It's not all doom and gloom for Northern Illinois despite Tuesday's 31-10 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
The Huskies are losing only eight starters from a team that finished 12-2, won the Mid-American Conference for a second straight year and went to a BCS bowl for the first time in school history -- three on offense and five on defense.
Of course, quarterback Jordan Lynch is returning after his memorable season that ended with a disappointing showing against the Seminoles. Lynch was only 15 of 41 passing for 176 yards and ran for just 44 yards on 23 carries.
"All the credit goes to Florida State," Lynch said. "We came out and we had a good game plan, and they had a good game plan, too. They're well coached. Their defense is the best defense we've faced all year."
Lynch will be back for his senior season with huge expectations on his shoulders.
"We had a lot of young guys on our team, and I feel like we can carry this over until next year," Lynch said. "It's just a learning experience. We really wanted to send our seniors out the right way and that didn't happen, but we had a great season this year.
"None of this was even possible, no one was even thinking about this, a MAC school making a BCS bowl. I still want to say that we made our schools proud and we made the MAC conference proud."
Lynch will need to find a new favorite target with wide out Martel Moore among the seniors leaving. Moore led the Huskies with 75 catches and 13 touchdowns.
The other seniors departing from NIU's high-powered offense are wide receiver Perez Ashford and tight end Jason Shepler.
The defense will be hit hard by graduation, including three linemen: Sean Progar, Alan Baxter and Nabal Jefferson.
Also leaving are middle linebacker Victor Jacques, outside linebacker Tyrone Clark and cornerback Rashaan Melvin, along with punter Ryan Neir.
The entire offensive line returns to protect Lynch including all-MAC tackle Tyler Loos, Jared Volk, Andrew Ness, Aidan Conlon and Ryan Brown.
Wide out Tommylee Lewis and running back Akeem Daniels will also be returning. Lewis had 48 catches and 5 touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Jamaal Bass, safety Jimmie Ward and cornerback Marlon Moore will be back.
Next season will be important if NIU hopes to continue on the path of becoming the next Boise State. It took Boise State years of success to move from being a novelty to being taken seriously. While NIU coach Rod Carey declined after Tuesday's loss to answer a question about the next step for the program, Martel Moore made it clear NIU's goal is to be at another level.
"Going to be a Boise (State) or TCU, hopefully," Moore said of where he hopes the program will go. "I think it's going to continue to get better, and everybody works hard to be a Boise or a TCU.
"Just keep working hard to eventually move into a bigger conference so we could play other opponents, like tonight. Just playing against Florida State, they're the best team in the (Atlantic Coast Conference). We can play with any other ACC team."
Despite the loss, this year was a step in the right direction.
"The fact we lost doesn't put a damper on the overall season; we had a 12-win season for the first time in school history," offensive lineman Matt Krempel said. "I think we are going to take motivation out of it to move forward."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.