Tonight all eyes around the ACC- and the country- will be on Florida State and their Orange Bowl matchup with Northern Illinois. For the first time in seemingly years the Atlantic Coast Conference has an opportunity to come out of bowl season with some semblance of respectability.
Despite how it's spun on ESPN, yesterday was a big day for the ACC. NC State phoned in a lousy Music City Bowl effort in their loss to Vanderbilt. But then Georgia Tech staved off some potential conference embarrassment in the Sun Bowl by beating USC and finishing the year with a 7-7 mark. While 7-7 is hardly the sort of year to write home about, a 6-8 bowl team would've been even more egg on the face of the ACC.
In the nightcap, Clemson upset LSU in the Chick-Fil-A bowl. SEC-apologists have called it an LSU-meltdown, but there's no place on the trophy that says how you won it. Clemson and the ACC pulled off a big win over an SEC opponent and the ACC heads into tonight looking pretty solid.
Through five bowl games the Atlantic Coast Conference is 3-2 with a shot to finish 4-2 if its reigning champion, no. 12 Florida State, can handle its business against no. 15 Northern Illinois in tonight's Orange Bowl game.
But whether Florida State handles its business- which on paper they should- is a completely different story.
Depending on which Florida State team shows up for tonight's game, tonight could be a blowout or a nailbiter. It's almost entirely up to the Seminoles.
FSU was essentially two completely different teams this year depending on where they played. At Doak Campbell Stadium Florida State won their games by an average score of 50-13. They averaged 543 yards of offense per game. They looked like a top ten football team.
When the Seminoles left Doak in 2012 though, watch out. The offense averages 22 few points per game (28) and gains 169 fewer yards (374 ypg) when they're on the road. And even those numbers might not tell the whole story.
USF fired their coach this year but gave Florida State a game that went well into the third quarter. The next week NC State beat the Seminoles in Raleigh, 17-16. The Wolfpack also fired their coach this year and hired NIU's old coach, Dave Doeren, after he BCS-busted his team into the Orange Bowl.
Florida State trailed Miami 10-0 after starting flat the first time they played in Sun Life Stadium this year. They ended up winning 33-20, but struggled with an inferior Hurricane team into the second half.
In November, the 'Noles eked out a 28-22 win against Virginia Tech on the road in Blacksburg, though admittedly that is a difficult Thursday night atmosphere at Lane Stadium. Their best road performance came the next week when they clinched the Atlantic division of the ACC against a 4-8 Maryland team, 41-14.
But the trend was short-lived, in Charlotte against a .500 Georgia Tech squad Florida State had to resort to a late Karlos Williams interception to close out the Yellow Jackets, 21-15. The game felt eerily similar to the loss at North Carolina State as the second have ground on.
Something happens when the Seminoles hit the road. While the defense has been consistent all season, the offense has a tough time finding rhythm when they're not playing on Bobby Bowden field.
Tonight Florida State will look to get 2013 started on the right foot by putting together a dominating performance away from home. And if ever there were a reason Florida State might come out fired up for a road game this season, Northern Illinois has made sure to to give it to them in the week heading up to this game.
It may have been smart for the Huskies to play it humble this week, downplay the confidence a little bit and try to lull the Seminoles into a false sense of complacency.
They went the complete other direction though.
All week NIU has displayed a brash, at times seemingly-unwaranted confidence about this matchup. Their quarterback said they would have FSU's defense 'on its knees.' Their head coach, Rod Carey- in talking up his own offense- shrugged off Florida State's offense, characterizing them as 'not slouches.'
While nobody expected Northern Illinois to bow down to Florida State and the ACC, I doubt many people expected them to defiantly incite the Seminoles either.
But that's what's happened. They've attacked Florida State's pride. If ever there were a time for a sleeping road giant to wake up, now is that time.
By midnight tonight we should have a pretty good idea which Florida State team made the trip to Sun Life Stadium, there is no comparison between these teams in terms of talent, only in terms of desire. Northern Illinois has a chip on their shoulder, they want this game badly.
But it's Florida State's for the taking.
And the rest of the ACC is hoping the Seminoles want it.
Keep checking back here at the Herald FSU blog and follow me on Twitter for running updates, news and rapid reactions from tonight's Orange Bowl...