un·der·dog [uhn-der-dawg, -dog]
1. A loser or predicted loser in a struggle or contest
As a society, we love the underdog. We embrace the little guys. We pull for the “predicted loser.” We cheer for the mortals who aren’t given a fighting chance against a superior opponent, whether it’s in our sport of choice or in another walk of life altogether.
We love underdogs because we’ve all been in that position before. We’ve been told that we can’t accomplish something—and again, not necessarily in an athletic event—although many of us know what that feels like on this stage.
We love the underdog because it’s something different. It’s something we don’t anticipate to happen, but we root for the ones that bring about an unexpected result. A little chaos is refreshing every now and then.
In college football, however, we do not love the underdog.
We don’t love chaos. In fact, we can’t stand the little guys. We like our walls just the way they are and anything slightly off protocol enrages the locals.
We don’t have “Cinderellas,” we have “Busters.” And while college basketball fans embrace their unexpected performers in a robust postseason, we greet our underdogs with pitchforks and claims of a broken BCS system. They are outcasts.
Our system is indeed broken, but the teams are most certainly not. So why is it that we can’t root for an underdog—especially one such as Northern Illinois in 2012 and soon to be 2013—which has played its way into a BCS bowl?
When we finally learned that Northern Illinois was going dancing—our “exciting” coined phrase for BCS participation that I just made up—we booed. Not all of us, but ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit certainly did and others joined in.
Herbstreit used the term “games that matter” when describing the BCS (along with his outrage), and that Northern Illinois was somehow depriving us of some greater potential BCS matchup. Forget about being a Cinderella, the Huskies are a nuisance.
What exactly are we really missing out on? What would we learn from a BCS bowl game between Florida State and Louisville, or any other BCS matchup that could’ve happened in its place?
“BCS” no longer comes with the same VIP badge that it once did, and some may argue that it never really had one. Despite this, many can’t accept Northern Illinois and its presence in a New Year's Day bowl game.
As a wise five-year-old once said on the playground: "How ‘bout giving someone else a turn?"
If anything, we should embrace this opportunity for a MAC team with a player like quarterback Jordan Lynch—who finished seventh in the Heisman voting less than a week ago, I might add—to be given one of college football’s grandest stages. But we choose not to.
We simply cannot connect with these teams for whatever reason, despite the fact that we know they can win. And when it comes to “games that matter,” maybe our disinterest centers around the sad truth that they actually don’t.
Unlike college basketball, this is the end game for these teams. Northern Illinois cannot and will not win the national championship, so why should we care if it wins this one game? It’s the end of the road.
Oh, it matters to me, and that’s certainly not how I feel, but it could help explain some of the disconnect on a larger scale. Underdogs in this game can only go so far, and recent history has shown us this.
The greatest underdog of my lifetime is without question Boise State. The Broncos have embraced this role under head coach Chris Petersen, and their win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl remains the most exciting college football game of my lifetime.
Boise State was only a 7.5-point underdog in this game, but somehow the triumph felt like more. Perhaps it was the way it transpired that made this underdog feel larger than life.
In the end, it proved to be much more, and you can argue that Boise State's sustained success was constructed with this one moment. This was the foundation. And while Boise State is an exception to our disdain—although some still despise the Broncos—others aren’t so lucky.
It’s the teams and programs that we believe are overmatched, the non-traditional, non-power schools, that don’t have the same storied history as your school. Houston, for example, made things very interesting last year until the deck of cards came crashing down. Many were happy to see them fall.
Northern Illinois is the next underdog to have a shot at taking down one of the giants, although Florida State will not go down easily. The Seminoles are bigger, faster, stronger and, outside of the quarterback position, significantly better all over the field.
Las Vegas has deemed the Huskies nearly a two-touchdown underdog—almost twice that of Boise State back in ’07—and in all likelihood they will not win this game.
They are the latest dog with a chance at redemption, and they’ll go up against a program with more history than almost every university in the country. They'll be without their head coach, who has moved onto a bigger program, which would make it all that much more improbable.
It’s a wonderful story and NIU has a chance to seize the moment. The Huskies will take full advantage of this “Us against the World” mentality heading into this game, using it as motivation throughout the month.
And while it’s really only “Us” against the Florida State Seminoles, somehow it doesn’t seem that far off.