2013 Orange Bowl: Win or Lose, Northern Illinois Already Has a Place in History

Todd Thorstenson@@Thor1323Analyst IDecember 9, 2012

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 30:  Head coach Dave Doeren of the Northern Illinois Huskies is presented the championship trophy by MAC Commissioner, Dr. Jon A. Steinbrecher after defeating the Kent State Golden Flashes 44-37 during the Mid-American Conference Championship game at Ford Field on November 30, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)
Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Ever since the BCS selection show a week ago, the biggest debate in college football has been whether Northern Illinois deserved its spot in the Orange Bowl versus Florida State.

First, let me state that I have no problem with Northern Illinois being in a BCS bowl game.  None at all.  Actually I'm happy to see the Huskies get the opportunity. I'll tell you why.

For the past week, I have listened to numerous critics tell me why NIU does not belong in a BCS bowl game. They say NIU's presence in the Orange Bowl is a sad statement about college football.

There was no bigger critic of NIU's selection than ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, whose inexcusable rant has been a hot topic of conversation.

Herbstreit and many others have a laundry list of reasons why the Huskies are not worthy of their BCS selection.

The biggest complaint has been that NIU is the first non-AQ team to reach a BCS bowl without going undefeated and that their one loss came to a 4-8 Iowa team, which Herbstreit anointed as the worst team in the Big Ten.

Sorry, Kirk, I wish I could agree with you, believe me, but the worst team in the Big Ten this year happened to be my beloved Fighting Illini of Illinois, and it wasn't even close.  As much as I would love it to be Iowa, it was not.

Now, Iowa was by no means a good team. But what has failed to be mentioned by many is that NIU had that game won until the final two minutes.  They led 10-6 at the half and 17-9 after three quarters, only to see Iowa grab the lead with just more than two minutes to go and walk away with an 18-17 victory.

Yes it's still a loss, but it was the first game of the year, not to mention the first start for quarterback Jordan Lynch.  The Huskies were two minutes away from being undefeated. If that had turned out to be the case,  we may not even be having this discussion.

Instead, NIU went 12-1, winning 12 straight games in the process.  Yes, everyone understands the Huskies  don't play the same level of competition as some of the other schools in the BCS, but that certainly doesn't mean that if they did, they would lose.

It's also not their fault. They play the teams on their schedule.  This has always been the problem with the BCS format.  A team like NIU can go 12-1 or even undefeated, but can't compete for a championship or even a BCS game because someone has deemed them unworthy based on its competition.

If that is the case, what exactly are these teams playing for?  What's their motivation, the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl?

Don't get me wrong. It's nice to get an invitation to a bowl game, but there's really only one game that matters and that's the national championship game.

That's why I don't understand the diatribe by Herbstreit against the Huskies.  What are we arguing about here?  It's essentially the right to play in an exhibition game that doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things. 

And again, it's not like Northern Illinois didn't earn it.  Yes, there are probably several other deserving teams that could have been invited, but you could say that for just about every bowl game.

Northern Illinois played by the rules and they're in—case closed.

Unlike Herbstreit and many others, I think it's great for college football to have a team like NIU playing in a high-profile bowl game. People like to root for the underdog.

Teams like Boise State and TCU have done it in the past, so why not Northern Illinois?

If nothing else, this program has paid its dues and deserves an opportunity like this.

They had some lean years in DeKalb in the late 80s and into the mid-90s before coach Joe Novak came to town and turned things around.

Since then, NIU has become a force in the MAC.  The Huskies have now won back-to-back conference titles and have produced such big-time players as Michael Turner, Garrett Wolfe, Chandler Harnisch and Jordan Lynch over the years.

Now they're finally getting their opportunity on the big stage and by doing so, they are making history.  They will be the first MAC team to play in a BCS bowl.

They don't have to justify their invitation to anyone. They did what they had to do to get there. But it would certainly help their case in the eyes of many if they made a solid showing against Florida State on January 1.

They will be facing a team that is certainly talented and definitely the best they have seen this season, but that doesn't mean they're going to lay down.

This game may be more competitive than many think.  I am not saying that Northern Illinois will win this game, but I would expect them to hang in there for a while.

Either way, this team has achieved something that has never been done before and that should be appreciated.

So I say, good luck, Huskies.  Enjoy your time in the spotlight.