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Fiesta Bowl says hosting NIU would be 'unique opportunity'

Should Northern Illinois defeat Bowling Green in Friday's Mid-American Conference Championship, the Huskies are most likely bound for Arizona.

Barring some dramatic shift in the polls, NIU will finish in the top 16 of the final BCS standings, ahead of American Athletic Conference champion Central Florida, and earn a spot in a major bowl game. The Huskies will also qualify automatically by finishing in the top 12 of the final BCS standings.

Fiesta Bowl executive director Robert Shelton is prepared for NIU to land in the desert.

"That's what we're hoping," Shelton told the Daily Chronicle Wednesday. "We think they'll come here and we think it'll be good for us and our fans."

"It's a unique opportunity," Shelton added. "Our fans don't get to see them, they don't get to see MAC teams very often. We've done very well in our past with the teams from the non-AQ conferences. We're excited."

Utah, the first non-AQ to earn a BCS spot, played in the Fiesta Bowl, then held at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., following the 2004 season. The Fiesta Bowl hosted Boise State out of the WAC in 2006 (the first year it was held at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale) and 2009. In Boise's second trip, the Broncos took on TCU out of the Mountain West in the only BCS matchup of two non-AQ programs.

Shelton will have representatives at Friday's MAC title game, as will the Orange and Sugar Bowls. It is unlikely those two games, who hold at-large picks before the Fiesta, would take the Huskies. The Fiesta Bowl had a representative at the NIU-Western Michigan game last week.

Shelton said his camp has already had discussions with NIU athletic director Sean Frazier about marketing the game and creating ticket and travel packages. Shelton has been following NIU since the first BCS standings were released, and he said the talks with the school intensified after Fresno State's upset loss at San Jose State last week.

Should the Huskies earn a berth, the school isn't going to travel as well as your normal BCS school.

NIU sold only 3,266 tickets from its allotment of 17,500 for last season's Orange Bowl. The school distributed 15,550 tickets. One of the ways the Mid-American Conference helped NIU out was paying for the ticket allotment, and the Huskies ended up making $250,000 by going to the Orange Bowl.

Shelton said ticket sales vary even when the bowl hosts a team from a major conference. In 2010, Connecticut infamously lost $1.8 million for playing in the Fiesta Bowl, and sold only 2,771 tickets.

"I would say in general we always have a concern (about ticket sales)," he said. "We always work hard with the school to market as many tickets as we can to make it viable."

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