trademark of this year's ACC champs. You get a heart attack in the third quarter when it’s 17-10 and Northern Illinois is driving with all of the momentum after a predictable onside kick.

Before you start hurling your oranges ...

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher and E.J. Manuel
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher got Florida State its first 12-win season since 1999.
Florida State deserves credit for winning 12 games for the first time since the program’s unbeaten 1999 season. It deserves a pat on the back for helping the ACC win its first BCS bowl game since 2009. Florida State's defense deserves a vacation, not to mention a few NFL contracts. Florida State and the ACC avoided embarrassment with the Noles' win over NIU. In the end, the conference finished with its first winning bowl record since 2005, including signature wins over USC and LSU. Florida State did what it was supposed to do, it won. But the win left doubts in the process, just as it has all season long.

Florida State needed a touchdown in the final 40 seconds to beat the worst Virginia Tech team the program has seen in 20 years.

Florida State was held scoreless in the second half of the ACC championship game against a 6-7 Georgia Tech team.

Florida State lost to an NC State team that fired its coach and had five turnovers in a bowl loss to Vanderbilt.

It doesn’t get any better than the talent that’s currently on Florida State’s roster. Florida State lost three, three, of its best players to injury, including likely first-round NFL draft picks Tank Carradine and Brandon Jenkins, and leading rusher Chris Thompson, and the Noles were still deep enough to win a BCS bowl. They shouldn’t have just won this game, though, they should have put Northern Illinois away in the first quarter.

Instead, for 3½ quarters Tuesday night, Florida State reminded fans why this was a lose-lose situation for the Seminoles. Even the most loyal of FSU fans had to be cringing at the offense’s bumbling start. In typical FSU fashion, the Noles managed to rack up 534 yards of total offense and convert on only three of 14 third downs.

You think Mark Stoops would be happy if his old defense held its opponent to only 100 yards but gave up 30 points?

“We didn’t score points, but we moved the ball,” Fisher said. “We had 428 yards in less than three quarters. We just broke the school record this year for total yardage in a single season, the most yardage by an offense in Florida State history.

“I don’t know what we were tonight, where it was, but this offense, we’ve been very proud of it,” he said. “… I think we’re right there, and I think we had to get on this platform and understand that we have to go win the championship, you have to get in a BCS bowl game and understand all the things that go with it, all the hoopla … but you’ve got to learn to handle those things to play on the big stage, and these guys did that and showed our young guys that we feel very confident about where we’re going and what we’re doing and for the future.”

Clemson isn’t waiting. The Tigers are coming off a thrilling 25-24 win over No. 8 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. They ended the season looking like the best team the ACC will have to offer in 2013. While FSU put on a middling performance against the MAC, Clemson was arm wrestling the SEC -- and won.

Clemson versus Florida State should again determine the ACC champ next year.

“We’ve got a heck of a football team coming back,” Fisher said.

He had a heck of a football team this year, too, and it gave every reason to believe that this was its ceiling.

Video: FSU safety Lamarcus Joyner

January, 2, 2013
1/02/13
1:51
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Heather Dinich talks to FSU safety Lamarcus Joyner following the Noles' 31-10 win over NIU in the Discover Orange Bowl.

Instant analysis: FSU 31, NIU 10

January, 2, 2013
1/02/13
12:42
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It wasn't exactly the easy win so many predicted, but Florida State's size and speed advantage helped the Seminoles outlast upstart Northern Illinois 31-10 to win their first Orange Bowl since 1996.

Record-setting NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch found no room to work, and Florida State's dominant defense showed few flaws in its first game without departed coordinator Mark Stoops, while EJ Manuel accounted for 321 yards of offense and two touchdowns to lead the Seminoles.

It was over when: Xavier Rhodes forced a fumble from Da'Ron Brown on a second-down run with 11:15 left to play in the game. Northern Illinois had just converted a fourth-and-1 and was driving in hopes of cutting FSU's lead to seven, but the fumble was the dagger that ended any hopes of an upset. The play was reviewed, but officials ruled the ball was coming out of Brown's grip before his knee hit the ground, and the Seminoles quickly capitalized on the turnover with a Lonnie Pryor touchdown.

Game ball goes to: Pryor. The senior fullback has toiled in the shadows for four years at Florida State, earning immense respect within the locker room but relatively little fanfare outside it. Tuesday's game was different. While the rest of the FSU running game struggled, Pryor was brilliant. He opened the scoring with a 60-yard touchdown run -- the longest of his career -- and put the icing on the cake with his 37-yard touchdown after NIU's fourth-quarter fumble.

Turning point: There were plenty, but NIU's two turnovers were killer. The fumble by Brown was the last straw, but a third-quarter interception by Terrence Brooks squelched another promising Huskies drive. Brooks picked off Lynch at the FSU 13-yard line to protect a slim seven-point lead.

Stat of the game: Lynch entered the game as one of the most dynamic offensive players in college football, but he found out yards are far tougher to come by against Florida State. Coming into the game, Lynch had racked up 1,771 rushing yards -- fourth most in the nation -- and was averaging 6.5 yards per carry. But Christian Jones, Telvin Smith, Vince Williams and the FSU linebacking corps was exceptional, hitting him repeatedly and giving him nowhere to run. Lynch had bragged earlier in the week that NIU planned to wear FSU down late, but the opposite was true, and the junior quarterback finished with just 44 yards rushing on 23 carries, while completing just 36 percent of his throws.

Unsung hero: It's tough to call Manuel an unsung hero, but in a season in which he's earned just as much criticism as praise -- and maybe more -- he wrapped up a five-year career at Florida State with a solid performance. Manuel completed 27 of 39 passes for 296 yards through the air and added another 26 rushing with a touchdown. He missed a few passes -- something his critics will be happy to note -- but he connected on far more. When the FSU offense needed him, he made the throws he had to make. Manuel never lived up to his immense promise at FSU, but he was surely a very good quarterback, and he ends his career as an Orange Bowl champion and winner of four straight bowl games.

What it means: Northern Illinois shrugged off the legions of doubters and proved an unexpectedly competitive opponent, but in the end, Lynch and the Huskies simply didn't have enough to make a late charge. For Florida State, it was yet another inconsistent performance in a season that has been filled with them. But it was also the school's first BCS win in 12 years, and it marked just the second time in program history that FSU has won 12 games in a season.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Florida State tailgating tents were lined in a row outside of Sun Life Stadium about four hours before kickoff, but the bright red T-shirts of the Northern Illinois fans have been impossible to miss. This is big for the Huskies. As the first MAC school to play in a BCS bowl, there has been no lack of support. NIU students have received one free ticket each, and they were all invited to travel to the game by bus, stay two nights in a hotel, and receive several meals along the way for $150.

A total of 1,300 NIU students (almost eight percent of the undergrads there) took a total of 26 buses and made the 24.5-hour bus trip along with 52 staff members. (Good choice, today's high temperature in DeKalb was 21 degrees). NIU also invited several of its former head coaches, including Minnesota's Jerry Kill and former coach Dave Doeren, who was hired at NC State.

As for the overall atmosphere here, it's hard to tell just how good of a crowd this is going to be until the fans start filing in, and as of right now -- about 90 minutes before kickoff -- it looks like your average Miami home game (empty).

Despite the lack of interest in this game on a national level, there is plenty at stake for both teams.

Northern Illinois is out to prove it deserves its BCS-busting status -- heavily motivated by its critics -- and Florida State is favored to win and shouldering expectations to leave no doubt it's the better team. Those who have followed the Seminoles closely, though, know that they have been an inconsistent group, even in wins. This game is worth watching simply because there is a very real chance Florida State could lose, but there's also no doubt that FSU is the better, faster, deeper team. NIU is going to have to be disciplined and a little bit creative in order to compensate for the difference in talent.

NIU is the visiting team tonight, and the visiting team has won seven of the past eight games hosted by the Orange Bowl. The lone exception was Virginia Tech's win over Cincinnati in 2009.

Both FSU and NIU have talked this week about the importance of starting fast and setting the tone early. Florida State players and coaches have talked all week about how they're not underestimating the MAC champs, and how focused they've been in practices.

The thing only left to do is prove it.

Video: Discover Orange Bowl preview

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
6:30
PM ET

Heather Dinich previews the Discover Orange Bowl matchup between Northern Illinois and Florida State.
ESPN Stats & Information does an awesome job all year unearthing tons of news and nuggets for us. Here are some good pieces of information to keep in mind as No. 12 Florida State prepares to take on No. 15 Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl.

Could the deep ball be a factor for Florida State? EJ Manuel has improved in this area in 2012, increasing his completion percentage on throws of 20 yards or longer by 16.2 percentage points from last season. Manuel has nine more completions on such throws this season (29) than he did in his previous two seasons combined (20). He has at least five such completions to four different receivers this season: Kenny Shaw, Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Rodney Smith.

But on the flip side, Manuel has struggled throwing downfield on the road this season, completing 9 of 23 passes thrown 20 yards or longer away from Doak Campbell Stadium. In his last two bowl games, Manuel has completed 3 of 9 passes of this distance without a touchdown.

This will be the fourth bowl game for Manuel, and his third start. He has accounted for four touchdowns and has not turned the ball over in his first three bowls. And, most importantly, FSU has won all three games.

The Huskies might have a hard time staying on the field. Florida State has forced the most three-and-out drives in FBS this season, with 63. The Seminoles have forced at least four three-and-outs in 10 games this season, the most in FBS. Northern Illinois has 21 three-and-out drives on offense, tied for the seventh fewest in FBS entering bowl season. The only game that the Huskies had four or more three-and-outs was their first game of the season (and only loss) against Iowa.

The Seminoles are trying to change their luck, and the ACC's luck, in BCS games. Florida State has lost four straight BCS games. The Seminoles are 1-5 overall in BCS games, with the only win coming over then-Big East member Virginia Tech in the 2000 Sugar Bowl.

Video: Florida State DT Everett Dawkins

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
2:00
PM ET

Florida State defensive tackle Everett Dawkins talks about what an Orange Bowl win would mean and preparing for Northern Illinois' offense.

Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes talks about Northern Illinois' offense, and the team's preparations for the Orange Bowl.

GameDay Live: Orange Bowl

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
10:55
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com college football experts for the Discover Orange Bowl between the Northern Illinois Huskies and the Florida State Seminoles.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:50 p.m. ET.

Discover Orange Bowl keys

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
10:30
AM ET
Here are three keys for Florida State against Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl:

1. Don’t forget Mark Stoops. Florida State’s defensive coordinator left to become head coach at Kentucky, but the Seminoles can’t forget everything he taught them. They’ve got to continue to do what has made them so successful all season, and that’s win up front. Unfortunately for FSU, the Noles also have to do that without defensive line coach D.J. Eliot, who followed Stoops to Kentucky as his defensive coordinator. Florida State’s defensive line has got to put pressure on NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch and fluster him into mistakes. Lynch leads the nation in total yards (4,733) and ranks third in total yards per game (364.08).

2. Win the quarterback battle. FSU quarterback EJ Manuel has hardly been a flop this season, but he has been inconsistent. He looked like a Heisman contender against Clemson, but struggled through an emotional game in a loss to rival Florida. The Noles tend to go as Manuel goes, and he is going to have to make good decisions in order to overshadow and outplay Lynch. Lynch has the more impressive numbers, but Manuel has the better supporting cast and big-game experience.

3. Play disciplined. This is not the time for a mistake-laden game filled with turnovers and penalties. One of the reasons NIU won the MAC is because it has been a disciplined team that takes care of the ball. FSU is No. 96 in the country in turnover margin while Northern Illinois is tied for No. 29. FSU has lost the ball 26 times this year -- 16 fumbles and 10 interceptions.

Pregame: Discover Orange Bowl

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
10:00
AM ET
Northern Illinois (12-1, 8-0 MAC) vs. Florida State (11-2, 7-1 ACC)

WHO TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch leads the nation in total yards (4,733) and ranks third in total yards per game (364.08) behind Baylor’s Nick Florence and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. FSU quarterback EJ Manuel could become just the second quarterback to win four straight bowl games, joining former West Virginia quarterback Pat White. In just his second season as a full-time starter, Manuel is FSU’s career leader for completion percentage at 66.8 percent -- which is significantly ahead of No. 2 Charlie Ward (62.3).

WHAT TO WATCH: Florida State’s defensive line vs. NIU’s offensive line. Florida State defensive line coach D.J. Eliot was hired at Kentucky as Mark Stoops’ defensive coordinator, but Eliot stayed in Tallahassee to help the Noles prepare for Lynch. FSU’s defensive line has been one of the best in the country, despite season-ending injuries to star defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Tank Carradine, who tore his ACL in the loss to Florida. FSU is No. 26 in the country with 2.54 sacks per game. NIU is tied for No. 16 in the country in sacks allowed with 1.08 per game, a total of 14 all season. FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner leads the ACC and ranks seventh nationally with 13 sacks this season.

WHY TO WATCH: Because No. 13 FSU might actually lose. The Noles are the more talented team, but the No. 15 Huskies will be playing to prove they belong in a BCS bowl. This will be the first BCS bowl game for a member of the Mid-American Conference. It is also the first bowl game between the ACC and MAC. NIU is the only program in the country to win 21 of its past 22 games, and joins Oregon as the only schools with three straight 11-win seasons. The Huskies' seniors are the winningest class in school history with 41 victories. FSU is 1-5 all-time in BCS bowls since playing in the first-ever BCS national championship game (1999 Fiesta Bowl).

PREDICTION: Florida State 31, Northern Illinois 17: The Huskies will come out fired up and ready to prove they deserved their title as BCS Busters, and they’ll keep it uncomfortably close in the first half. FSU fans will prematurely panic, an upset watch will look possible, but then reality will set in. Florida State has too much talent and speed, and the gap will continue to widen in the third quarter. The Noles will win the battle up front, and the defense will fare well in its first game without former coordinator Mark Stoops. The Noles will finish with 12 wins, including an ACC title and a BCS bowl win -- not a bad consolation prize for a team that had hoped to win a national title.

Video: FSU coach Jimbo Fisher

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
2:00
PM ET

Heather Dinich talks to FSU coach Jimbo Fisher about the Discover Orange Bowl matchup against Northern Illinois.
As the youngest member of Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher’s staff, defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot said he never lost sight of the fact that Fisher took a chance on him when he hired Eliot from Rice.

Now Eliot is trying to pay Fisher back for that opportunity with a win against Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl, the last game Eliot will coach with the Seminoles before joining former FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops’ staff at Kentucky.

[+] EnlargeKarlos Williams
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonKarlos Williams and FSU are ranked No. 2 nationally in total defense heading into the Orange Bowl.
“I always looked at Florida State as a place where they weren't lucky to have me, but I was lucky to have Florida State, and that's the way I approached work every day,” said Eliot, who is FSU’s acting defensive coordinator for the Orange Bowl. “Coach Fisher took a chance on me. I was a young D-line coach at Rice that did a good job in an interview, so I tried to repay him every single day with my work.”

Eliot still has a job to do -- his biggest yet -- but he has already had some on-the-job training for it.

In preparation for the ACC title game against Georgia Tech on Dec. 1, Eliot was in charge of the game plan and called most of the plays because of his knowledge and familiarity with the Jackets’ spread option.

Florida State’s defense was once again the difference down the stretch, as the Noles held off Georgia Tech for a 21-15 win and the school’s first ACC title since 2005. One day later, Stoops left to become the head coach at Kentucky, and he hired Eliot as his defensive coordinator. The Seminoles were left to prepare for Northern Illinois without their top two defensive assistants, but those within the program say it has been a smooth transition during bowl practices. Eliot came back to campus to lead the defense, and Fisher hired two new assistants, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri.

For Eliot, it was a no-brainer to stick with the Noles through the bowl game.

“My players mean a tremendous amount to me, so I want to make sure that I finish this thing off for them,” he said. “They bought in early to what we were doing, and they've been very successful, and they've always respected me and done exactly what I've told them to do. So I want them to know that I was going to be here until the end for them, as well.”

Under Stoops, FSU’s defense was one of the best in the nation. This season, FSU was No. 5 in the country in rushing defense, No. 6 in scoring defense, No. 2 in total defense, and No. 3 in pass defense. FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner said the Noles won’t miss a beat with Eliot leading the defense instead of Stoops.

“I always knew he wanted to be a defensive coordinator, and I’m so happy for him that it worked out,” Werner said. “I’m so happy he didn’t go with coach Stoops, because they were really close. I’m so happy for him and I’m happy that he’s staying. He coaches exactly the same way as coach Stoops, so it wasn’t a big change for us. They play the same technique and all the same stuff. I’m happy for him, and I can see that he’s happy for us that we’re doing so good. He’s going to leave on a good note.”

That’s Eliot’s game plan, anyway.

Noles wrap up Orange Bowl practices

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
3:15
PM ET
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- With the exception of Monday's walk-through, Florida State has wrapped up its practices for the Discover Orange Bowl, and both players and coaches have agreed this week that things couldn't have gone much better. Florida State added crowd noise to its practices at Nova Southeastern University the past two days, and they went a little long today, but coach Jimbo Fisher said there has been good effort and enthusiasm all week.

"I like where we're at mentally, I like where we're at physically," he said. "Now it's just a matter of playing the game."

Fisher has looked and sounded relaxed all week, and he said on Sunday he doesn't have any lingering concerns heading into the BCS bowl game. Fisher said all of his players are healthy and will be ready to line up against Northern Illinois on Tuesday night. Safety Lamarcus Joyner, a native of Fort Lauderdale, said he had a bad head cold and a fever most of the week but took antibiotics and said it hasn't affected any of his practice time.

Following what was the final practice for Florida State's seniors, Joyner, a junior, said the team still has something to prove against the MAC champs.

"I just feel like we have to prove we're a good football team," he said. "There have been moments when we have been a very inconsistent organization. We need to finish this season strong to get our respect and get hope for next season."

Video: Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
3:10
PM ET

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher addresses the media following the Noles' final practice in preparation for the Discover Orange Bowl against Northern Illinois.

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