The 2013 Orange Bowl will be the ultimate dichotomy between two teams on completely opposite sides of the college football spectrum.
The No. 12 Florida State Seminoles head into Tuesday's matchup having come into the season ranked inside the top five, with many expecting this to be their ultimate result. One of the more storied programs in the entire nation, this bowl game is seen as more of a rite of passage and justification of hiring Jimbo Fisher than anything else.
The No. 15 Northern Illinois Huskies, on the other hand, will simply walk in hoping to prove it belongs on this stage. Though a recent ascent has made them a powerhouse in the MAC, the Huskies still languished on the fringes of national relevancy for the past few seasons. This Orange Bowl berth is a huge stepping stone for the program, one that many were upset that Northern Illinois got in the first place.
College football royalty versus college football semi-relevancy. Those will be the two overarching storylines in play on Tuesday night.
Which team will win? Here is a complete breakdown of the biggest X-factors in the 2013 Orange Bowl.
Can Florida State Stop Jordan Lynch?
Based on the sum of their parts, the Seminoles should win this game by a pretty strong margin. That's the reason they're 14.5-point favorites (per Vegas Insider) and the line has actually moved up since opening at 14.
There's one Northern Illinois player who can throw a monkey wrench into those plans: quarterback Jordan Lynch. The scintillating dual-threat has spurred the Huskies offense all season, though the public was only introduced to his penchant for the spectacular in the MAC Championship Game.
Heading into Tuesday night, Lynch has 4,733 total yards and 43 touchdowns while throwing a meager five interceptions on the season. Lynch's 1,771 yards on the ground actually broke the all-time FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback and rank No. 4 in the nation coming into the Orange Bowl.
At least on paper, Florida State matches up extremely well against Lynch, though. The Seminoles have athletes all over their defensive front seven, which ostensibly should help curtail the Huskies signal-caller.
One problem: Clemson's Tajh Boyd, the most similar quarterback to Lynch that Florida State faced in 2012, torched the Seminoles for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 4 barn burner. While it wasn't his best game of the season, Lynch had success early with big plays and put Clemson up two touchdowns before Florida State came back with a torrid second-half scoring barrage.
Lynch is obviously way more run-oriented than Boyd, so it's not a perfect comparison. However, it will be interesting to see how the Seminoles handle the Northern Illinois attack.
How Will E.J. Manuel Fare in His Final Collegiate Game?
After coming into the 2012 season with plenty of Heisman buzz, it's actually rather difficult to judge E.J. Manuel's campaign.
He led Florida State to an 11-2 record, ACC championship and BCS bowl berth, all of which are firsts for the program since 2005. And despite not having the most explosive set of receivers, Manuel put up career highs in touchdowns (22), passing yards (3,101) and quarterback rating (157.6).
However, Manuel's performance in the season's final three games has to be disconcerting. The senior signal-caller averaged only 153.3 passing yards per game and threw only three touchdowns against five interceptions. Florida State won two of those games, but can thank its never-ending supply of top-flight running backs for those victories way more than Manuel.
With that factored in, one can't help but wonder about Manuel's state of mind heading into the Orange Bowl. He'll face off against a Northern Illinois secondary that has bent, but hardly ever broke all season long. The Huskies allowed 217.7 passing yards per game, which was fourth in the MAC, but also only gave up 10 touchdown passes against their 15 interceptions.
Because of Northern Illinois' lack of schedule strength, it's hard to judge those overall numbers. Nevertheless, Tuesday will see the battle of two completely different storylines for Manuel. Will he rise to the occasion in his last game in a Florida State uniform or see his performance continue to slide?
The answer to that one question could be the difference in a down-to-the-wire finish and a blowout victory for the Seminoles.
Which Secondary Player Will Have a Transcendent Performance?
We all may want to talk about quarterbacks until we're blue in the face, but if both Lynch and Manuel have great games, they'll likely cancel each other out. That also would mean we're likely in for a shootout, which seems rather inevitable if this game is going to be remotely close.
To put it mildly, Florida State has a cabal of possible options, particularly at running back. Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. have been a double-headed demoralizer for opposing defenses, as both stepped in after Chris Thompson's unfortunate ACL tear to lead the Seminoles' ground game.
Both head into Tuesday night hovering right around six yards per carry and have combined for 1,213 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season. For the Seminoles, the best part is that it seems like one will get the hot hand early, making it easy to see which player gets more carries.
Northern Illinois was rather middling against the run this season, giving up 139 yards per game and 18 rushing touchdowns, so if either Wilder or Freeman break free, it could be a long day for the Huskies.
As for Northern Illinois, the answer may just come in the backfield as well. Running back Akeem Daniels had only 432 rushing yards all season, but 240 of those came in the season's final two weeks. He's made a habit out of making home-run plays and all it could take is one long touchdown to swing the momentum.
It may not be the likeliest bet in the world. Still, the Huskies will need Daniels to have his third-straight 100-yard game to have a chance at BCS glory.