DETROIT – The men in the orange vests were easy to pick out.
Walking the sidelines at Ford Field during the Mid-American Conference Championship game, the three spectators – representatives from the BCS Orange Bowl – had better than a front-row seat for Northern Illinois’ 44-37 double-overtime victory over Kent State on Friday.
It was an unusual sight. BCS bowl representatives don’t usually have Detroit circled on their list of must-see games during college football’s championship week. Usually they’re headed to Indianapolis, Atlanta or somewhere more exotic.
But they were at Ford Field and treated to one of the more exciting football games of the season, watching a potential participant in their New Year’s Day bowl game down in Miami.
For that to happen, the dominoes have to keep on falling. A UCLA loss to Stanford on Friday night helped NIU’s cause, but the Huskies’ fate still rests on the outcomes of a couple of games to be played today, and in the hands the voters who will cast ballots before Sunday afternoon.
NIU doesn’t possess the name recognition of teams from power conferences. Bowl games tend to shy away from mid-major teams because of poor ticket sales and a lack of national audience. But the Huskies’ on-field performance has been BCS worthy.
Twelve consecutive wins. Back-to-back MAC Championships.
“I thought we showed the nation what we’re made of today and I hope we get a BCS bowl,” NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch said. “No matter what happens you’re going to get our best game.”
Coming into Friday, NIU’s biggest deficit at any point during the season was a 10-point margin in the fourth quarter against Kansas. The Huskies rallied for 17 unanswered points and a 30-23 win.
Kent State scored the first 10 points of the game less than 10 minutes into the MAC Championship. NIU’s response: 17 unanswered points before halftime, and an eventual seven-point victory.
It’s yet another example of how remarkably resilient and electrifying this team – led by a quarterback who may very well be at the Heisman Trophy ceremony one week from today – has been all season.
“There’s not many teams in the top 16 that have played as consistent as these guys have played,” NIU coach Dave Doeren said. “They’ve won the big games. It’s different guys doing it. It’s a total three-phase football team.”
When the BCS selections are made on Sunday night, the Orange Bowl, possessing the last pick of the at-large teams, may not have a choice. If the Huskies are in the top 16, the Orange Bowl may be “stuck” with NIU.
But after watching from the sidelines on Friday night the men in the orange vests shouldn’t think of it as a bust but rather an opportunity for another Boise St. moment.
• Ross Jacobson is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. Contact him by email at rjacobson@ daily-chronicle.com.