Moments after the announcement that Northern Illinois moved up to the 15th spot in the BCS rankings and received the automatic BCS bid, the detractors were out in full force. While the coaches and players from NIU celebrated their unlikely rise to national prominence, commentators were shockingly harsh, almost to the point of venomous, as they attacked the Huskies' BCS bowl credentials.
So let's examine why the Huskies deserve their bowl bid. For starters, these kids on the Northern Illinois football team should apologize to no one for busting the BCS. They are not villains, as we were almost led to believe from some shameful reporting. After narrowly losing their first game, they slowly climbed up in the polls as they took care of business in each and every game and finished the season on a 12-game winning streak. Only Notre Dame can claim a similar winning streak, and they are playing in the national championship. No one is complaining about that.
If NIU played in the Big Ten, SEC or ACC, no one would blink at their inclusion in the BCS bowls. But they don't. They play in the MAC.
The MAC schools, like schools in all other mid-major conferences, face a competitive disadvantage to schools in the big conferences. The major conference schools have bigger stadiums, better facilities, larger recruiting budgets and impressive fanbases. Consequently, they get most of the blue-chip prospects coming out of high school. The kids they pass on fall to schools like Northern Illinois. The assumption is then drawn that mid-major schools can't compete with the big boys because they just don't have the talent to play on the same level.
In a lot of instances, that is true, but every so often a team rises above and suggests that through smart recruiting and solid coaching, it can play with anyone. That is Northern Illinois this season. It did what was necessary to gain entry into a BCS bowl through the convoluted rules that were drawn up by the administrators of the bowl championship series.
Should NIU have received the Orange Bowl bid?
Most pundits don't argue that Northern Illinois is deserving of a rank in the top 16. While they may not believe the Huskies are better than some that ended up ranked below them, it would be a tough sell to rank those teams that imploded toward the end of the season any higher. The real problem, for many, is the system itself.
The elitists simply don't want mid-major schools to crash their party. At the core, that's the biggest problem.
This is collegiate athletics. Every Division I school should have the opportunity to gain exposure for its program, to gain money for its conference and to try to even the field between the patricians and the plebeians. Every one of these privileged schools who did not make a BCS bowl had the opportunity to do so; they just didn't win their conference. Northern Illinois did.
The BCS, in all probability, doesn't want a team like Northern Illinois in, but it is the right thing to do. The opportunity has to be there for all teams that play Division I football to aspire to a BCS bowl or even a national championship.
So for this year, this one year, Cinderella made the ball. It took a remarkable last week for all the pieces to fall into place, but they did. Now Northern Illinois is in, and college football fans should be thankful for it.
Oh, and they will beat Florida State as well.
Jordan Lynch is simply a difference-maker. While many will assume that he will have problems running against a more athletic team than he has faced during the regular season, his style of running won't be affected by what Florida State tries to do against him. Most quarterbacks who have success running the ball do so because they have blistering speed and are able to get the corner or gain yards when protection breaks and they scramble for yardage.
Lynch is different. Although he has good speed, he isn't a burner. He is a disciplined, patient runner. He has the ability to change tack and gain positive yardage when his blocking on the designed play doesn't work out as planned. He's also a horse who gets better as the game progresses and the defense tires.
Akeem Daniels does have the speed to get to the corner, and he compliments Lynch's running style perfectly. FSU will key on Lynch, and Daniels will find his spots to break big runs.
FSU will likely do everything they can to stop Lynch and Daniels from running, but Lynch is dangerous throwing the ball as well. FSU has had problems at times with pass defense, and NIU can and will exploit this.
While NIU might find themselves overmatched defensively at times, they have the ability to do enough to allow their offense to win the game. NIU has been very good at not turning over the ball this season. If they can continue, for one more game, to protect the ball, this will be a Huskie victory.
For one night, on the first day of a new year, Northern Illinois gets an opportunity to stand up for the little guy. Cheer on the Huskies. It's the right thing to do.