Bowl breakdown: N. Illinois-Florida St.

Our experts break down the Orange Bowl between Northern Illinois and Florida State.

Editor's note: For selected games during bowl season, our publishers will go head-to-head to break down the game, giving you the players to watch, reasons to believe in each team and more.

Orange Bowl

No. 15 Northern Illinois vs. No. 12 Florida State
Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. ET (in Miami)
CFN's Orange Bowl prediction

Northern Illinois Huskies

By Pete Fiutak,

Three players to watch

Jordan Lynch, QB -- Lynch was never seriously in the Heisman chase -- his best win came against Kent State -- but he had numbers as good as any quarterback in America, running for a quarterback record-setting 1,771 yards and 19 touchdowns while throwing for 2,962 yards and 24 touchdowns with just five picks. While he struggled throwing the ball in the lone loss on the season, completing just 6-of-16 passes for 54 yards, he ran for 119 yards and a score to spark a phenomenal run of 12 100-yard games in 13 dates, with the lone exception coming in the blowout against UT Martin -- he ran for three touchdowns and wasn't needed much.

He's only 6-foot and 216 pounds, and he doesn't have the type of cannon to stretch the field too much, but he's a true baller with the right attitude and the right amount of confidence to think he can pull out the win.

Sean Progar, DE -- The 6-foot-2, 254-pound Huskie senior might not exactly look the part of a speed rusher, but he's a tough, quick end who finds ways to get into the backfield on a regular basis making 8.5 sacks with 10 tackles for loss and 46 stops. With the right size to hold up against the run and a great burst off the edge, he has the total package of tools.

As Jordan Lynch goes, so goes Northern Illinois.

Alan Baxter, DE -- Progar's fellow end who at 6-foot and 240 pounds has good size and is really, really quick. Strong against the run with 67 tackles on the year, he's better when it comes to getting to the quarterback with nine sacks, 13 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hurries.

Three strengths

Few teams in America are better at running the ball, mostly due to Lynch, but everything starts with a strong and versatile offensive line that has the ability to blast away when needed and the quickness to make things happen on the move. The line has to come out sharp against the tremendous Florida State defensive front, and, as a group, it needs to have s short memory. The Seminoles will come up with several big plays, but NIU has to keep doing what it does for the nation's ninth-ranked ground attack. NIU has allowed just 14 sacks on the year.

On the other side, the defense has to keep the pressure on E.J. Manuel. Ninth in the nation in tackles for loss and 11th in sacks, the Huskies bring the heat with Progar and Baxter on the outside, but the "D" gets creative with pressure coming from all sides. The run defense had a rough day against Army for 486 yards, but Kansas (179 yards) and Western Michigan (156) were the only two other teams to run for more than 150.

NIU has to keep the FSU offense off the field, and it has the offense to move the chains. While the team is lousy in terms of time of possession, it's able to crank out nice drives, converting over 48 percent of third down chances. Lynch makes that happen with his legs as well as his arm and decision-making skills.

Important thing you may not know

No, Northern Illinois isn't Boise State quite yet in terms of national respect -- it's going to take a few big wins over BCS teams to start getting into that discussion -- but after a few mediocre years, including a 2-10 2007 campaign, few have been more productive.


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The Huskies are in search of their 35th win in the last three seasons, which would be as many as Boise State. However, getting a big win is a must.

It might seem like a lifetime ago, but in 2003 the program was the talk of the college football world early on after beating Maryland, Alabama and Iowa State in the first month of the year on the way to a 10-2 season. The win over Kansas this season was the lone victory over a BCS conference team since beating Minnesota in early 2010, and while there have been some nice moments, this would easily be the biggest win in the program's history and would take the team to another level.

What Northern Illinois must do to win

The Huskies can't win unless they're perfect. Florida State's defense, as strong as it is overall, doesn't create a ton of takeaways and the team is lousy overall in turnover margin.

NIU has only given away five interceptions on the year, but fumbles have been occasionally a problem with 13 on the year and losing two in four games. It's no coincidence that some of the toughest fights this year came when the O gave it up, turning it over three times in the battles against Toledo and Kent State, and Army stayed alive in the 41-40 shootout with three takeaways. NIU has to be at least plus-2 in turnover margin.

Florida State Seminoles

By Emory Parker,

Three players to watch

E.J. Manuel, QB -- Manuel ranks 10th in the country in passing efficiency and is facing an NIU defense that ranks 15th in passing efficiency defense. For FSU to have success in this game, Manuel must find his receivers down field and use their size and athleticism to exploit the Huskies.

Bjoern Werner, DE -- Werner is a unanimous first team All-American at defensive end. The Huskies offense relies heavily on getting quarterback Jordan Lynch involved in the running game with zone reads and other designed runs. Werner will have to be able to beat the double teams and find a way to get to Lynch.

Lonnie Pryor, RB -- Pryor is one of Florida State's biggest assets, although his contribution rarely shows up in the box score. The NIU defense is one that loves to blitz and get pressure on the quarterback. For that reason, Pryor's blitz pickups will be key for the Seminoles offense to have success. Also, look for Pryor to catch the ball out of the backfield where he tends to be a dangerous weapon.

Quarterback E.J. Manuel will need to look downfield to help get the Florida State offense rolling.

Three strengths

Rush defense. Florida State ranks fifth in the country in rushing defense, holding opponents to less than three yards per carry. Much of this stems from its dominant defensive line that is anchored by defensive end Bjoern Werner. NIU does have a top rushing attack, but it has not yet faced a defensive line with the size and physicality of FSU's. This will be a good matchup to watch and could dictate how this game will go.

Passing offense. FSU has a clear advantage in this area with the size and speed of the its receiving corps. The Huskies defensive backs have not seen anything comparable all season. Additionally, the average size of the Huskies cornerbacks is just 5-foot-10. The Seminoles have just two wideouts under 6-foot, with two of its biggest playmakers coming in at 6-foot-6. Look for quarterback E.J. Manuel to take advantage of this size advantage.

Passing defense. A defense doesn't get to be ranked second in total defense without being a well-balanced unit. In addition a top-notch rush defense, the Seminoles have the third-ranked pass defense, holding opposing quarterbacks to a 50 percent completion rating. The Huskies do have playmakers at receiver, but their success tends to be a byproduct of establishing a good run-game.

Important thing you may not know

The special teams unit for the Seminoles is a key component for their success. The Seminoles are ranked third in the country in yards allowed on kick returns. The ‘Noles also rank 17th in kick returns.

However, perhaps the biggest weapon on the team is senior kicker Dustin Hopkins, who is the ACC and NCAA's all-time leading scorer among kickers. Hopkins will be playing his last game in a Seminole uniform and, although fans won't like to hear it, he would love nothing more than to have the game be decided by his leg.

What Florida State must do to win


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Florida State cannot take the Huskies lightly, because in reality it's probably the third best team the Seminoles have faced this season.

The first key for the Seminoles is to contain quarterback Jordan Lynch. The Seminole defenders must be disciplined in their assignments and make sure to wrap up when they do get to him.

The second key for the Seminoles is to establish a solid run game and wear down the undersized Huskies defense. If the Seminoles can establish the run it will open wide up for big plays down field.

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