DETROIT – Last season, Northern Illinois took advantage of a tweak the Bowl Championship Series made prior to the 2006 college football season.
The Huskies finished in the Top 16 of the BCS standings and ahead of a champion from one of the six BCS leagues, earning their Orange Bowl berth.
Starting next season, schools like NIU will have more opportunities to earn a spot in one of the six "Access Bowls" of the College Football Playoff.
One conference champ from one of the "Group of Five" leagues (American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt) will automatically earn a berth, although it's still not determined which team from the Group of Five will earn the bid. The College Football Playoff selection committee will pick the bowl that team goes to, and the committee is an option to choose the team as well.
"The Group of Five commissioners are still kind of working amongst themselves internally as to what measures they'd like to consider to deterimine that," said Michael Kelly, chief operating officer of the College Football Playoff, "and whether they'd help determine that in a different way, or whether it would be totally by the selection committee is still being worked out."
The Access Bowls will be filled by seven automatic qualifiers, including the Group of Five winner, and five at-large spots. Kelly said the at-large spots will be chosen by the selection committee, not the bowls.
Therefore, you won't see a less-deserving team from a major conference in a big bowl game over a mid-major.
The new system certainly looks like a step in the right direction for the MAC, and the rest of the Group of Five.
"I think it will be better in that there will be [an automatic] representative from the non-AQ that you can obtain," NIU head coach Rod Carey said. "So you really have a tangible goal out there that you can obtain."
No more Pizza Bowl?: Starting next season, the Big Ten and ACC will play a bowl game at Detroit's Ford Field, the current site of the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl. Formerly the Motor City Bowl, it has been played in Detroit since 1997.
MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said the league would like to have a postseason game in Detroit, but that the MAC is looking at other options, although he wouldn't go into details when it came to potential sites.
Steinbrecher did say Comerica Park, which is across the street from Ford Field and home to the Detroit Tigers, wouldn't be an option.
"I know [Little Caesar's Bowl President] Ken Hoffman and his staff are interested in seeing what they can do to put together a game," Steinbrecher said. "We're interested in being in bowl games, and so we're interested in talking to folks who want to put on bowl games. If Ken is willing to bring something forward, we'll engage in that conversation."
The MAC is under contract with the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho. NIU won the GoDaddy Bowl after the 2011 season and got a bowl victory in Boise the previous year.
Steinbrecher said the league would like to add two or three more bowl tie-ins.
Back to the old unis: NIU wore new white uniforms with silver numbers and red pants during the Orange Bowl, but Carey said those won't be brought back this season. The players got to keep those, and the Huskies will wear the same uniform style they've had since 2010.