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MT. PLEASANT, Mich. – The scoreboard watching started just after the game.
Northern Illinois’ Director of Athletics, Jeff Compher, pulled out his cell phone while standing outside of the NIU locker room after the Huskies lost, 45-31, to Central Michigan.
He saw 6-5 Bowling Green leading Toledo with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“It would be great if Toledo could come back and win that game, that would help us,” Compher said. “At the same time, I still think the way we match up, even with identical records, we’ve got a very good chance.”
Bowling Green won, making the Falcons even with the Huskies at 7-5. By Sunday, it appeared there will be room for both in the college bowl scene.
The scoreboard watching continued all the way through early Sunday morning, with USC beating UCLA, leaving the Bruins 6-6.
Hawaii needs to win its last two regular season games to clinch a bowl berth, beating Navy.
Here are the good things that happened to NIU’s bowl chances on Saturday:
Oklahoma State lost to Oklahoma, likely leaving room in the BCS for two Big Ten teams and Boise State. That would leave an at-large spot open for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on the Big Ten side and make sure the at-large pool from the WAC doesn’t reach full capacity. This is assuming Texas beats Nebraska for the Big 12 title.
TCU won and will go to a BCS bowl, leaving an at-large spot open at the Humanitarian Bowl on the Mountain West side.
Notre Dame, UCLA, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana-Lafayette and Marshall all lost, leaving them all at 6-6. Seven-win teams must be picked for at-large bowls before six-win teams.
Here are the bad things that happened to NIU on Saturday:
If Hawaii pulls off a win over Wisconsin it will go to the Hawaii Bowl. The WAC at-large pool, all teams with at least seven wins, would grow by one.
Connecticut defeated Syracuse to become bowl eligible and fill the final Big East bowl spot.
As of Sunday, it looks like these will be the available at-large bowl slots, assuming 5-6 Army, which has a tie-in with the EagleBank Bowl, loses to Navy:
EagleBank Bowl (2 at-large spots)
Humanitarian Bowl (vs. WAC)
GMAC Bowl (vs. MAC)
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (vs. MAC)
That leaves two at-large spots potentially for MAC teams in the EagleBank and Humanitarian bowls, as MAC teams fill the other sides of the GMAC and Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
The at-large pool looks like this on Sunday with the presumption that Boise State is BCS bound and Hawaii loses to Wisconsin: 9-3 Middle Tennessee State, 7-5 NIU, 7-5 Bowling Green and 6-6 Notre Dame, UCLA, LA-Monroe, LA-Lafayette and Marshall.
Should Boise State somehow miss the BCS or Hawaii beats Wisconsin, 7-5 Idaho likely would join the at-large pool. If both scenarios happen, 7-4 Fresno State would join the at-large pool. The Bulldogs play at 3-8 Illinois on Saturday.
Barring a major shakeup in the BCS projections or wins by Hawaii, Army and Fresno State, it looks like NIU is going bowling, as are Middle Tennessee State, Bowling Green, Idaho and either Notre Dame or UCLA. The question for NIU is, where?
On Friday, Compher didn’t rule out the possibility for the Huskies to appear in a bowl with a MAC tie-in.
Should Temple negotiate a way to the EagleBank Bowl – comparatively, Washington D.C. isn’t a far drive from Philadelphia for Owl fans and ticket sales likely would see a dramatic increase – that would open a spot, presumably in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl or International Bowl. Pizza bowl officials have been at the past three NIU games, where NIU has gone 1-2.
“I still think there’s an opportunity at one of the three bowls aligned with the conference,” Compher said. “They’ve got to look at the matchups and who could be in that game. That could determine a lot for us.”
Otherwise it looks like an at-large opportunity is NIU’s best option.
“I think people realize what kind of team we are and what kind of team we’re capable of [being],” Compher said. “Once we get some guys healed up and back to more full strength, I think we can be competitive with anybody.”