There's always plenty of action down on South Beach around New Year's. This January, there will also be plenty of MACtion: Northern Illinois became the first MAC team to reach a BCS game, crashing the Orange Bowl to take on heavily favored Florida State. But instead of toasting the visitors, everyone from television executives (under their breath) to TV commentators (out loud) has questioned NIU's inclusion in the game.
Consider The Herbstreit Referendum this game's ultimate storyline after ESPN commentator Kirk Herbstreit lambasted the Huskies on ESPN's bowl selection show. Was he stumping for his angry pal, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops? Or are the Huskies really feeble foils for the Seminoles? If there's one thing Florida State has done consistently this past decade, it's play down to its opponents and deliver unthinkable clunker losses. (This season's loss to NC State being the latest example.) Will quarterback Jordan Lynch and the Huskies deliver enough MACtion to get an equal or opposite reaction from Herbstreit and the other doubters?
Points of interest
Senior quarterback EJ Manuel, who has bridged the gap between the Bowden and Jimbo Fisher eras, said the Orange Bowl is an important step for the Seminoles. He isn't falling into the Herbstreit trap. "We're not taking these guys lightly," Manuel said of NIU.
Those who haven't seen Lynch shouldn't expect a frantic scrambler. He's a quarterback who doubles as a power back. "He's a tailback, he's a downhill runner," former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit said of Lynch's bruising style.
Northern Illinois doesn't expect anything too fancy from the schematically vanilla Seminoles. "They're physically gifted and they know it and will play you straight and say, 'We're better than you,'" said NIU offensive lineman Matt Krempel. On New Year's Day, we'll see if they are right.
Florida State has been so consistently inconsistent, especially under bright lights, that it's hard to be too optimistic about the 'Noles. But the reality is that they're exponentially more talented than the Huskies. Best not to overthink this one and simply watch superior athletes dominate, especially in the trenches.