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.