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So how did it come to this? How did Northern Illinois come from out of left field and into the Orange Bowl?
No one had this — and I mean no one. All of the BCS gurus and number crunchers all said the same thing — it would be close, but Oklahoma was still going to get in, even after the coaches’ poll had NIU at No. 16 on Sunday morning.
Several things had to happen for the Huskies to slip into the top 16 to give them the automatic invite. First, NIU had to beat Kent State in the MAC championship game. It took a fight in double overtime on Friday, but part one was done — otherwise, the Golden Flashes would be playing Florida State.
Second, getting past the traffic in the rankings and finishing in the top 16 in the final BCS standings was a must. The Huskies were 21st in last week’s BCS, but No. 17 Kent State lost and fell to 25th. No. 12 Nebraska lost and fell to 16th. No. 16 UCLA lost and dropped to 17th. That was all NIU needed to move up, being ranked 16th in both human polls and getting just enough help from a few computers to give the boost needed to make it happen. With Big Ten champions Wisconsin unranked and Big East champ Louisville at 21st, the rule of a non-BCS champion being ranked in the top 16 and ahead of a BCS conference champion was fulfilled — twice.
In the end, it wasn’t even close. The Huskies just needed to be 16th, but they finished 15th with a nice cushion over Nebraska.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma, who had its bags all but packed for Miami after finishing 10-2 and co-Big 12 champions, is stuck at 11th and missed out on the BCS at-large bid and now has to go face Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, which might as well be an extra BCS game in terms of prestige and matchup.
Florida got an automatic invite by finishing in the top three, while Oregon was a slam dunk after finishing fourth. Kansas State at No. 5 earned the Fiesta Bowl bid by winning the Big 12 title, and No. 6 Stanford earned the Pac-12’s automatic spot in the Rose Bowl by winning the conference title.
In the end, the SEC came out on top in a lot of different ways. Alabama at No. 2 got the slot in the BCS Championship Game to play No. 1 Notre Dame, while No. 3 Florida, No. 7 Georgia, No. 8 LSU, No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 10 South Carolina made it six SEC teams in the top 10. However, because of the rule that only two teams from the same league can be in the BCS, The Bulldogs, Tigers, Aggies and Gamecocks were all shut out.
With Notre Dame facing Alabama, the ratings for the BCS Championship Game could be the highest ever for a game in the BCS era, but will the interest be there for the rest of the matchups?
Northern Illinois is getting all of the attention, but over the next five weeks, the discussion will continue and the Orange Bowl against No. 12 Florida State will become a must-see novelty act. At the very least, because of the controversy, the game should garner more attention than the FSU-Louisville matchup originally predicted.
However, the real loser will be the Sugar Bowl, which would’ve had a marquee matchup of Oklahoma vs. Florida had NIU not gotten in. Big East teams equal disastrous ratings, and there’s no Tim Tebow-like must-see star on the Gators to bring in the national attention.
No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State is the national championship that appeared to be on the horizon in mid-November. The Ducks finished far ahead of the Wildcats because of the human polls, ranked third in both compared to KSU at sixth.
Stanford gets an unranked Wisconsin team that comes into the Rose Bowl as the first five-loss team to get into the BCS. This is the third straight trip to Pasadena for the Badgers, but with Nebraska ranked 16th in the final BCS, Michigan 18th, Northwestern 20th and Ohio State and Penn State certain to have been in the top 20 had they been eligible to be ranked, technically, the Big Ten’s sixth-best team is being hailed as its champion. However, after hanging 70 on the board against Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game, there aren’t many arguments.
This will forever go down as the Northern Illinois BCS, but remember, this isn’t a playoff. That’s coming in 2014, and by then, the BCS will be a strange footnote in sports history.