BCS busters NIU face Florida St in Orange Bowl


BCS busters NIU face Florida St in Orange Bowl

MIAMI (AP) Florida State's biggest weakness heading into their Orange Bowl game against Northern Illinois might be Midwestern geography.

The Seminoles concede they'd be hard-pressed to locate their opponent in an atlas.

``I could probably find Illinois,'' receiver Rashad Greene said. ``I don't really know where the town is. Actually I don't even know the town.''

It's DeKalb.

``DeKalb?'' Seminoles kicker Dustin Hopkins said. ``Hey, next time I'll know.''

``I thought it was in Chicago,'' quarterback EJ Manuel said.

Cue the cliche: A victory Tuesday night would put Northern Illinois on the map. The No. 16-ranked Huskies have been widely derided as unworthy of a BCS bowl berth, which makes them eager for validation when they face No. 13 Florida State.

``We're playing a team that is going to be willing to bloody their noses and get after you,'' Seminoles offensive coordinator James Coley warned.

Northern Illinois (12-1) is the first Mid-American Conference team to play in the Bowl Championship Series. The Huskies made it when they cracked the top 16 in the final standings by 0.0404 points, setting off a celebration in DeKalb and a backlash everywhere else.

The BCS busters arrived in south Florida without apology.

``There are a lot of angry people out there,'' NIU offensive coordinator Bob Cole said. ``But there are probably 120 of us in the hotel that are really happy about the whole deal. We don't really care what everybody else thinks.''

The bowl berth meant 17 Huskies would see the ocean for the first time. One story about the team used the phrase ``bowl bumpkins.''

``We laugh at it, whatever that's supposed to mean,'' linebacker Tyrone Clark said. ``We take this as an amazing opportunity for the MAC, the school and the players.''

Actually, success is nothing new to the Huskies, who are playing in a bowl for the fifth consecutive season. Since October 2011 they have the best record in the country at 21-1.

They've won 12 games in a row, matching Ohio State and Notre Dame for the longest active winning streak. Quarterback Jordan Lynch leads the nation in rushing and total offense, and he finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting.

But the Huskies barely beat Army, Toledo and Kansas. They lost to Iowa, which won only three other games. They've never beaten an opponent ranked higher than 15th.

At a news conference Monday for the head coaches, Florida State's Jimbo Fisher agreed to pose with the Orange Bowl trophy. Northern Illinois' Rod Carey declined, but not because his team is a two-touchdown underdog.

``Underdog? What is that?'' Carey said. ``Our kids play with a chip on their shoulder all the time. I mean, if we were favored by 21 points I'd be more nervous.''

Until kickoff, it's impossible to know how seriously Florida State (11-2) will take a supposedly unimposing opponent. The matchup's a letdown for the Seminoles, who wanted to wait another week to play in Miami - in the BCS title game.

But in the days leading up to the game, the Seminoles said all the right things about Northern Illinois.

``We're not going to underestimate anybody,'' receiver Rodney Smith said. ``Everybody is trying to say NIU doesn't deserve to be here, but as a team we're saying they're here for a reason. We're going to treat them like they're the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.''

They're No. 1 in DeKalb, anyway, especially in the wake of their Orange Bowl berth.

``They've got signs all over the place in the street back home - `Go Huskies' and `Good Luck in the Orange Bowl,''' Cole said. ``For what it has done for our community, our players, our school, it has been unbelievable.''

DeKalb is located an hour west of Chicago, on the banks of the Kishwaukee River, in Rand McNally grid C-10. A good crowd at Huskies Stadium is 18,000, and the town's population of 45,000 would barely fill half of the Orange Bowl's seats.

``In DeKalb you've got your local cornfields,'' linebacker Clark said. ``We've got a lot of space there. And you've got your daily wind. It's just a small town with a nice-size university - and a select number of people.''

Added teammate Sean Progar: ``There's not too much to do but play football.''

That's what the small-town Huskies will do Tuesday on their biggest stage ever.

Quick Links

Need to Know: Looking ahead—Key Redskins 2019 free agents

USA Today Sports Images

Need to Know: Looking ahead—Key Redskins 2019 free agents

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, March 18, 39 days before the NFL draft.  

Looking at next year’s free agents

There is still work that the Redskins can do in free agency and they still have some of their own players they want to retain. But with a lot of the player movement already in the books, we can take a look forward some of the key Redskin who currently are set to be free agents when the 2019 league year opens.

Note: I’m not including Brandon Scherff here because the team has a fifth-year option on him that they surely will activate before the May 2 deadline.

QB Colt McCoy (Week 1 age 32)—Lots of questions here. Will the Redskins want to keep him around for another year as Alex Smith’s backup? Or will they want a younger and cheaper backup? Will McCoy want to move on rather than back up another QB who doesn’t miss many games?

OL Ty Nsekhe (32)—The Redskins gave him a second-round restricted free agent tender this year so it’s possible that he could be gone or on a long-term contract in Washington. If he is a free agent, his value and the difficulty of retaining him could depend on if he ends the season as a reserve tackle (easy) or as a starting guard (hard).

OLB Preston Smith (25)—As we saw with Trent Murphy (three years, $21 million with up to $30 million), pass rushers get paid. Smith also makes big plays. Since Smith came into the NFL, he is the only player with at least 20 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. If the Redskins can’t reach a deal on an extension with him this year the franchise tag is a distinct possibility.

WR Jamison Crowder (25)—This year the supply of quality receivers both as free agents and in the draft sent contract prices skyrocketing. To guard against that happening next year, the Redskin should start talking to Crowder about an extension soon.

ILB Zach Vigil (27)—As I noted here, Vigil went from being cut in September to a very valuable reserve in November. Both Zach Brown and Mason Foster will still be under contract, but the Redskin still should make an effort to retain Vigil for special teams and as a capable backup.

Other Redskins who are slated to be UFA’s next year are DL Ziggy Hood and ILB Martrell Spaight.

It’s also worth noting that WR Maurice Harris and DE Anthony Lanier will both be restricted free agents next year. Both positions were pricey in free agency this year, so both could require at least second-round tenders, which likely will increase to about $3 million in 2019.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

Tandler on Twitter

Regarding the reported visit of defensive lineman Jonathan Hankins with the Redskins:


Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 29
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 131
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 175

In case you missed it

Quick Links

Game 72 Capitals at Flyers Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

USA Today Sports

Game 72 Capitals at Flyers Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pa.

When: 5:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Flyers will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Flyers game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.


The Capitals (41-23-7) take on the Flyers (36-25-11) Sunday, March 18 at 5:00 p.m. ET in Philadelphia.


The Capitals-Flyers game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

4:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
4:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
5:00 p.m. — Capitals at Flyers
7:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
8:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
9:00 p.m. — Caps in 30


The Capitals-Flyers game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.