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The Orange Bowl may not be the bowl game most viewers are looking forward to, but there may be some money to find for the betting public just by looking at the numbers for each team on the season. Northern Illinois plays in the lowly (maybe not this season) MAC, but they have one of the top records against the spread this season at 9-2-2. Florida State won the ACC, but only managed a 3-9 ATS record. As the bigger team, the Seminoles find themselves as 13-point favorites at 5 Dimes Sportsbook while the over/under is sitting around 58.5 points.
The Huskies only have one loss, but that's the kind of thing that happens when you play in the MAC. Their only loss of the season came in Week 1 by one point to a four-win Iowa team. Their only other major conference win came against Kansas, and even then only beat the one-win team by seven points. In the conference championship, Northern Illinois needed two overtimes to beat out Kent State who had a better ranking at the time.
Florida State had a couple of better wins, but playing in the ACC isn't nearly as tough as playing in the Pac 12 or SEC. The Seminoles biggest win of the season came back in Week 4 when they took out Clemson 49-37. However, they lost at NC State two weeks later which removed any of their BCS title hopes (the Wolfpack finished with a 7-5 overall record). The rest of the conference is full of inconsistent and mediocre squads. When given a true challenge at the end of the year against in-state rivals Florida, they couldn't get the job done, losing by 11 points even though they were seven-point favorites.
FSU only allowed 15.1 points per game for the season, but you can't look into that too much in the low-scoring ACC. They allowed 37 points to both Clemson and Florida. Northern Illinois can be looked at the same way defensively, as they only allowed 19 PPG all season. However, how good is a defense that allowed 40 points to Army and 34 to Western Michigan? Both of these offenses have been solid as well, but what can they do against unfamiliar opponents?
EJ Manuel has solid numbers in his senior season with 3,101 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but what does he look like in the tougher games? He managed 218 yards with one TD and one INT in the loss at NC State. In the final two games of the season (Florida and Georgia Tech), he put up only 316 yards with one TD and four INTs. One of those games they lost, and the other almost slipped away because FSU only put 21 points on the board. While they are a power running team, the loss of senior RB Chris Thompson midway through the season has hurt. He's still their leading rusher and he hasn't played in the last five games. For the bowl game, the touches will be split between Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and EJ Manuel who all have between 97 and 99 carries. Freeman and Wilder Jr. have a combined 19 rushing TDs on the year. This will be the Huskies toughest task of the season, trying to stop a bigger, power rushing offense.
When talking about Northern Illinois, you can't forget to mention all-around quarterback Jordan Lynch. The man has done it all for the Huskies this year, and if you play fantasy college football, he is the best of the bunch. As a QB, he led the nation at the end of the season with 1,771 rushing yards. That is incredible. Along with that he found the end zone 19 times. Throwing in the fact that he could throw the ball and this guy was stopped by no one. In the air he had 2,962 yards with 24 TDs and just five interceptions. While running for at least 100 yards in all but one game this year, he could still move the ball through the air. Running back Akeem Daniels has also hit 100 yards in the last two games and will be the other main force in the backfield. Receiving wise, the Huskies are led by Martel Moore who has 1,054 yards and 12 TDs.
Perhaps no bowl team has ever been beaten up and maligned by the media than Northern Illinois has for getting this Orange Bowl spot. Hey, I have to admit, as someone who follows college football religiously, I was disappointed in this match up, as well as many others this year. You want high profile programs in off very good seasons in the Orange Bowl. Not to take away from what Northern Illinois accomplished, but we saw some potential Orange Bowl match up projections that were much more attractive.
That being said, the media trashing and suggesting that Northern Illinois doesn't belong can serve as a fantastic motivator. Motivation like that can make a good team great, if only for a little while. If we take a look at numbers like yards per point, we see they are relatively equal between these two, both very good. Yes, Florida State has played a schedule roughly 10 points more difficult than Northern Illinois has, but as we have already seen in a bowl game or two, schedule strength doesn't always come into play. Just ask Arizona, who played a schedule more than two TD's more difficult than Nevada's and who our model liked by 30 points. In the end, they eked out a 49-48 win.
One way to take advantage of that added motivation is to play Northern Illinois in the 1st quarter and the 1st half. If that added motivation and adrenaline is going to come into play here, it's going to be in the 1st half. If Florida State is the deeper, more talented team, that will show up over the course of 4 quarters. But for a quarter or a half, Northern Illinois may very well go toe to toe.
So we'll call this a 3* play, which would be a regular unit, though we'll break it up as follows.
1* Northern Illinois + 1st qtr
1* Northern Illinois + 1st half
1* Northern Illinois +13 for the game.
Most sportsbooks don't have the 1st half or qtr lines posted as of this writing. Our model likes Florida State by anywhere from the posted line on up to 20+ points, but we think that Northern Illinois can make a game of this, especially in the 1st half.
**Note that as of this writing, this is NOT a key release.
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