Where NIU stands in BCS history

Updated: December 30, 2012, 12:39 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Many college football fans across the country believe Northern Illinois has no business playing Florida State in the Discover Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.

Don't tell that to Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch.

[+] EnlargeJordan Lynch
Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsJordan Lynch has big plans for Northern Illinois when the Huskies face Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

Lynch told the Sporting News earlier this week that the No. 15 Huskies plan on beating the No. 12 Seminoles just like they defeated their last 12 opponents. Northern Illinois carries a 12-game winning streak into Tuesday night's game at Sun Life Stadium in Miami; the Huskies haven't lost since falling 18-17 to Iowa at Chicago's Soldier Field in their Sept. 1 opener.

"They're fast, they're physical, but they haven't seen anything like our offense," Lynch told the Sporting News. "We plan on wearing them down. In the fourth quarter, we plan to have them on their knees -- and then just keep pounding away. They're just like us. They're human, too. If you cut them, they bleed."

Lynch sure doesn't sound like he's the starting quarterback of one of the worst teams to ever play in a BCS bowl game. Las Vegas oddsmakers have pegged the Huskies as 14-point underdogs.

Are the Huskies really that undeserving of a coveted at-large spot in one of college football's most lucrative bowl games?

"What's he supposed to say? 'Hey, we're just hoping we get a first down, a yard or two?'" said Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey, who was promoted from offensive coordinator after former coach Dave Doeren left for NC State. "I mean, come on. That's the confidence. These guys expect that. And we're doing everything we can to make that happen."

There is plenty of ammunition available for football fans who believe Northern Illinois doesn't belong in a BCS bowl game: the Huskies defeated only one ranked opponent this season (beating then-No. 17 Kent State 44-37 in two overtimes in the Nov. 30 MAC championship game); they defeated only one opponent from a BCS conference (beating 1-11 Kansas by a touchdown); and they even had to rally late in the fourth quarter to take down 2-10 Army by a single point on the road.

[+] EnlargeDave Doeren
Andrew Weber-USA Today SportsNorthern Illinois' only win over a ranked opponent this season was beating then-No. 17 Kent State in two overtimes for the MAC championship.

While there might be ample holes in Northern Illinois' BCS résumé, the Huskies are hardly the worst team ever selected to play in a BCS bowl game. In fact, there have been a handful of more recognizable teams with richer pedigrees and bigger checkbooks that might have been even more undeserving of BCS berths.

The dubious distinction of being the worst team to play in a BCS bowl game might belong to one of two previous Big East champions: the 2004 Pittsburgh Panthers or 2010 Connecticut Huskies.

The Panthers finished 8-3 in the 2004 regular season and needed overtime to defeat FCS foe Furman 41-38 in their third game. The Paladins, who were led by Florida transfer quarterback Ingle Martin, took a 31-17 lead into the fourth quarter before collapsing at the end.

Pitt finished No. 21 in the final BCS standings, but received an automatic bid when it won a tiebreaker among four Big East teams with 4-2 league records. In the 2005 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Pitt was a 16-point underdog against Utah, the first team from a non-BCS league to play in a BCS bowl game. The Utes, who were led by quarterback Alex Smith, blasted the Panthers 35-7. Utah held Pitt to only 16 rushing yards in coach Urban Meyer's final game.

Connecticut's invitation to the 2011 Fiesta Bowl was just as controversial after it won a tiebreaker over two other Big East teams with 5-2 records in league play. The Huskies lost to four unranked teams during the 2010 regular season and were the first unranked team to play in a BCS bowl game. The Huskies lost by 20 points at Michigan, by 14 at Temple and by 26 at Louisville while going 2-4 on the road.

No. 7 Oklahoma crushed the Huskies 48-20 in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, as Sooners quarterback Landry Jones completed 34 of 49 passes for 429 yards with three touchdowns.

Remember the 2007 Illinois team that former coach Ron Zook guided to the Rose Bowl? The Rose Bowl selected the 9-3 Illini and snubbed more deserving teams to keep its traditional Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup intact. The No. 13 Illini were no match for No. 7 USC in a 49-17 rout in Pasadena.

Northern Illinois might not even be the worst team from a non-BCS league to play in a BCS bowl game. In 2007, Hawaii was invited to play No. 5 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl after finishing 12-0 during the regular season. But the No. 10 Warriors didn't even play a ranked team during the regular season and defeated two FCS foes (Northern Colorado and Charleston Southern). In fact, Hawaii beat only one team from a BCS league during the regular season (4-9 Washington).

Predictably, Georgia had no problems slowing down record-setting quarterback Colt Brennan in a 41-10 rout in the Sugar Bowl, sacking him eight times and forcing him into five turnovers.

We'll find out Tuesday night if Northern Illinois is better than the lovable underdogs of college football's recent past -- or if Lynch let his mouth write a check his team can't cash.

"I think they're a great offense," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I think he's a great player and they have a great team. We're going to have our hands full when we play them. We'll try to game plan and do the things we need to do and they'll game plan and do the things they need to do, and we'll find out who's right and who's wrong."

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

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