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NIU, Florida State football seek legitimacy, but for different reasons

Iowv Northern Illinois

Iowa v Northern Illinois

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Time: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Miami Gardens, Fla.
TV: ESPN. • Line: Florida State by 131/2.

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Updated: December 31, 2012 8:41PM

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Everybody has issues.

After all the clamor about whether Northern Illinois belongs in the Orange Bowl, the Huskies know it’s up to them to prove they’re worthy against Florida State on Tuesday.

‘‘It is important,’’ NIU athletic director Jeff Compher said. ‘‘Getting the invitation was great. But playing well will further legitimize our right to be here. Our team understands that. It’s a privilege. But there’s also some responsibility.’’

The Huskies don’t have to win, but they need to be more than a sparring partner.

‘‘It’s not like we can say, ‘We didn’t have it that day,’ ’’ Compher said. ‘‘It has to be, ‘See how well they played. This is why they’re here.’ The team knows that.’’

For Florida State, anything less than a victory over NIU would be calamitous. The most demanding elements in Seminole Nation, those who aren’t certain Jimbo Fisher is the real deal, are likely to get restless if Northern Illinois is even competitive.

In the rarified air of Tallahassee, a loss to Florida is never a good thing (the Seminoles lost to the ­Gators 37-26 on Nov. 24). That’s especially true because Will Muschamp seems to have Florida poised for big things in a state that measures success in national championships. Never mind that Fisher is 30-10 in three seasons.

‘‘You’ve just got to block it out and know that you’re doing the right things,’’ Fisher told about the grumbling. ‘‘If we keep winning 11, 12 games a year, having those seasons, we’re going to win one. You just don’t win national championships every year.’’

Kirk Herbstreit’s rant about NIU not deserving an Orange Bowl berth received a ton of attention. But check out Fisher’s Luddite-like YouTube rant. He trashed the BCS computers, saying, ‘‘It was better in the old days when we had the eye test.’’

Ironically, Fisher was concerned about the ACC not providing the strength of schedule needed to make the BCS Championship Game. Consider it an upscale version of the Mid-American Conference hindering NIU’s schedule strength in its quest for a BCS bowl slot.

Although FSU has won its last four bowls, it’s 1-5 in BCS bowl games, and that seems to be a focal point. A bigger issue might be the Seminoles’ interest level. If not for a curious upset loss to North Carolina State and a fourth-quarter meltdown against Florida, Florida State might have been playing for the national championship instead of being the undercard.

The Seminoles are saying all the right things about the importance of this game, just as they’re being very respectful of Northern Illinois, despite the scorn it is receiving from some ornery media.

‘‘This is probably the hardest playing, rally‑to‑the‑ball group we’ve seen,’’ FSU offensive coordinator James Coley said of the NIU defense. ‘‘They’re going to have conviction in what they do, and that’s what we’re pushing with our guys. We’re facing a team that’s willing to bloody their noses and get after you.’’

That’s what the Huskies have been doing all season. Even though they’ve won 12 in a row, tying them with Notre Dame and Ohio State for the nation’s longest winning streak, they’ve had to battle through some scrapes along the way.

So the pressure to prove they belong in a BCS bowl is nothing new.

‘‘We feel like we’re not the team with the pressure,’’ said defensive end Sean Progar, a senior from Glenbrook South. ‘‘We made it here. We’re already doubted. We’re going to come out and have fun and execute. We know if we put our best foot forward, we’ll be all right. We’ve played loose all season. We can’t get uptight now.’’

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