MIAMI (AP) — Laughing and mugging for the cameras, the Florida State Seminoles happily hoisted the Orange Bowl trophy as a consolation prize, their disappointment about failing to reach the national championship game all but forgotten.
They figure next season will be different.
Smothering defense and two breakaway runs by senior fullback Lonnie Pryor helped Florida State beat Northern Illinois 31-10 Tuesday night.
The victory was the first for the Seminoles (12-2) in a BCS bowl since the glory days of 2000, when they beat Virginia Tech for the national title.
After the game, coach Jimbo Fisher's players wore T-shirts that read, "Florida Statement."
"We're knocking on the door," Fisher said. "We feel very confident about where we're going and what we're doing. We've laid a great foundation here, and there's a great team coming back."
While Fisher's roster is loaded with underclassmen, two seniors shone in the season finale. Pryor, voted the game's outstanding player, ran for a career-high 134 yards and two scores in only five carries, while classmate EJ Manuel threw for 291 yards.
"We wanted to leave a legacy and change the culture in what we do here," Manuel said. "You're reaping the benefits right now."
Junior defensive end Bjoern Werner — who has yet to announce whether he'll turn pro this year — led a swarming defense that stuffed Huskies QB and all-purpose threat Jordan Lynch for most of the night.
Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter to help seal the win. He said he'll forgo his senior season and join the NFL this year.
The 13th-ranked Seminoles won a bowl game for the fifth season in a row, but the stakes were higher this time. It was their first BCS bowl berth in seven years.
"It's not the national championship, but right below," Werner said. "Not a lot of teams can say that."
The 12-victory season was the first since 1999 for the Seminoles, the Atlantic Coast Conference champions.
"Florida State is almost back," safety Lamarcus Joyner said.
For 16th-ranked Northern Illinois (12-2), playing in a BCS bowl for the first time, the defeat snapped a 12-game winning streak. The Huskies came in as two-touchdown underdogs and fell to 5-28 against top 25 teams.