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January 1, 2013

Expectation, pressure on FSU to top NIU in Orange Bowl

FORT LAUDERDALE - Right out of the seasoned coaches' playbook, Jimbo Fisher spent Monday's pre-game news conference heaving praise on his opponent.

Fisher said he knew Northern Illinois was good team "as soon as I turned the film on." He half-jokingly wondered how NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch has time to practice considering how much he does on game days.

That may all be true, but as a two-touchdown favorite over a BCS buster from the Mid-American Conference, the outcome of tonight's Discover Orange Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) is perceived to rest squarely on the shoulders on the traditional power, Florida State.

Will FSU let the Huskies' mid-major label change their mindset? Can the nation's No. 2-ranked defense slow down an explosive, but relatively untested NIU offense?

"I mean, I don't think it's a burden. It's part of the game," Fisher said when asked about the perception that FSU should win.

"We have to play and do what we do," he said. "That's all we can do, play as hard as we can play, play as well as we can play and do what Florida State does on offense, on defense, on special teams. NIU is going to have a huge effect on us. They're a great football team, but they're going to do what they do, and we've got to do what we do and then we go on.

Linebacker Christian Jones says the Seminoles have stayed mentally sharp preparing for NIU, winners of 12 straight games and the first MAC team to ever earn a BCS berth.

"People think we're looking at it like 'it's a Northern Illinois we're going to blow them out,' Jones said. "We're going to go out there and play them just like we're playing any other team so our mindset hasn't changed."

There's good reason for focus. Teams from non-automatic qualifying BCS conferences are 5-2 in BCS games all time, surprising national powers with wins like Utah beating Alabama in the 2008 Sugar Bowl and Boise State's Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma in 2007 that catapulted the Broncos among the nation's most successful programs.

Fisher highlighted those two wins during Monday's news conference as well.

"They do happen, and that can happen," Fisher said. "It's going to be a dog fight. It's going to be a great football game, and we're going to have to play very well to win it."

Despite the expectations of being overmatched, NIU head coach Rod Carey said his team doesn't need underdog motivation tactics.

"We don't have to because these guys are recruited from the MAC, told they're not good enough to play elsewhere, so they play with a chip on their shoulder every game," Carey said. "The media has done a good job at playing up that role for us, so I as a coach don't have to do anything to motivate them."

Northern Illinois (12-1) is known for its the No. 8 scoring offense (40.7 ppg) headed by Lynch, who compiled more than 4,700 yards of total offense and 43 touchdowns this season . But the Huskies are also untested; the three high ranked defenses they faced - Buffalo (38th) Iowa (46th) and Western Michigan (61st) - all finished 4-8. NIU's only loss came to Iowa in the season opener.

But even in the biggest game in school history, Carey doesn't expect any stage fright from his group. In fact, Lynch was just the opposite last week, causing a stir with comments he made to the Sporting News about bringing FSU's defense "on their knees and just keep pounding away." Lynch has since backed off those comments.

"As soon as you get that first hit on the football field, that first tackle, you forget about that stuff pretty quick. It's like the butterflies when you first play your first game, you've got them until you line up and do what you've been doing in practice the whole time," Carey said. "But we love it and we've earned it and we're happy to be here and happy to be talking about our program and NIU and all that, but there comes a time when it's time to play a football game again."



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