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Korcek's Corner: ESPN has new whipping boy

Northern Illinois defensive end Jason Meehan (49) celebrates after sacking Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson during the first half of an NCAA college football game at the Mid-American Conference championship in Detroit, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Northern Illinois defensive end Jason Meehan (49) celebrates after sacking Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson during the first half of an NCAA college football game at the Mid-American Conference championship in Detroit, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Just typing out loud about ESPN, the BCS and the upcoming bowl season.

Thought No. 1: The indignity of it all. See the headline in Monday’s online edition of the Orlando Sentinel? “ESPN Analysts Mark May, David Pollack Trash UCF.” Imagine that.

That’s news? What else would you expect from some of the talking heads in Bristol, Conn.? Objectivity?

Although nobody on the ESPN set called Central Florida “a joke,” May did predict UCF might lose to No. 6-rated Baylor by 30 points in the Fiesta Bowl, where undefeated Northern Illinois hoped to land before Friday night.

Fess up, Mike. Yes, being a masochist, I survived 21/2 grueling hours of ESPN’s “BCS Bowl Selection Show” – the “Bozo’s Circus” of cable sports TV – on Sunday night and caught the subtle, cute Huskies digs delivered by Kirk Herbstreit and Jesse Palmer. Dudes, you are so clever.

The difference a year makes? On the first reference to this year’s Fiesta Bowl, host Rece Davis called it “a landmark accomplishment for UCF.” Really. I don’t recall such a phrase – or even praise – on the same ESPN show when deserving NIU earned its Orange Bowl berth last year. I know, I’m biased.

At one point in the show Sunday, Davis mentioned the Huskies were out of the BCS bowl picture and Herbstreit responded that “we all need to get on our knees and thank (coach) David Clawson and Bowling Green for that.” Honest. That’s strange, Kirk, some people in DeKalb were saying the same thing about Michigan State when it beat your Buckeyes.

Near the end of the show, the ESPN panel discussed the legacy of the BCS system. Palmer commented that he did not like the input from the computers. “Northern Illinois at No. 10 is hard to trust,” Palmer said. Incisive comment. 

Guess you just couldn’t resist, Jesse.

Thought No. 2: No wise guy shtick here (most of them reside in “Thought No. 1”), but don’t you think underrated Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson and his Falcons teammates might be scratching their heads over the bowl pairings and destinations.  

They knock the Huskies from the unbeaten ranks and a prestigious BCS bowl berth and wind up back in Detroit for the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl against Pittsburgh while NIU heads off to sunny San Diego against Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl. Life isn’t fair sometimes.

Thought No. 3: Perfect segue. How could Toledo (7-5) get snubbed by the bowls? According to the Toledo Blade, the Rockets reportedly were in line for a berth in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl opposite East Carolina and then Ohio (7-5) replaced it. What’s the Mid-American Conference pecking order here?  

Both finished third in their respective MAC divisions – Toldeo (5-3) and Ohio (4-4) – and struggled down the stretch. The Rockets did beat league champion Bowling Green and Buffalo – two of the MAC’s five bowl entries this year. Meanwhile, Ohio lost to Bowling Green, 49-0.  

Toledo coach Matt Campbell alluded to the Rockets’ late-season setback to Akron, not controlling its own destiny, and putting “faith in other people.” Uh-oh. Take the MAC office off the Toledo Christmas card list.

Thought No. 4: Contemplate this, Huskies football fans: Remember when Temple was still in the MAC, the league was talking to Massachusetts about expansion, and there was speculation that an East Division member would switch to the West? Can you say “Bowling Green?”  

How much more competitive would the MAC West be with Bowling Green right now? NIU already knows. The Falcons (7-1 in MAC play) ruled the West in 2003 – the year the second-place Huskies (6-2) upset Maryland, Alabama and Iowa State and was victimized by the most egregious bowl snub in NCAA history.

Thought No. 5: Speaking of 2003, it’s time to get this off my chest. The Daily Chronicle’s Steve Nitz does an exceptional job on the Huskies beat and opined recently: “I just believe the MAC has been better over the past few seasons than it was 10, 15 years ago.” Steve, my friend, I beg to differ.

It is my sincere belief that the MAC might have been at its football best in 2003. Three reasons:  

First, the MAC boasted three programs receiving votes in both the final Associated Press (Miami at No. 10, Bowling Green at No. 23, and NIU at No. 29) and USA Today (Miami at No. 12, Bowling Green at No. 23, and NIU at No. 26) polls in 2003.

Second, four MAC programs upset five Top 25 teams (Marshall beat No. 6 Kansas State, Toledo upended No. 9 Pitt, NIU topped No. 15 Maryland and No. 21 Alabama, and Bowling Green defeated No. 16 Purdue) that fall.

Third, both Marshall and UCF – two institutions with major football commitments – still were in the MAC.

No offense to Steve, Rod Carey, the current Huskies or MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, that’s my opinion.

Thought No. 6: The Big Ten’s Coach of the Year award was given to Michigan State’s Mike Dantonio. I was hoping some would support Minnesota’s Jerry Kill in absentia, interim head coach Tracy Claeys, or the entire Gophers staff for their 8-4 record and second straight bowl bid.

Considering Kill was under fire from the Twin Cities media two months ago because of his health problems, you would think the Minnesota staff would be recognized for its exceptional coaching job and win-loss record turnaround under the difficult circumstances. 

Thought No. 7: Funny how the world works. Just last month, Alabama coach Nick Saban jumped from the ESPN jock territory to CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” in his quest for his fourth BCS National Championship in five years. With the Crimson Tide’s loss, Saban is an outsider now in the BCS chase. Strange, isn’t it? Ditto for Urban Meyer.

Unbeaten one day, out of the loop the next. NIU can understand firsthand. Friday night’s shocking setback at Ford Field should not define the Huskies’ 2013 season or demean the impressive list of local gridiron accomplishments in recent years. To steal from ESPN (it’s the least it could do) on Sunday, only 53 FBS programs and one from the MAC have played in the BCS.

And proudly, it’s my alma mater. Just typing out loud.

• Mike Korcek is a former Northern Illinois University sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle.

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