Northern Illinois Football: Orange Bowl Loss a Key Lesson for Future

Dean SiemonAnalyst IIJanuary 3, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 01:  Jordan Lynch #6 of the Northern Illinois Huskies looks to pass in the first half against the Florida State Seminoles during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 1, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Despite their 31-10 loss to No. 12 Florida State (12-2) at this season's Orange Bowl, the No. 15 Northern Illinois Huskies (12-2) should be proud of their 2012-13 accomplishments.

You could say the team should never have been placed in a high-profile game like they were because of the non-AQ rule, but the Huskies still had 12 straight wins en route to their second straight Mid-American Conference Championship.

The season didn't start off well as they lost to Iowa (4-8) by a close score of 18-17 back on Sept. 1 at Chicago's Soldier Field. NIU fans might have had concerns with junior quarterback Jordan Lynch's first start (54 passing yards, 119 rushing yards).

But Lynch began to flourish when the team earned a 41-40 win over Army at West Point as he threw for 342 yards and four touchdowns.

The Huskies were led by their star quarterback, who totaled 3,138 yards and 25 touchdowns through the air. Lynch also set the single-season rushing record for quarterbacks as he finished the season with 1,815 yards and 19 touchdowns.

But the season didn't end on the high the team rode during the MAC schedule. It was a tough loss when the Seminoles started to pull away after Florida State's Xavier Rhodes forced NIU's Da'Ron Brown to fumble with just under 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

While the Huskies were hoping for a better performance, they should consider it a victory in different ways heading into their season opener this September.

The Huskies have two games against the Big Ten on the road at Iowa and at Purdue (6-7). The team also goes to play the one-win Idaho Vandals (1-11). Their nonconference scheduled is rounded out with a home game against Eastern Illinois, which could be considered a probable win.

Despite the Huskies losing to Iowa this season, you could say Northern Illinois' exposure on the big stage that was Sun Life Stadium gave the team some confidence entering this season.

Let's say NIU can win those two road games against the Hawkeyes and Boilermakers, who combined for 10 wins. The Huskies will also more than likely earn a win at Idaho and could enter the MAC schedule 4-0.

The Orange Bowl appearance could help NIU gain a few key commitments when February's National Signing Day rolls around. While the Huskies have built a top mid-major program the last decade, the coaching staff can show how another undefeated streak could take them into the BCS once again.

In addition, the key offensive stars for Northern Illinois return next year. Lynch will enter his senior season and very well could be on the early Heisman Trophy watch.

So it will be interesting, but we have a long offseason before the team makes the trip to Iowa City eight months from now.