Sports Illustrated‘s Pete Thamel reported Northern Illinois is headed to the Orange Bowl to play ACC champion Florida State, per “a source with direct knowledge.”
MAC champion Northern Illinois would need to rank at least No. 16 in the BCS rankings. The system stipulates a non-automatic qualifier is guaranteed a berth should it rank at least 16th and outrank an automatic bid. Both Big East champion Louisville and Big Ten champion Wisconsin were unranked in last week’s standings. Northern Illinois sat at No. 21.
The BCS selection show airs on ESPN at 8:30 ET tonight.
Should NIU leap at least five spots, its entry into the BCS would be landmark. A MAC program has never reached a BCS bowl. The streak seemed likely to continue when the No. 21 Huskies beat No. 17 Kent State in overtime on Friday night, but losses for Texas and UCLA bolstered the Huskies’ case. Michigan also stands to lose ground with Nebraska’s lopsided Big Ten title loss to Wisconsin.
Previous MAC teams Marshall in 1999 and Miami (OH) in 2003 would have busted the BCS under the current guidelines, but both were left out in the old, four-game format.
There has also never been a one-loss non-automatic qualifier invited.
Two-loss Boise State ranked one spot ahead of Northern Illinois last week, but lacked the benefit of playing a ranked opponent. BSU was clinging to BCS aspirations today, though the Thamel report again deflates the program’s hopes. Boise State has routinely been on the short end of BCS controversies. In the last two seasons, very good 11-1 Bronco teams were left out. The 2010 team in particular had a major gripe, as the top 16 rule only guarantees one non-automatic qualifier a bid; a TCU team in the top four secured the automatic berth and a top 12 BSU was frozen out.
The 2010 Boise State team did produce a Heisman finalist in quarterback Kellen Moore, though. NIU has its own Heisman contender this year in Jordan Lynch. With voters submitting their ballots in the next two days, the added national attention to the Northern Illinois program might be enough for the dual threat Lynch to sneak into the top five, thus earning an invite to the Downtown Athletic Club. That’s certainly an added angle to watch this week.