DeKALB – Northern Illinois’ players sat in the McCareins Auditorium at the Yordon Center, waiting to see it become official.
The rumors started Sunday afternoon, and they were impossible to ignore.
When ESPN finally announced the Huskies were heading to the Orange Bowl to play Florida State, the auditorium erupted.
Cheers, hugs, high-fives everywhere.
Eventually, there were coolers full of oranges brought in and the fruit was being passed and thrown to players around the room. It seemed as if every Huskie had an orange in his hand, even NIU President John Peters and athletic director Jeff Compher.
“It’s a little bit surreal. I don’t think you realize it,” senior defensive end Sean Progar said. “I don’t think I’ll be able to process it fully for a few days. But I’m excited about the opportunity and I know my teammates are. We’re going to take advantage of it, that’s for sure.”
The Mid-American Conference champion Huskies (12-1) earned their first BCS spot by finishing 15th in the BCS standings, being the highest-ranked non-automatic qualifying conference champion and finishing ahead of two champions from automatic-qualifying conferences – No. 21 Louisville (Big East) and unranked Wisconsin (Big Ten).
It was a hectic weekend for the Huskies. They beat Kent State, 44-37, in Friday’s MAC Championship game before losing head coach Dave Doeren to North Carolina State on Saturday.
Sunday, NIU found out it was going to the Orange Bowl and the Huskies also hired a new head coach, as offensive coordinator Rod Carey was chosen to lead the program.
“It’s just been a crazy weekend for Northern Illinois,” senior tight end Jason Schepler said. “But I think we’re headed on the right track for the future state of this program.”
The Seminoles finished No. 12 in the BCS standings, just three spots ahead of NIU. Florida State earned a BCS bowl berth by beating Georgia Tech, 21-15, in Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference Championship.
Florida State, which will be making its seventh BCS bowl appearance, will likely enter the game as a heavy favorite. Talking on the Orange Bowl teleconference Sunday night, Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher surely didn’t show a lack of respect for the Huskies.
“You don’t get to this game if you’re not a good football team,” Fisher said. “They’re a great football team.”
Carey has never been a head coach before and, standing on the podium Sunday, it still didn’t seem as if everything had set in for him.
“It’ll be fun,” Carey said. “My wife [Tonya] and I, when we were first married and we were at [University of Wisconsin-Stout] for all those years, New Year’s Day was always a family football day. This year, to be coaching on it will be pretty cool.”