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.
"We knew that they were going to play us tough," Fisher said. "But our kids, it's another step in which we handled the big platform, and I'm very proud of them."
Pryor scored the first touchdown on a career-long 60-yard run, then ran 37 yards for a clinching touchdown with 10 minutes left. They were the two longest rushes allowed by Northern Illinois all season.
Manuel went 26 for 38, threw for one score and ran for another. Florida State totaled 534 yards and broke the school record for yards in a season with 6,591.
The Huskies were widely derided as unworthy of a BCS bowl berth, and didn't do enough to silence the doubters. Trick plays in the kicking game helped keep them close until the fourth quarter, but when it came to Lynch, not much fooled a Florida State defense ranked second in the nation.
"Definitely the best defense we played all year," Lynch said. "They were always in the right spot at the right time, it seemed like. They were hungry out there."
Lynch came into the game leading the nation in rushing and total offense, and he threw or ran on nearly every play for the Huskies. But he completed only 15 of 41 attempts for 176 yards, and carried 23 times for 44 yards.
The junior became the first player in NCAA history to surpass 3,000 yards passing and 1,500 rushing in a season.
After the Huskies' lone touchdown cut their deficit to 17-10 in the third quarter, they recovered an onside kick, and Lynch moved them to the Florida State 23. But he was flushed from the pocket on third down and threw an ill-advised pass that Terrence Brooks intercepted.
"It probably wasn't the smartest thing to force the ball there," Lynch said.
The loss came in Rod Carey's debut as the Huskies' coach. He was promoted to replace Dave Doeren, who took the North Carolina State job after the regular season.
"I'm upset," Carey said. "Florida State is a well-oiled machine. They beat us, no doubt. That doesn't change the fact I don't like to lose."