Northern Illinois has been to five consecutive bowl games, but nothing at the Independence, International, Humanitarian or GoDaddy.com bowls could prepare them for the enormous spotlight thrust upon them when they arrived in Miami this week for the Orange Bowl (courtesy of the Miami Herald):
"Our picture on the sides of the buses," senior defensive lineman Nabal Jefferson said. "We were, 'Ooh, look at that! Did you see that?' Just shocked. You're on the side of the bus. That was awesome."
Said Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey: "They loved coming off and seeing their pictures on the bus. They came off and were snapping pictures of it, sending it, tweeting it, whatever they do now. Then, we got into the field and they snapped right back in and got to work. That's because of our seniors."
And while MAC football has become a favorite for die-hard college football fans due to its high point totals on Tuesday and Wednesday nights during the regular season, those relatively tiny audiences are no comparison to the stage they'll receive in a BCS bowl game.
In 2007, Boise State announced their entrance on to the national stage with a stunning come-from-behind victory over Oklahoma, while TCU leveraged a victory in the Rose Bowl to get an invitation to join the Big 12.
For the Northern Illinois players, a game against Florida State is the chance of a lifetime. And if they can avoid being overwhelmed by the pre-game pageantry, a win over the Seminoles could do wonders not just for the program, but for the school itself.