After nearly a month of reading why they didn't belong in a BCS bowl game, the Northern Illinois Huskies finally ran out on the big stage under the national spotlight. Were they nervous? Probably. Were they doubting themselves? Maybe. Did they embarrass themselves? No.
The fear for most NIU fans, as well as Orange Bowl representatives and ESPN brass, was that FSU was going to run over NIU in a Purdue vs. Oklahoma State type of blowout. The folks that suggested Northern Illinois didn't belong in this game assumed Florida State would overpower the Huskies in every dimension of the game, marching down the field with little to no resistance.
This did not happen.
In fact, Northern Illinois represented itself fairly well defensively. It was their vaunted offense that let the Huskies down. But when all was said and done, what is important is NIU was driving deep into the third quarter with an opportunity to tie the football game.
If this exact game was played with the Oklahoma Sooners rather than the Huskies, or with any other national powerhouse for that matter, no one would have blinked an eye and said the Sooners didn't belong on the same stage as FSU.
But NIU is not a perennial powerhouse, they are the Huskies, and the nation was looking for reasons to think they didn't belong in this game.
So what about Kansas State and Florida? The Huskies were more competitive in their BCS bowl game than either of these teams. I don't hear anyone clamoring that K-State or Florida didn't belong.
As we move forward in college football, the small conferences will continue to get their opportunities to play in the major bowls. This is tremendous for college football. The Huskies proved that a small conference school can compete with a major conference school. They also proved that they can bring a following to a bowl game, as Huskie fans showed up in full force to support their team.
The major conferences hold every advantage over their smaller brethren. They get the major dollars from television contracts and bowl berths that allow them to bolster their programs and gain the best recruits. This is amateur athletics—shouldn't all college teams have the opportunity to gain the exposure NIU received this season? Why should the rich continue to get richer? Is it so unthinkable to wish that some of these mid-major conference teams continue to get their moment in the sun?
The elitists in the media don't want to crack open the door to let the little guy in. Though they didn't win their game, NIU proved that a mid-major can compete with a major.
Let's hope we see more of this in the near future.