Bracketology/Bowls Expert

Final BCS: Northern Illinois sets the new standard ... on the low end

Northern Illinois made it into the BCS by finishing 15th and ahead of both the Big East and Big Ten champions. They will face Florida State in the Orange Bowl, which is a no-win situation for the Seminoles. Either they embarrass the Huskies or themselves.

NIU is the first non-AQ team to get into a BCS game without being undefeated, and the lowest ranked at-large team in BCS history. They also have the second-lowest strength of schedule of any BCS team ever, just ahead of Hawaii from 2007.

On paper or on the field, the Huskies don't measure up to their predecessors. They didn't just lose, they lost to Iowa, the second-worst team in the Big Ten.

However, you better get used to this sort of thing because these records won't last long. The new BCS, which goes into effect in two years, will not have the minimum standards for non-AQ schools that exist now. The selection committee will simply choose what it believes to be the best of the five non-AQ conference champions (Big East, C-USA, MAC, MWC, Sun Belt) and that team gets a spot in one of the top-tier bowl games. They can be ranked fifth, 15th, 25th, 50th, whatever, that team is in.

The Sugar Bowl was most hurt by NIU getting in. They lost out on Oklahoma as an opponent for Florida and get No. 21 Louisville instead. Cardinals coach Charlie Strong, if he is still the coach by then, will get to face his old team.

There was a fair amount of weeping and gnashing of teeth over the fact that Georgia could not be selected as the second SEC team because Florida automatically qualified as an at-large team. Some felt Georgia should not be punished for losing a conference title game. I don't understand that. Games have rewards, but also risks. Conference title games are high risk/high reward. Unless you're 6-6 going in, apparently. Sure, you "have to" play an extra game, but you can't win it and get the reward if you don't play it.

Georgia is not the first team to lose out on the BCS after losing its conference title game and they probably won't be the last. Only one team ever lost its conference title game and got selected for a BCS game, even though there were other reasonable choices, and that was Virginia Tech last year. The Sugar was in the unique position of not having an option from the SEC and made the mysterious choice of the Hokies over Boise State and Kansas State.

By the way, the Sugar Bowl is the only bowl to host a conference championship game loser. It has done so four times.

NIU is not the only team setting records on the low end. Wisconsin, which faces Stanford in the Rose Bowl, is the lowest-rated conference champion to ever appear in the BCS. The Badgers are 26th, although the BCS only releases a top 25. They are also the first five-loss team to appear in the Rose Bowl. They looked a lot better than a team with those credentials in laying 70 on Nebraska.

Probably the best non-title BCS game is the Fiesta Bowl, with No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State. Have the engineers standing by.

The title game will be a blockbuster, of course. Notre Dame makes its first appearance in the title game against the defending champion, Alabama. Can't ask for much more than that.

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