Northern Illinois pulled out all the stops.
A successful onside kick. Check.
A fake punt resulting in 35 yards. Yep.
A late fourth-down conversion to continue a drive. Got it.
Yet it still wasn’t enough.
NIU was overwhelmed by Florida State in all phases. An offense that had scored 30-plus points in 12 of 13 games only managed 10 against one of the nation’s premier defenses.
Florida State may not technically have “SEC speed,” but the Seminoles were certainly faster than any team NIU had faced this season.
And that’s the major difference.
While NIU is the unquestioned top program in the Mid-American Conference, a gap still remains between NIU and college football’s bigger programs from BCS conferences. It may be getting smaller, but a chasm persists.
It was seen in the season-opening loss against Iowa at Soldier Field and again in the 30-23 comeback victory against Kansas. NIU’s offense put up its two lowest point totals of the season – until Tuesday’s Orange Bowl – against teams featuring better athletes.
The Huskie pass rush that was so dominant in MAC play couldn’t get pressure on EJ Manuel. The young offensive line that exceeded all expectations during the regular season was often pushed back by an experienced and talented Seminole defensive line.
In typical Florida State fashion, the Seminoles shot themselves in the foot on several occasions, committing bonehead penalties. Still, Florida State managed to put aside any thoughts of an upset early in the fourth quarter.
There isn’t any question that NIU’s program is heading in the right direction, an upward trajectory that has put them into the national discussion as one of the top mid-majors in the country.
Recruits are starting to become familiar with the Northern Illinois name. One day, they might be able to locate DeKalb on a map.
With NIU’s scheduling philosophy, the Huskies will continue to get tests against those national programs. The first game of the 2013 season – facing Iowa at Kinnick Stadium – will be yet another chance.
And for NIU, it can’t come soon enough.