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Article updated: 12/2/2012 10:24 PM

NIU's Orange Bowl berth sparks controversy

By Tim Sassone

What a crazy 48 hours for Northern Illinois.

It started Friday night when the Huskies won their second straight Mid-American Conference championship in double overtime over Kent State. On Saturday, they lost coach Dave Doeren to North Carolina State, then Sunday they not only named offensive coordinator Rod Carey as Doeren's replacement, they moved into the top 16 of the final BCS standings and earned a spot in the Orange Bowl against Florida State.

Once the Huskies reached the top 16, they earned an automatic spot in the BCS because they were ranked ahead of the Big Ten (Wisconsin) and Big East (Louisville) champions.

By finishing 15th in the final BCS standings, the Huskies are going to the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day in Miami over such NCAA powers as Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Oklahoma.

NIU took advantage of the system that won't let more than two teams from the same conference play in a BCS Bowl game.

The SEC was penalized by the rule because of No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Florida going to play in BCS bowls, which left out Georgia and LSU.

The Huskies going to a BCS bowl was met with immediate controversy.

"The fact that Northern Illinois is in the BCS in 2012 is really a sad state for college football and where we are with the current system," said ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit. "They don't deserve to be in the BCS this year. Are you kidding me?

"There are two things that stand out here: Northern Illinois, nobody even knew they were playing until they got to the Toledo game two weeks ago. You're going to leave Oklahoma out to put Northern Illinois into a BCS Bowl game? To me, putting Northern Illinois or a Kent State in the BCS this year would be an injustice to these other teams.

"To leave teams out like Georgia and Texas A&M and Oklahoma, all of us want to see those teams in games that matter, and you're going to give us Northern Illinois?"

Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch was quick to defend his team from the critics.

"It's a dream come true for all of us," Lynch said. "We're 12-1, we won tons of games this year. We're the MAC champions two years in a row. We definitely deserve to be in there."

Bill Hancock, BCS executive director, also supported NIU's inclusion.

"Northern Illinois qualified by a comfortable margin," Hancock said. "It was a matter of Northern Illinois meeting the threshold by virtue of their performance all season."

Carey took the high road in the face of Herbstreit's comments.

"The way the system is right now, everybody gets an opinion," Carey said. "Every opinion deserves its time, and that's fine. All I know is we are really excited to be in this game in such a tradition-rich bowl. It's great exposure for our university. Words can't express how excited we are and what a privilege it is to be there."

While some will call Northern Illinois BCS busters, the Huskies earned their way into the conversation. Since last Oct. 2, Northern Illinois is 21-1, the best record in the country. That's 2 more wins than Alabama and 4 more than Notre Dame over that stretch.

NIU is the first team from a BCS non-automatic qualifying conference to play in a BCS Bowl since TCU, then in the Mountain West, played in the 2011 Rose Bowl. NIU is the eighth non-AQ team to play in the BCS Bowl in the past nine seasons.

Northern also is the first MAC team ever to play in a BCS Bowl.

Florida State, 12th in the BCS standings, is the champion of the Atlantic Coast Conference and owns the nation's No. 2-ranked defense, allowing just 15 points a game.

Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher expects a quality opponent in NIU.

"You don't get in this game unless you're a good football team," Fisher said. "They've earned the right to be here, they've earned the right to have this opportunity. They're going to try to maximize it and make the best of it. We know we're going to get an inspired opponent, an opponent that's tying to prove something."

Carey will be making his head coaching debut in the Orange Bowl.

"If you had told me that last summer, I wouldn't have believed it," he said.

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