By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) An unlikely sequence of events played out over the weekend that now has Northern Illinois smelling oranges.
Losses by Louisville, Rutgers, Texas, UCLA, Oklahoma State, Arizona and Washington helped the Huskies earn a No. 21 ranking in the BCS standings, giving them an opportunity to earn an automatic bid to a BCS bowl game.
NIU was previously unranked in the BCS standings, but jumped up at least five spots to No. 21. Now they have to jump five more spots this week.
A BCS exception allows a conference champion from a non-automatic qualifying conference to become an automatic qualifier if it finishes in the top 16 of the BCS and is ranked higher than a conference champion from an automatic qualifying conference.
In layman’s terms, if Northern Illinois finishes in the top 16 of the BCS and is ranked ahead of a conference champion from the Big East, Big Ten or ACC, the Huskies will go to the Orange Bowl.
NIU officials are optimistic that if the Huskies beat Kent State Friday in the MAC Championship Game, that scenario will play out. Louisville and Rutgers both plummeted out of the BCS standings over the weekend with losses. The two teams meet in New Jersey Thursday night in a de facto Big East championship game, but it’s unlikely either team would jump NIU with a win. Meanwhile, NIU would also probably finish ahead of either Wisconsin or Georgia Tech should those teams spring upsets in their respective conference championship games Saturday.
Jumping five spots to No. 16 will be the hard part though. NIU is currently ranked No. 19 in the Harris poll and No. 18 in the coaches poll, both of which are factored into the BCS standings. It’s the computers that are holding the Huskies back though as they only have a No. 23 computer ranking.
So what needs to happen? The Huskies will need UCLA to lose at Stanford and Texas to lose at Kansas State (both of which are very possible), but they’ll also need to jump an idle Michigan team and Boise State, which plays Nevada on the road Saturday. Technically the Broncos have a chance to qualify for a BCS bowl under the same circumstances as NIU, but that appears unlikely because a win over Nevada wouldn’t be nearly as valuable as a win over Kent State.
Of course, that’s the other issue. NIU has to beat a Kent State team that is currently ranked No. 17 in the BCS and has an even better shot to qualify for a BCS bowl. On the other hand, it’s Kent State’s higher ranking that could help vault the Huskies up the BCS ladder should they win in Detroit Friday.
Because the Orange Bowl has the last selection among the BCS bowls, Miami is the likely destination for either Kent State or Northern Illinois should they qualify. If that happens, it would mark the first time in BCS history that a non-automatic qualifying conference sent a team to a BCS bowl without an undefeated record.
The Huskies lost to Iowa at Soldier Field in their first game of the season when they allowed the Hawkeyes to score their only touchdown of the game with 2:15 remaining. Unfortunately that late defeat might be the only thing standing in the way of NIU earning its first ever BCS bowl berth.
All they can do now is take care of business Friday in Detroit and hope the unpredictable BCS computers change their minds.
For more college football coverage throughout the season, follow Adam Hoge at @AdamHogeCBS.