"I ain't too thrilled,'' Bowden said of his team's BCS spot. "I don't know whether to jump up-and-down, cry, or what.''
"I know this -- I didn't want to back into an ACC championship,'' added FSU defensive end Alonzo Jackson.
The Wolfpack (10-3, 5-3 ACC) became the first team in the ACC to beat the Seminoles two consecutive years after winning 34-28 last season in Tallahassee.
NC State also snapped its three-game losing streak with a stunning defensive performance to win 10 games for the first time in 111 years of Wolfpack football.
"We finally got a win in the month of November,'' said Amato, who was an assistant at Florida State for 18 years before returning to his alma mater in 2000. "This is a great tribute to a senior class that we're going to miss. What leadership.''
Several Wolfpack players helped fans take down both goal posts at Carter-Finley Stadium as the Wolfpack beat its first ranked team this season.
Senior tight end Sean Berton had tears in his eyes after a postgame speech from Amato.
"He tries to act like this is just another team, but we know it's not and we feel that it's not and we played like it wasn't,'' Berton said of Amato. "He was happy -- times a million.''
Florida State's offensive output was the second-lowest in Bobby Bowden's 325 games with the Seminoles. The worst was 173 yards at Nebraska in 1986.
It was also just the second time since 1988 that the Seminoles didn't come up with an offensive TD. The other was in a 13-2 loss to Oklahoma in the 2001 Orange Bowl.
Rix didn't get into the game until there was 2:29 left.
"What we've got to do is get the quarterback situation straightened out,'' Bowden said. "I just don't know if we're playing the right guy.''
"This wasn't on our quarterback,'' wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. "This is on everybody.''
The Wolfpack led 10-7 and drove to the Florida State 2 before Philip Rivers failed to connect with Berton in the end zone.
Florida State was called for a holding penalty on the next play to give NC State a safety and the ball.
Jerricho Cotchery's 49-yard return of the free kick helped set up Adam Kiker's career-best 44-yard field goal that would have forced the Seminoles to score a TD and a two-point conversion just to tie.
That was before Manny Lawson blocked a punt out of the end zone for another safety with 5:43 left to seal it.
"I told the guys many times if we don't dominate the kicking game we don't win," Amato said. "We blocked two punts. That was big.''
The Seminoles fell to 16-8 the past two seasons since going 99-11 the previous nine seasons in the ACC.
The Florida State offense was limited when running back Nick Maddox re-injured his right ankle on the first play of the game. Maddox, averaging an ACC-best 6.2 yards a carry, returned later in the first quarter but was ineffective with the sore ankle.
NC State stated the scoring when Kiker kicked a 21-yard field goal after Chance Gwaltney had his punt blocked at midfield when he dropped the snap.
Kiker was set to try a 37-yarder but Amato called for a fake. The trick play backfired when holder Chris Young was stripped by Alonzo Jackson and Michael Boulware returned it 84 yards to give Florida State a 7-3 lead.
Late in the quarter, Rivers threw a key block as Josh Brown took a direct snap and raced 60 yards to the Florida State 1. After a 5-yard penalty, McLendon burst up the middle from 6 yards out to give the Wolfpack the lead at the break.
Rivers threw for 95 yards in the first half to become the third ACC quarterback to throw for at least 3,000 in two seasons. And McLendon's 16th rushing TD tied the league mark set in 1993 by North Carolina's Leon Johnson.