The most intriguing news from Sunday night’s Bowl Championship Series standings release had nothing to do with the national title picture. It’s well established Notre Dame is No. 1 as the sole eligible unbeaten, and the Fighting Irish will play the winner of No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia.
No, the most noteworthy information to glean from the latest BCS standings is that Kent State is one position shy of busting into the party.
There have been seven BCS busters since the system’s inception in 1998: Utah (2004 and 2008); Boise State (2006 and 2009); Hawai’i (2007); and TCU (2009 and 2010). A representative from the Mid-American Conference has never broached that elite territory, though past MAC teams Marshall (1999) and Miami Oh. (2003) have come close.
Kent State can make history, but it has work to do. First, the Golden Flashes must defeat Northern Illinois in Friday’s MAC championship — no easy task, considering the Huskies’ 11-1 record matches that of KSU. NIU has won 11 straight behind the stellar play of quarterback Jordan Lynch. The redshirt junior Lynch has accumulated statistics that would make even Johnny Manziel take notice.
Darrell Hazell’s Golden Flashes could use outside help, as well. They will be ardent supporters of Rutgers when it faces Louisville for the Big East championship on Saturday. Having beaten the Scarlet Knights, Kent State would benefit from the points boost of an RU win while maintaining high ranking. It’s quite the turnaround for a team that was blown out by Kentucky in Week 2.
A Stanford win over UCLA in the Pac-12 championship might also be necessary. UCLA occupies that all-important No. 16 positioning, which Kent State must reach in order to gain BCS entry. Should UCLA knock off Stanford, it’s down to a Wisconsin upset of Nebraska in the Big Ten championship or Kansas State avoiding upset against Texas.
The Badgers played the Cornhuskers tough in their Sept. 29 meeting, but have hit hard times on the season’s final stretch; Nebraska has turned a corner for the better, going unbeaten since its loss at Ohio State on Oct. 6. Wisconsin would assuredly be ranked below the MAC champion if it earned the Big Ten automatic bid, and Nebraska would tumble. How much is key — enough for Kent State to pass the Huskers, if necessary?
Cinderella has other potential paths to the BCS, but the rest are far more treacherous than Kent State’s. The Golden Flashes’ MAC championship foe, NIU, is ranked No. 21. The Huskies came a late touchdown vs. Iowa away from going undefeated. Had Damon Bullock’s touchdown rush with two minutes remaining failed, NIU would have smooth sailing into the BCS.
As it stands, NIU needs a win over Kent State and every conceivable break: a UCLA loss to Stanford; a Wisconsin win over Nebraska; K-State holding off Texas; and perhaps even Georgia beating Alabama for the proxy drop in ratings points for Michigan (a Nebraska loss would accomplish the same). Stranger things have happened, but it’s a lot to have to bank on.
NIU could also use a Boise State loss at Nevada. It’s deja vu for the Broncos, which travel to Reno with a BCS bowl possibly at stake. The reigning Fiesta Bowl champions rolled into the Biggest Little City in the World two years ago needing only a win to return to the Promised Land. However, Kellen Moore and company were blindsided by Colin Kaepernick and the Wolf Pack. One-loss Boise was then denied an at-large berth, despite Week 1 Bronco loser Virginia Tech playing in the Orange Bowl.
BSU has been the victim of other such non-AQ discrimination in years past, missing out on at-large berths in 2004 and 2008 with perfect records, and the last two seasons at 11-1. There would be some poetic justice if, in a year it is 10-2 and splitting the Mountain West championship three ways with Fresno State and San Diego State, Boise busted the BCS.
The No. 20 Broncos need less help than NIU, but still a substantial amount. NIU, K-State, and Stanford are the three most prominent victors needed for a Bronco BCS parlay.
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