It's official: NIU going to Orange Bowl
MIAMI — What a weekend for Northern Illinois: Win a conference championship, lose a coach and bust the BCS.
The Huskies are headed to the Orange Bowl, set to make their Bowl Championship Series debut against Florida State. Northern Illinois won the Mid-American Conference title on Friday, lost coach Dave Doeren to North Carolina State on Saturday, and then spent Sunday anxiously waiting to see if it cracked the top 16 in the final BCS standings.
By 0.0404 points, the Huskies did just that and will play in Miami on Jan. 1 as their reward.
The MAC champions (12-1) were 15th in the final BCS standings. Finishing in the top 16 and ahead of the champion of a qualifying conference — they actually finished ahead of two, Big East winner Louisville and Big Ten titlist Wisconsin — meant the Huskies were automatically BCS-bound, earning them this date with the Atlantic Coast Conference champion Seminoles (11-2).
Northern Illinois is the first MAC school to reach the BCS. The Huskies were 21st in last week's BCS standings, meaning they not only needed to beat Kent State — which entered championship week as another BCS hopeful — in the MAC title game to have a shot, they also needed some help to reach the top 16. And enough help came, particularly with Nebraska losing badly in the Big Ten title game, along with UCLA and Texas both falling over the weekend.
So it's the Huskies and Seminoles, a matchup that surely very few people would have expected when the season began.
And while Northern Illinois will be a fun story line throughout bowl season, the Huskies earned their way into the conversation. Since last Oct. 2, Northern Illinois is 21-1, the best record in the country. For comparison's sake, that's two more wins than Alabama and four more than Notre Dame — the Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish are this year's title-game qualifiers — over that stretch.
In fact, all that separated Northern Illinois from being perfect this season was one measly point.
If it wasn't for an 18-17 loss against Iowa on Sept. 1, the Huskies might have been coming to Miami with an undefeated record. Northern Illinois led Iowa by eight points with 10 minutes to play, then gave up the game-deciding touchdown with 2:15 left.
Otherwise, who knows? Maybe NIU would have found some way to bust into the BCS title game, also to be played in Miami this season.
Florida State earned its Orange Bowl trip by topping Georgia Tech 21-15 in the ACC title game on Saturday night.
For Florida State, it's the ninth trip to the Orange Bowl and the Seminoles' first since the end of the 2005 season a triple-overtime defeat to Penn State, in a game that pitted Joe Paterno against Bobby Bowden.
Consider: The Seminoles have been in more Orange Bowls than Northern Illinois has been in bowls, period. This trip to Miami will be the eighth postseason game for the Huskies, who lost to South Florida in the International Bowl three seasons ago, then beat Fresno State (Humanitarian Bowl) and Arkansas State (GoDaddy.com Bowl) in the past two years.
The stakes are a tad higher this time around.
The Huskies' getting into the BCS mix came at Oklahoma's expense.
Oklahoma (10-2) won a share of the Big 12 title and lost only to Kansas State and Notre Dame. Kansas State earned the Big 12's automatic bid to the Fiesta Bowl, but the Sooners seemed like a lock to get an at-large bid most likely to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans to play Florida.
Instead, Louisville is going there to meet the Gators, and Oklahoma is on the outside looking in of the BCS picture despite finishing 11th in the final standings, ahead of four teams that will actually be playing in the biggest-money games.
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