Northern Illinois May Be Doomed by Voter Bias in Bid for BCS Bowl

Samuel ChiCollege Football Playoff GuruNovember 12, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 2:  Tommylee Lewis #10 of the Northern Illinois Huskies reacts on the sideline during a game with the Massachusetts Minutemen at Gillette Stadium on November 2, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Are the voters in college football still holding last season's Orange Bowl against Northern Illinois?

That certainly appears to be the case. While the Huskies have continued their unbeaten run this season, their position in the polls seems to be stuck in neutral. 

In contrast, their main competitor for the non-AQ BCS spot, Fresno State, has made much more significant gains in the polls. The Bulldogs now have a commanding lead in the latest BCS standings, even though at No. 14, they're just one spot ahead of Northern Illinois.

Fresno State's lead is built entirely on the polls, as the two teams—both at 9-0—are in a dead heat in the computer rankings. But since the polls account for two thirds of the BCS standings, voter preference most likely will decide which team gets the coveted BCS bowl slot and a bonus in excess of $10 million to that team's conference.

To qualify for the berth, likely in the Fiesta Bowl, Fresno or NIU must finish in the top 16 of the final BCS standings and ahead of one of the current AQ conference champion, or else among the top 12. Only the highest-ranked team will earn the BCS berth, even if both meet the qualification.

Since the Harris Poll was released in Week 7, here's the progression of both teams in the two polls:

Fresno State vs. Northern Illinois
WeekRank (C)% (C)Rank (H)% (H)After
818.34318.350d. UNLV 38-14
918.34918.371d. SDSU 35-28 (OT)
1017.36517.376d. Nevada 41-23
1114.41613.438d. Wyoming 48-10
723.14422.144d. Akron 27-20
822.19221.197d. C. Michigan 38-17
920.24020.250d. E. Michigan 45-20
1020.26320.277d. UMass 63-19
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Obviously, voter ignorance is a big part of the issue with the polls. How else does one reasonably rank No. 13 Louisville (8-1) six spots ahead of Central Florida (7-1)—as it is in the Coaches Poll—even though the Knights won the head-to-head matchup in Louisville and their only loss was by three points to No. 12 South Carolina? Likewise, how does No. 17 Oklahoma vault seven spots ahead of Texas, even though the teams have identical 7-2 records and UT walloped OU on a neutral field?

We can attribute some of this to the inherent bias of having preseason polls and the voters' lack of inclination to move teams that have not lost. But the Harris Poll intentionally delays its first ballot until midseason in Week 7, with the goal of removing those preconceived notions. To be sure, that mission has failed miserably, as Harris voters also have Louisville ahead of UCF (by five spots) and OU ahead of UT (four).

But what's going on with NIU has a bit more to it than preseason bias. Since Week 7, Fresno State has opened a sizable lead in the polls, going from a four-spot lead to seven in the Coaches Poll, and from No. 4 to No. 5 in the Harris Poll.

Northern Illinois' best chance to make up some of the deficit will come Wednesday night, when it hosts 9-1 Ball State in a nationally televised game that will decide the MAC West title. If the Huskies fail to move the needle in the polls even after a convincing victory, their quest for a repeat trip to a BCS bowl will be doomed without a Fresno State loss. 

The Huskies will get a little boost in the computers with a win over Ball State, but after that, their strength of schedule will be more or less at parity with Fresno State. They desperately hope the voters pay attention to what they accomplish this season, and not continue to hold the deceiving final score of last season's Orange Bowl against them.

Just for the record, NIU only trailed Florida State17-10, entering the fourth quarter of the Orange Bowl—the same Seminoles who are now No. 2 in the BCS standings. But why should any of that matter at all for 2013?

Remaining Schedules
WeekFresno StateRankNorthern IllinoisRank
12Idle-Ball State47
13New Mexico110@ Toledo48
14@ San Jose State77Western Michigan117
15MWC: Boise / USU57 / 70MAC: Buffalo / BGSU56 / 81
Rankings: Massey BCS


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