MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – After Tuesday's 31-10 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl, Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey wasn't able to put his team's 2012 season into perspective.
The Huskies had been outmatched by a bigger, stronger, faster Seminoles team, which was considered to be a national title contender at the start of the season. For Carey, it was tough to talk about the 12 consecutive wins, second Mid-American Championship title in a row or the school's first ever BCS berth.
"Well, talk to me [Wednesday] and I'm sure I'll have it in better balance. I hate to lose, and I know these guys (hate losing), too," said Carey, who made his debut as head coach after taking over for Dave Doeren the day NIU earned its Orange Bowl berth. "I told you when we first all talked when I got the job, I wear my emotions on my sleeve and I'm upset. I give them a lot of credit. Florida State is a great team and Jimbo (Fisher) does a great job.
"They are a well-coached, well-oiled machine. They beat us, no doubt about it. That doesn't change the fact that I don't like to lose."
Ever since the Huskies' Orange Bowl berth was made official, the team had many doubters, most prominently ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, whose negative comments about NIU irked Huskie fans from the start.
NIU certainly didn't play its best game in south Florida, but the Huskies were in the contest well into the third quarter. After recovering an onside kick following Martel Moore's 11-yard touchdown catch from Jordan Lynch, the Huskies drove into the red zone down by seven points.
Unfortunately for Lynch and everyone else on NIU's sideline, the Huskies' hopes of an upset diminshed when Florida State safety Terrence Brooks picked off Lynch on a pass he probably should have just thrown away.
With the final score, NIU's critics certainly won't go away. Not that the Huskies seem to care.
"People are going to say what they want regardless; we are not worried about that," said wide receiver Tommylee Lewis, who caught a team-high five passes for 61 yards. "We came out and played our game and fought hard. FSU was the better team today and came out with the win."
When players, coaches and fans look back on NIU's 2012 season, they'll remember games like the thrilling MAC Championship win over Kent State in Detroit, beating Toledo to clinch the MAC West and the victory over Kansas, when the school hosted a BCS team at Huskie Stadium for the first time since 2003.
The Huskies finished the season with a school-record 12 wins, and could be ranked in the final top 25 polls for the first time ever.
For a month, NIU's appearance in the Orange Bowl was one of the hottest stories in college football.
Despite the New Year's Day defeat, Huskies right tackle Matt Krempel summed up the Orange Bowl win like most players probably will when they sit back and remember their week in south Florida.
"I thought it was a blast. I am very proud to be a Huskie and proud to be here. I am very happy we got here and hope to make it again next year," he said. "The fact that we lost doesn't put a damper on the overall season. we had a 12-win season for the first time in school history.
"I think we are going to take motivation out of tonight and move forward."