And that is why the ones who should have been disappointed leaving Sun Life Stadium were not the Huskie fans, but rather the ones doing the 'tomahawk chop' for the Seminoles. The Orange Bowl revealed that Florida State could have been a contender ... as in 'National Championship Game' contender.
You see, back in September when the football season was still young, Florida State looked unbeatable to many. They were 5-0 by a combined score of 255-57. Their upcoming schedule wasn't very tough. There were whispers in the sports bars of Tallahassee that Head Coach Jimbo Fisher, now in his 3rd year at the helm, had the two-time national champions poised for another.
In their sixth game, the Seminoles took a 16-0 lead against an outmatched 3-2 NC State team some at the time considered the fourth best in the state of North Carolina.
And then the wheels fell off.
The NC State Wolfpack mounted what might have been the most improbable comeback of the college football season, scoring 17 unanswered points for a 17-16 win. The Seminoles, it seemed, were stronger than them in every muscle but their heart.
What followed were a series of oddly close wins against opponents that top teams were blowing out.
- A 33-20 win over Miami, a team which had earlier lost by nearly 40 points to Notre Dame.
- A 28-22 win over a Virginia Tech team that ended up 4-4 in the 'football-challenged' ACC.
- A 21-15 win over Georgia Tech, which somehow got into the ACC championship game despite a then 6-6 record.
Their only other loss was to Florida, which unlike Florida State, was exceeding pre-season expectations. The Gators were contenders, the Seminoles pretenders.
So when the Orange Bowl came around, it was Florida State with a chip on its shoulder. Even with a record of 11-2, losing to Northern Illinois would have been the epitome of a season of high expectations -- and disppointing outcomes.
Instead, Orange Bowl viewers witnessed the Florida State that could have been. The incredible combination of strength and speed on defense. The explosive offense that gobbles up yards in big bunches. It was a stark display of football athleticism by a team talented enough to have taken the same field a week later and beaten Notre Dame for the national championship.
The Huskies were the unwitting victims of a powerhouse finally playing up to its potential, and to their credit, for nearly three quarters, NIU kept it pretty close. Football is a game, however, where strategy and determination will only take you so far. The talent, speed and size on the Florida State side of the football eventually wore the Huskies down.
Kirk Herbstreit got the ending right, but for the wrong reason -- because it was Florida State and not Northern Illinois that ended up in the wrong bowl game.