Created:Friday, December 6, 2013 5:30 a.m.CST
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History mixed for non-AQ programs

By STEVE NITZ snitz@shawmedia.com

When the Bowl Championship Series expanded in 2006, it brought a flurry of teams from nonautomatic qualifying conferences with it.

An extra BCS bowl game was added, meaning more spots for teams from leagues such as the Mid-American, the Mountain West and the now-defunct Western Athletic conferences.

Now, under the current system, a program from a non-AQ conference earns a bid to a BCS bowl game if it’s the highest non-AQ team ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS standings, or in the top 16 and ahead of a champion from a power conference.

With Fresno State’s loss to San Jose State last week, NIU essentially controls its own destiny. Should the Huskies defeat Bowling Green tonight, they most likely will finish in the top 16 of the BCS standings and be ranked ahead of American Athletic Conference champion Central Florida, earning their second straight BCS bid.

NIU won’t need all the help it got in 2012. However, should the Huskies lose, it’s all over. No BCS, no big payout for the conference.

Since the 2006 expansion, there have been a number of teams in NIU’s situation heading into the final game of the year. Most have gotten the job done, others have seen their glory suddenly end with an unexpected loss, and some just didn’t do enough to earn a bid.

The Daily Chronicle took a look at how these situations played out over the past seven seasons:

2006: The first year of the expanded system saw a BCS buster. Boise State went into its season finale at Nevada unbeaten and the Broncos crushed the Wolf Pack, 38-7, earning a spot in the Fiesta Bowl, where they went on to upset Oklahoma.

2007: Hawaii became the WAC’s second straight BCS buster, going into the final week unbeaten with a nonconference game against Washington. Hawaii squeaked out a close win against the Huskies, 35-28, finishing 10th in the final BCS standings. The Sugar Bowl against Georgia didn’t go so well, with the Bulldogs winning, 41-10.

2008: There were five non-AQ teams in contention for a BCS game with two weeks left in the season – Utah, BYU, TCU, Boise State and Ball State.

Utah had gotten a three-point win over TCU on Nov. 6, and won the Mountain West with a 48-24 victory over BYU in The Holy War on Nov. 22. Boise State beat Fresno State, 61-10, in its last game of the year and finish unbeaten as the WAC champion and ranked ninth in the BCS. However, the Bronc0s were left out, and not chosen as an at-large team, because Utah finished No. 6. TCU, which finished 11th in the BCS (the Horned Frogs took second in the MWC) was left out as well.

Ball State’s BCS chances were pretty much finished by the time the Cardinals took on Buffalo in the MAC Championship Game, but it didn’t matter as the Bulls upset Ball State, which came into the game ranked 12th.

2009: TCU went into its final game of the season against New Mexico needing a win to clinch a BCS spot. The Horned Frogs got an easy, 51-10 victory over the 1-11 Lobos, finishing fourth in the BCS.

However, this was the first year two non-AQ teams earned BCS spots. No. 6 Boise State, which finished off an unbeaten season after defeating New Mexico State, 42-7, was chosen by the Fiesta Bowl as an at-large team. The Broncos were picked over No. 11 Virginia Tech, No. 13 Penn State and No. 14 BYU.

2010: Andy Dalton’s TCU Horned Frogs cruised through the Mountain West. Heading into their final game of the regular season against New Mexico, which finished 1-11, the Horned Frogs were ranked No. 3 in the BCS. A birth was a lock with a victory over the lowly Lobs, and playing for the national title wasn’t out of the question.

TCU beat New Mexico, 66-17, finished third behind Auburn and Oregon and went on to beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Horned Frogs became the first non-AQ to reach a BCS bowl in back-to-back seasons.

Boise State blew its shot the second-to-last week of the year, falling 34-31 at Nevada in double overtime. Boise State was ranked No. 4 in the BCS at the time.

Nevada finished its regular season 12-1 (The Wolf Pack played at Hawaii and were allowed to play 13 games), and had a shot at the BCS with a TCU loss to New Mexico. The Wolf Pack won the WAC and finished 15th and well ahead of Big East champ Connecticut, who wasn’t even ranked in the Top 25.

2011: Houston came into the Conference USA Championship ranked No. 6. With a Cougars win, they’d be in. It all came crashing down against Southern Miss as the Eagles beating Case Keenum and Co., 49-28, ending Houston’s BCS hopes.

Boise State finished No. 7, but thanks to a loss to TCU that cost the Broncos the Mountain West title, Boise State was left out, and wasn’t given an at-large spot.

2012: It was one of the craziest final weeks in college football history in terms of non-AQ teams and the BCS. Kent State was ranked No. 17 heading into the MAC Championship vs. Northern Illinois. Meanwhile, the Huskies were 21st.

The winner likely was to finish ahead of Louisville, the Big East champ. If NIU won, it was going to need some help. Boise State, ranked No. 20 heading into championship week, also was in the picture.

NIU went on to beat the Golden Flashes in double overtime, and boy, did the Huskies get some help. Stanford beat UCLA in the Pac-12 title game not too long after NIU’s win, dropping the Bruins from 16th to 17th.

Wisconsin, in the Big Ten Championship only because 12-0 Ohio State and 8-4 Penn State were ineligible, crushed No. 12 Nebraska, which dropped to No. 16 and Kansas State took care of No. 18 Texas, which fell to No. 23.

NIU actually finished 15th, ahead of conference champs Louisville and Wisconsin. The Huskies also held off Boise State, which would finish No. 19 after a 27-21 win at Nevada.

It was a weekend for the ages.

Who wins the Boca Raton Bowl?
NIU
Marshall