Big-Game Hunting: Can NIU kick Seminoles while they’re down in ‘rematch’?

SHARE Big-Game Hunting: Can NIU kick Seminoles while they’re down in ‘rematch’?
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Florida State celebrates a touchdown in the 2013 Orange Bowl. (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Six seasons ago, then-Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch looked me dead in the eyes during a one-on-one interview and said of upcoming Orange Bowl opponent Florida State:

‘‘We plan on wearing them down. In the fourth quarter, we plan to have them on their knees — and then just keep pounding away. They’re just like us. They’re human, too. If you cut them, they bleed.’’

I asked Lynch, a Heisman Trophy candidate and the leading rusher in the country among quarterbacks, if he was sure he wanted to put such a strong message out there. He said he was.

Suffice it to say, the Seminoles — second only to eventual champion Alabama in total defense — were all too pleased to stymie Lynch and the Huskies in a 31-10 victory.

New coach Rod Carey, who’d replaced N.C. State-bound Dave Doeren after the regular season, fumed during a postgame news conference. He claimed to have been present as I interviewed Lynch (he wasn’t) and that Lynch had been misquoted (also untrue).

It was an unpleasant episode, but it’s water under the bridge now.

Six years later, though, Northern Illinois at Florida State (2:30 p.m., ESPNU) is interesting for at least a couple of reasons. One is that the Huskies are confident again.

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‘‘I feel like we’ll match up no problem with them,’’ linebacker Lance Deveaux told reporters this week.

‘‘[FSU is] just a name,’’ receiver Spencer Tears said. ‘‘[They] strap up just like we do, so we’re going to come to play football just like they are.’’

And guess what? That confidence is warranted. Orange Bowl-bound NIU was a 13½-point underdog that, in hindsight, really didn’t have much of a chance. But 1-2 NIU heads to 1-2 FSU at a time when the Seminoles — favored by 10 — are by far the bigger mess.

First-year coach Willie Taggart’s team already has lost by 21 points to Virginia Tech and by 23 last week at Syracuse. FSU ranks 111th in the country in offense and — even harder to believe — 96th in defense.

‘‘It’s a dynamic football team,’’ Carey said. ‘‘I know their record doesn’t show that, but you put on the film, and they have players all over the field that are big, long, strong, fast, good football players.’’

There’s no doubt the ’Noles again look more daunting than the Huskies getting off the bus, but it would be foolish to say Carey and Co. can’t hang in there in this ‘‘rematch.’’ One of these teams will contend for a Mid-American Conference title, while the other will fade away as an Atlantic Coast Conference afterthought.

An outright upset would be a scream, wouldn’t it? NIU 20, FSU 17.

Five other enticing matchups Saturday:

No. 2 Georgia (-14) at Missouri (11 a.m., ESPN): The unbeaten Tigers have a future NFL quarterback in Drew Lock and an offensive line that has been outstanding in protection. What they don’t have is a defense that can go nose-to-nose with the Bulldogs. Nose-to-chest, maybe? Georgia runs away, 45-27.

Nebraska (+18½) at No. 19 Michigan (11 a.m., FS1): Forget the Huskers’ winless record. The question I have is, when will they start competing under new coach Scott Frost? An effort they can be proud of in this one might go a long way. Wolverines by 10.

No. 7 Stanford (-2) at No. 20 Oregon (7 p.m., Ch. 7): The Ducks’ offense is flying again. In other news, the Ducks have yet to play an opponent with a pulse. The last two meetings have gone to the Cardinal — by a combined 67 points. Fear the Tree.

No. 24 Michigan State (-5) at Indiana (6:30 p.m., BTN+): The Spartans, who still see themselves as Big Ten contenders, are looking to avoid what would be a disastrous second defeat in September. The Hoosiers are trying to get to 4-0 for only the second time in 28 seasons. Sparty by a touchdown.

No. 18 Wisconsin (-3) at Iowa (7:30 p.m., Fox-32): Watch this sneak up on everybody as the game of the week and a fitting successor on the thrill-o-meter to the Hawkeyes’ prime-time home classics against Penn State in 2017 and Michigan in 2016. The Badgers, coming off an upset loss to BYU, need this one in the worst way — and they get it, 24-20.

My favorite favorite: No. 1 Alabama (-26½) vs. No. 22 Texas A&M (2:30 p.m., Ch. 2). The Crimson Tide are 3-0 against the spread, with, on average, about three touchdowns to spare. Is that compelling enough for you?

My favorite underdog: Arizona State (+18) at No. 10 Washington (9:30 p.m., ESPN). Just like Auburn sacked Jake Browning five times in the 2018 opener, the Sun Devils had five sacks in their upset of the Huskies last season. Washington has to earn this ‘‘W.’’

Last week: 3-4 straight up, 4-3 against the spread.

Season to date: 11-8 straight up, 9-10 against the spread.

THE LOCALS

NO. 10 PENN STATE AT ILLINOIS

The facts: 8 p.m. Friday, FS1, 1160-AM.

The records: PSU 3-0, 0-0 Big Ten; Illinois 2-1, 0-0 Big Ten.

The storyline: Well, it’s as good a time as any to mention that Illinois actually beat the Nittany Lions — 16-14 on a field goal by David Reisner in the waning seconds — the last time they came to town. That wasn’t a vintage PSU team by any means, though, and the sad fact is the Illini have dropped 20 games in a row against ranked opponents. Will Illini quarterback AJ Bush Jr. return to action (and stay upright for an entire game), or will true freshman M.J. Rivers II be pressed into further duty? Some good news: Saquon Barkley has taken his talents to the NFL.

The line: Nittany Lions by 28.

Greenberg’s pick: PSU, 42-17.

NO. 8 NOTRE DAME AT WAKE FOREST

The facts: 11 a.m., Ch. 7, 1000-AM.

The records: Notre Dame 3-0; Wake Forest 2-1.

The storyline: You might remember how ugly the 2017 game ended for the Irish, who won 48-37 after being outscored 21-7 down the stretch. Say this for the Demon Deacons: With their pedal-to-the-metal tempo offensively, they just keep coming. (A good Boston College team experienced that last weekend in a 41-34 victory against Wake.) The Irish need to use their offense to keep the Deacons off the field, and that means productivity in the running game and ball security from quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Is this the game in which backup QB Ian Book plays an important role?

The line: Irish by 7½.

Greenberg’s pick: Notre Dame, 37-24.

CHICAGO FOOTBALL CLASSIC

MILES VS. MOREHOUSE

The facts: 2:30 p.m., Soldier Field.

The records: Miles 0-3; Morehouse 3-0.

The storyline: The 21st Classic will feature Morehouse, a prominent HBCU in Atlanta, for the third time. Miles, an HBCU located near Birmingham, Alabama, will be making its first Chicago appearance. Don’t let the records fool you: Morehouse has lost to the Golden Bears in each of the last three seasons.

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