In the hours leading to the release of the final Bowl Championship Series standings of the college football season, , there was little suspense as to who would play in this year’s BCS national championship game in Miami. Top-ranked Notre Dame punched its ticket by finishing the season undefeated last week and No. 2 Alabama followed suit by defeating Georgia on Saturday in the SEC title game.
It was the other marquee South Florida bowl game that ensured there would be a second straight surprise when the BCS bowl matchups were formally announced Sunday night.
A year after Sugar Bowl organizers shocked many by selecting Virginia Tech with an at-large bid, Northern Illinois became the first Mid-American Conference school to earn a berth to a BCS bowl game. The Huskies (12-1), 15th in the BCS standings, will face Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1.
Northern Illinois was guaranteed an at-large spot since it was ranked within the top 16 of the final BCS standings and finished with a higher ranking than two conference champions from automatic qualifiers (Louisville of the Big East was 21st and Wisconsin of the Big Ten was unranked).
The Orange Bowl will be a showcase for Huskies junior quarterback Jordan Lynch, who is third in the country in total offense after rushing for more than 1,700 yards and passing for nearly 3,000 yards. But some analysts, most notably ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, felt the Huskies were undeserving of an at-large bid.
“I think all of us know being a part of the BCS since its inception that this is the framework we all work through and this is a great story,” Orange Bowl CEO Eric Poms said. “As we saw in 2007 when Boise State played Oklahoma [in the Fiesta Bowl], those kind of matchups bring out theatrics.”
In a strange twist, though, Northern Illinois lost Coach Dave Doeren on the same day the program busted the BCS. North Carolina State announced Doeren as its new coach during a Sunday afternoon news conference, two days after Doeren led the Huskies to a second-straight MAC championship with a 44-37 victory over No. 25 Kent State.
Northern Illinois then eschewed an interim tag and promoted offensive coordinator Rod Carey to head coach just before the BCS bid was made official. Carey’s first game will also be the biggest in program history.
“It has been a crazy weekend up here at Northern Illinois,” Carey said Sunday night. “It was a crazy 48 hours leading into the last three or four that brought this to fruition.”
The other BCS bowl games include Pacific-12 champion Stanford against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1; Florida against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2; and Big 12 champion Kansas State against Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3.
Four of the 10 teams in this year’s BCS bowl games were ranked lower than No. 12 in the final AP poll. College football will adopt a four-team playoff beginning with the 2014-15 season.
The Military Bowl, which was supposed to feature the No. 8 ACC team against Army, announced Friday that it would host San Jose State and a MAC team to be determined by the conference on Dec. 27 at RFK Stadium. It found out Sunday night Bowling Green (8-4) will fill the vacant slot opposite the Spartans, who won 10 games for the first time since 1987.
Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer’s worst season in 20 years will end in a bowl game. The Hokies will take on Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 28. Virginia Tech went 0-2 against Big East teams during the regular season and will need to beat the Scarlet Knights to avoid finishing below .500 for the first time since 1992.
Navy will play Arizona State in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 29 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, bowl officials announced.
It will be the first meeting between Arizona State and Navy (7-4), which will play Army on Saturday in the final regular season game in college football. The Sun Devils finished the regular season 7-4.
“We have played a very tough schedule this year, and there is no doubt that Arizona State will be as talented as any team we’ve faced,” Midshipmen Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “However, right now our only focus is on Saturday’s game against Army.”
Gene Wang contributed to this report.