Never before has Northern Illinois’ bowl picture been this interesting.
For starters, it’s unclear which of the three bowls affiliated with the Mid-American Conference NIU could end up in.
Then there’s the wild card – the Huskies’ possible BCS bid.
Should NIU, ranked No. 21 in the latest BCS standings, beat No. 17 Kent State in Friday’s Mid-American Conference Championship Game, the Huskies could be poised for a BCS berth.
If NIU finishes in the top 16 of the BCS standings, is the highest-ranked non-automatic qualifying conference champion and finishes ahead of a champion from one of the six automatic-qualifying conferences, the Huskies would earn a a BCS bid.
NIU should finish ahead of the Big East champion in the final BCS standings.
Should it happen, the berth would be the first for both NIU and the MAC.
“We’ve been talking about, one of our goals is to have been the first school in the MAC to play in a BCS game,” NIU athletic director Jeff Compher said. “So that would certainly accomplish that goal if that were to take place. That’s pretty exciting.”
The Orange Bowl in south Florida has the last pick in the BCS rotation this season. Most likely, the game at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. would be left with the MAC champion, whether it be the Huskies or Golden Flashes.
Speaking to the Daily Chronicle Wednesday, Orange Bowl chief executive officer Michael Saks wouldn’t say if he expects the game to wind up with NIU or Kent State, should either school earn the coveted BCS bid.
The winner of Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game between Florida State and Georgia Tech will earn the other Orange Bowl spot. It’s also possible the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, which chooses a BCS at-large team before the Orange, could wind up with a NIU or Kent State.
Having a MAC school could mean less ticket sales for the game, but Saks said the contest has had a number of teams, such as Wake Forest in 2007, Kansas in 2008 and Cincinnati in 2009, competing in their first BCS bowl games.
Saks said attendance wasn’t a problem there, and wasn’t worried about a possible lack of ticket sales if a MAC school competes. He said the opportunity for the schools to play in a game like the Orange Bowl for the first time could easily help in terms of ticket sales.
“We are always excited. We’re part of the Bowl Championship Series. Whoever we get, we have the last selection this year,” Saks said. “Whoever we end up getting in that selection, we will make the Orange Bowl game for them the best bowl game they’ve experienced.”
Should the Huskies not earn a BCS bid, they’ll most likely be slotted into one of the three MAC bowls – the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit, Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho., or GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
The Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl has the top pick, but doesn’t have to select the MAC champion. The GoDaddy.com Bowl picks second while the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl has the third selection. Utah State, ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press Poll, has already accepted a bid to play in the Boise game.
Little Ceasar’s Pizza Bowl chairman and executive director Ken Hoffman wouldn’t say who his top pick would be at the moment. Whoever the MAC selects would play an at-large team, as the Big Ten Conference won’t be able to fill the slot.
Hoffman said he considers the strength of the school, matchup, travel and whether the school is bowl hungry. The MAC and the three bowls also try to consider what the best matchups are for all three bowl games.
In the past, the Detroit bowl game has seen a lot of teams like Toledo, Central Michigan and Western Michigan, as all schools are within a short drive. With Toledo and Bowling Green less than a two-hour trip from the Motor City, those two schools could be a good fit this season.
Hoffman said the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl has a number of good options, as the MAC has six teams with eight or more victories.
“You can’t go wrong with any of them,” he said. “It’s been an outstanding year and they’re all very good football teams that could have beaten each other, and in some cases they did.”
Compher said he’s looking for a good matchup, timing and location when it comes to finding a bowl game for his school.
The Huskies competed in Boise two years ago, when the game at Bronco Stadium was known as the Humanitarian Bowl. Compher said this year the game wouldn’t be as ideal, as it conflicts against NIU’s final exam schedule. It’s also the weekend of the school’s graduation.
“We don’t want guys out there studying for exams when they’re supposed to be enjoying a bowl game,” Compher said. “But at the same time, you can’t deny the opportunity if that were to take place. We understand that, it’s just not ideal circumstances for us to play in one of those early games that happen on the 15th.”
Compher said that if a team is invited to one of the affiliated bowls, it has to honor the commitment.
The MAC’s other bowl affiliate, the GoDaddy.com Bowl, had NIU last season, but GoDaddy.com Bowl executive director Frank Modarelli said that wouldn’t deter his game from bringing the Huskies back again.
Modarelli pointed out the fact that teams have been in Mobile in back-to-back years three times since the game’s inception in 1999. Modarelli said the game would be happy to have anyone in the MAC.
“Let’s put it this way, there’s no negatives with Northern Illinois,” Modarelli said. “Good people, good coach, good AD. Everything’s positive with them, had no problem with them last year.”