The Florida St. Seminoles are nearly a two-touchdown favorite over MAC champion Northern Illinois Huskies for the 2013 Orange Bowl. It all makes sense since Florida State has better athletes, play in a better league and have many more advantages than Northern Illinois.
However, Northern Illinois is a team that has chances to keep this close, and possibly even pull of an upset. Bill Connelly of SB Nation discusses how Northern Illinois can keep this game close.
His first argument in favor of NIU is that according to the F/+ rankings, the Huskies are over 30 spots better than N.C. State, a team the Seminoles lost to earlier in the year. The ACC in general was a down league and Florida State's best league win was against Clemson. Clemson was the only top 25 F/+ rating team. The next best was the 47th rated Virginia Tech.
Also consider that Florida State has struggled to score points against those average ACC teams:
But before you decide that FSU is too dominant and will beat a smaller MAC team, realize that the Seminoles have only outscored Top 70 opponents in 2012 by an average score of 28.8 to 24.7. NIU is much better than not only N.C. State (which somehow beat FSU on October 6), but also Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, both of whom came awfully close to taking out the 'Noles.
Northern Illinois would rank as one of the better opponents that Florida State has played all year, and with the Seminoles struggling against teams worse than Northern Illinois, it's a scenario that should give the Huskies some confidence.
Connelly says the best way for NIU's offense to have success is to get rid of their empty backfield formations, despite it being one they have used throughout the year:
That is not to say that NIU's offense is doomed, however. The empty backfield is but part of the Huskies' arsenal. It was the most successful part against Kent State, but NIU did still average 5.7 yards per play when lined up with either one or two backs at the snap.
NIU uses a lot of motion (so a lot of the one-back sets were really empty backfields with a back motioning into the backfield at the snap) and found great success at getting running back Akeem Daniels the ball on the edge of the defense. The emerging Daniels, who has carried the ball 29 times in the last two games after getting just 36 carries in the first 11 games, gives the Huskies an inside-outside combination. Jordan Lynch will pummel you with quarterback draws up the gut while Daniels tests your speed.
Northern Illinois will definitely need quarterback Jordan Lynch and running back Akeem Daniels to have big games against Florida State's defense. If Daniels can find some open running lanes, he can give the Huskies a shot in this game. Lynch, of course, needs to be his own dynamic self.
The margin of error is slim for Northern Illinois, but they are similar to other teams that Florida State has played this year, and it just depends on what Seminoles team decides to show up. If Florida State does show up for this game, they can dominante with their size and strength on the lines, but if it is the Florida State team who struggled against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech or Miami, then Northern Illinois could make this game interesting.