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MORRISSEY: Perhaps Northern Illinois had too much motivation

MIAMI GARDENS FL - JANUARY 01:  Rashad Greene #80 FloridState Seminoles celebrates after he scored 6-yard touchdown receptisecond quarter

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 01: Rashad Greene #80 of the Florida State Seminoles celebrates after he scored a 6-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter against the Northern Illinois Huskies during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 1, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

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Updated: January 2, 2013 12:25AM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — I’d rather eat steel wool than admit Kirk Herbstreit was right.

You might recall that the ESPN college football analyst called Northern Illinois’ presence in a BCS bowl game an “absolute joke,’’ “a sad state for college football’’ and an “injustice.’’

If he had said the Huskies’ offense would be a “bad joke,’’ “a step backward for football’’ and an “infliction’’ at the Orange Bowl, I’d be calling him a visionary today. Sorry, Kirk. Next time, be a little more specific.

A sore loser? Yep, that’s me. But I wasn’t just rooting for the underdog here. I was rooting for the idea of underdogs, which has no place in Herbstreit’s big-box-store world. It’s a world that has no room for a good story, for romance, for miracles. For the little guy.

The final score Tuesday night was 31-10 Florida State, a pretty good reflection of a game that lost cabin pressure almost from the start for the Huskies. It’s impossible to overstate how bad NIU’s offense was for long stretches. Over and over again, it was chorus-line bad — one, two, three, kick.

The Seminoles were bigger and faster than the Huskies, and Northern quarterback Jordan Lynch had trouble most of the night. But it was the strangest thing: Florida State couldn’t pull away, try as it might. It gave NIU hope. When the Seminoles went up 14-3 just before half, it looked like there would be no way the Huskies would respond.

But they did, pulling to within 17-10 in the third quarter on a touchdown pass from Lynch to Martel Moore. After an onside kick, Northern looked like it was in business. A Lynch interception lassoed the momentum and roped it to a complete halt. He picked a bad time to have one of his worst games of the season. He finished 15-for-41 for 176 yards.

“I missed a lot of throws out there,’’ Lynch said.

Too bad. What a story it would have been. But at some point, Northern needed to hold up its end of the bargain. If it wanted to be the Little Team That Could from the Mid-American Conference, it needed to play an active role in the fairy tale. Too often, it stood looking up at the hill and shaking its head.

“We didn’t execute, they did,’’ Huskies coach Rod Carey said.

There was no shortage of motivation for NIU. First, there was Herbstreit. Then came a report Tuesday afternoon on that an Orange Bowl representative recently had lashed out at an NIU staffer.

“You guys [NIU] don’t even deserve to be here,” the rep reportedly said. “We didn’t even want you here.”

Whether it was liquor, truth serum or simple raw honesty behind the bowl representative’s comments doesn’t matter. It was another reminder that Northern didn’t belong. But a bowl rep saying that? Wow. Bowl reps are like casino greeters, better seen shaking hands than saying much of anything. For one to reportedly rip the Huskies is astounding, like finding out Mickey Mouse had a filthy mouth.

If Northern was looking for one more reason to be foaming at the mouth about the first BCS bowl in MAC history, suddenly there was a side of beef laying at its feet.

How would they react?

Not very well. They were much smaller than the Seminoles, almost a different breed (Humanus DeKalbus?). Florida State finished with 534 yards of offense to NIU’s 259. For the sizable portion of Northern’s fans who were hoping that Herbstreit would choke on his bratwurst as he watched, it was a big disappointment.

But the truth is that Herbstreit made this game more relevant than it would have been had he kept his mouth shut.

Is NIU as good as most of the teams playing in BCS bowls? Probably not. But its presence on the national stage certainly has created conversation. And, in the case of the unnamed Orange Bowl rep, at least one stiletto tongue. I’m guessing his purported words wouldn’t have spilled out of his mouth if the staff member had been from Oklahoma instead of Northern.

I’m also guessing there wouldn’t have been nearly as much attention, discussion or TV viewers if NIU had been out of the equation. Herbstreit let the world know that Northern Illinois existed in a faraway place called DeKalb, Ill., and he reminded the Huskies that they’re the kind of underdog whose belly scrapes the pavement when it walks. Too bad the story ended like that.

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