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.
“We are sure excited,” said Rod Carey, the former Northern Illinois offensive assistant who was promoted to head coach Sunday evening, just before learning the team made the Orange Bowl. “It's been a crazy weekend up here at Northern Illinois.”
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.
“There's nowhere that's more tradition-rich than the Orange Bowl,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
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.
It will likely be cast as an offense vs. defense matchup. Florida State is second nationally in total defense and seventh in scoring defense, while Northern Illinois is ninth in scoring offense.