Northern Illinois started the night as a BCS-buster.
The Huskies went home a BCS bust.
A dismal first half put Northern Illinois in a hole, and two second-half turnovers proved costly as No. 13 Florida State topped the 16th-ranked Huskies 31-10 in the Orange Bowl on Tuesday night — hardly the ending that the Mid-American Conference champions were seeking in their first trip to the Bowl Championship Series.
"They are a well-coached, well-oiled machine," said Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey, who was making his debut as the Huskies' sideline boss after taking over when former coach Dave Doeren left last month for North Carolina State. "And they beat us, no doubt. That doesn't change the fact I don't like to lose."
The final numbers were far from pretty for the Huskies (12-2), whose 12-game winning streak was snapped after they were outgained 534-259. They converted five of their 18 third-down opportunities and were on the wrong end of a 23-17 disparity in first downs.
And standout quarterback Jordan Lynch, who finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy balloting, struggled for long stretches. His streak of 11 consecutive 100-yard rushing games ended, after he managed only 44 yards on 23 carries. He completed 15 of 41 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown — one that got the Huskies within 17-10 early in the third quarter.
It was the last Huskie hurrah.
"We had a great season this year," Lynch said. "None of this was even possible. No one was even thinking about this, a MAC school making a BCS bowl. I still want to say that we made our school proud and we made the MAC conference proud."
After a successfully executed onside kick, Lynch had Northern Illinois headed toward the end zone on the ensuing possession. But Lynch tried forcing a pass down the right sideline and was intercepted by Terrence Brooks inside the Seminoles' 20 to thwart that drive. And after Da'Ron Brown fumbled the ball away early in the fourth, Lonnie Pryor had his second long touchdown run of the game to all but seal the win for Florida State (12-2).
EJ Manuel completed 26 of 38 passes for 291 yards in his farewell for Florida State, which won 12 games for the first time since the Seminoles' unbeaten 1999 season. Pryor ran for 130 yards on only four carries — with touchdown runs of 60 and 37 yards, both of which were longer than any carry Northern Illinois yielded all season.
The Huskies ran 73 plays, and Lynch either threw a pass or carried the ball on 64 of them. But after coming into the Orange Bowl with an average of just over 367 yards of total offense per game, Lynch just kept getting hit — and hit — by a defensive front that enjoyed a massive size advantage over the MAC champions, who lost for just the second time in 23 games.
"We thought we could make some plays on them," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "And we were able to get some of the things done that we planned."
So let the second-guessing begin over whether or not Northern Illinois belonged in the BCS. On the night they were announced as being Orange Bowl-bound last month, and upon hearing the reaction of some commentators who called their qualification for one of college football's big-money games as a joke, several Huskies reacted by tossing oranges at the television.
Those they-didn't-belong opinions won't change much now.
The outcome became academic with 4:47 left, when on fourth-and-13 Lynch dropped back and tried to run away from a Florida State blitz. He didn't have a chance, as linebacker Nick Moody ran him down for ease and recorded a sack.
By then, the Seminole sideline was already celebrating. Lynch simply got up and trotted to the Northern Illinois side, where several players stood in silence, some with hands on their hips, as the stadium continued emptying out and even the most ardent fans who endured a 30-hour bus trip from Illinois to watch the game watched in disbelief.
On a cold night in DeKalb, Ill. — 9 degrees at kickoff — the Huskies faced a cold reality in Miami.
"They out-executed us at certain times in the game," defensive end Sean Progar said. "I think that was the biggest thing."
Northern Illinois had some moments. Lynch completed a 55-yard pass to Akeem Daniels on the drive that he capped with an 11-yard toss to Martel Moore with 9:55 left in the third, a score that got the Huskies within seven.
And a 35-yard run by Desroy Maxwell in the first quarter set up a field goal.
Thing is, highlights like that were too few and far between for the Huskies.
Lynch eclipsed the 3,000-yard passing mark for the season in the second quarter, making him the first player in NCAA history to throw for that many yards and rush for at least 1,500 more in the same campaign.
It was about the only highlight for Lynch in the opening 30 minutes.
"Frustrating at times," Lynch acknowledged.
The Huskies ran 30 plays in the first half, and Lynch had the ball for 28 of them — 15 passes, 12 rushes, one kneel-down to end the half, and extremely little success. Lynch was 4 for 15 passing for 52 yards, and had 24 rushing yards on 12 carries when the game went to the intermission.
The second half was better. Just not good enough.
"We had a chance," Carey said.