Northern Illinois to play Florida State in Orange Bowl

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Northern Illinois to play Florida State in Orange Bowl

MIAMI (AP) -- What a weekend for Northern Illinois: Win a conference championship, lose a coach and bust the BCS.

The Huskies are headed to the Orange Bowl, set to make their Bowl Championship Series debut against Florida State. Northern Illinois won the Mid-American Conference title on Friday, lost coach Dave Doeren to North Carolina State on Saturday, and then spent Sunday anxiously waiting to see if it cracked the top 16 in the final BCS standings.

By 0.0404 points, the Huskies did just that and will play in Miami on Jan. 1 as their reward.

The MAC champions (12-1) were 15th in the final BCS standings. Finishing in the top 16 and ahead of the champion of a qualifying conference - they actually finished ahead of two, Big East winner Louisville and Big Ten titlist Wisconsin - meant the Huskies were automatically BCS-bound, earning them this date with the Atlantic Coast Conference champion Seminoles (11-2).

Northern Illinois is the first MAC school to reach the BCS. The Huskies were 21st in last week's BCS standings, meaning they not only needed to beat Kent State - which entered championship week as another BCS hopeful - in the MAC title game to have a shot, they also needed some help to reach the top 16. And enough help came, particularly with Nebraska losing badly in the Big Ten title game, along with UCLA and Texas both falling over the weekend.

So it's the Huskies and Seminoles, a matchup that surely very few people would have expected when the season began.

And while Northern Illinois will be a fun story line throughout bowl season, the Huskies earned their way into the conversation. Since last Oct. 2, Northern Illinois is 21-1, the best record in the country. For comparison's sake, that's two more wins than Alabama and four more than Notre Dame - the Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish are this year's title-game qualifiers - over that stretch.

In fact, all that separated Northern Illinois from being perfect this season was one measly point.

If it wasn't for an 18-17 loss against Iowa on Sept. 1, the Huskies might have been coming to Miami with an undefeated record. Northern Illinois led Iowa by eight points with 10 minutes to play, then gave up the game-deciding touchdown with 2:15 left.

Otherwise, who knows? Maybe NIU would have found some way to bust into the BCS title game, also to be played in Miami this season.

Florida State earned its Orange Bowl trip by topping Georgia Tech 21-15 in the ACC title game on Saturday night.

For Florida State, it's the ninth trip to the Orange Bowl and the Seminoles' first since the end of the 2005 season - a triple-overtime defeat to Penn State, in a game that pitted Joe Paterno against Bobby Bowden.

Consider: The Seminoles have been in more Orange Bowls than Northern Illinois has been in bowls, period. This trip to Miami will be the eighth postseason game for the Huskies, who lost to South Florida in the International Bowl three seasons ago, then beat Fresno State (Humanitarian Bowl) and Arkansas State (GoDaddy.com Bowl) in the past two years.

The stakes are a tad higher this time around.

The Huskies' getting into the BCS mix came at Oklahoma's expense.

Oklahoma (10-2) won a share of the Big 12 title and lost only to Kansas State and Notre Dame. Kansas State earned the Big 12's automatic bid to the Fiesta Bowl, but the Sooners seemed like a lock to get an at-large bid - most likely to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans to play Florida.

Instead, Louisville is going there to meet the Gators, and Oklahoma is on the outside looking in of the BCS picture despite finishing 11th in the final standings, ahead of four teams that will actually be playing in the biggest-money games.

Buckeyes going back to College Football Playoff, will face Clemson in Fiesta Bowl

Buckeyes going back to College Football Playoff, will face Clemson in Fiesta Bowl

The College Football Playoff field is set, and for the second time in three years, the Ohio State Buckeyes will compete for a national championship.

The selection committee revealed the four-team field for this season's Playoff, with Ohio State coming at No. 3. The Buckeyes will battle No. 2 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. The other Playoff semifinal pits No. 1 Alabama against No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl.

While Ohio State has been considered one of the best teams in the country throughout the season, the Buckeyes' inclusion in the Playoff field is not without controversy, as they are the first team to play in the Playoff without winning their conference championship. But Ohio State had a sterling resume with three wins over top-10 teams: Michigan, Wisconsin and Oklahoma. The Buckeyes' lone loss came against a top-10 Penn State team.

The 2014 national champion, Ohio State returns to the Playoff after missing out last season. Big Ten champion Michigan State represented the conference last year, getting crushed by Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. Two years ago, the Buckeyes beat the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl and then beat the Oregon Ducks in the national championship game.

Big Ten champion Penn State, which won the conference title game Saturday night with an instant-classic comeback victory over Wisconsin, ended up fifth and was left off the bracket. So too was sixth-ranked Michigan, which didn't compete for a conference championship but was ranked fifth in the final set of rankings prior to Sunday's bracket reveal. The Nittany Lions and Wolverines combined for five wins over top-10 teams this season.

There was plenty of conversation that red-hot Penn State could surge into the Playoff, just like Ohio State did two years ago. The Lions are riding a nine-game winning streak, defeated Ohio State earlier in the season and claimed the championship in what has been the hands-down best conference in college football this season. And boy did they impress Saturday night in their most recent showing, erasing a three-touchdown deficit to come back and beat Wisconsin.

Michigan, too, had a mighty compelling case to make. The Wolverines, owners of one of the best defenses in the country all season long, beat three top-10 teams during the regular season and took the No. 2 team in the country to double overtime just last weekend.

But in the end, we did not get the first Playoff field to feature two teams from the same conference. Penn State and Michigan will learn their bowl fates — likely going to New Year's Six bowl games — later Sunday.

Big Ten poll update: Penn State jumps Michigan in last pre-Playoff AP poll

Big Ten poll update: Penn State jumps Michigan in last pre-Playoff AP poll

The College Football Playoff selection committee will reveal the four-team Playoff field shortly, but in the AP poll, Big Ten champion Penn State did vault ahead of Michigan.

The Nittany Lions, fresh off their instant-classic comeback win in Saturday night's Big Ten title game, jumped up three spots, from No. 8 to No. 5, passing the Wolverines, who dropped from No. 5 to No. 6 with no game to play this weekend.

Who knows if that will be the thinking of the committee or if Penn State's performance Saturday was impressive enough to get it above Washington or Clemson and into the final four.

In the AP poll Sunday, Ohio State checked in at No. 2 behind No. 1 Alabama. The Buckeyes didn't play Saturday either, but those top two spots figure to be how the top two spots of the Playoff field will look. Clemson and Washington stayed the Nos. 3 and 4 teams in the poll, which seems to be a likely possibility in the Playoff, as well.

Wisconsin, defeated by Penn State on Saturday night, dropped just two spots from No. 6 to No. 8, jumped by Penn State and Oklahoma, which was victorious in its regular-season finale against Oklahoma State, claiming the Big 12 championship in the process.

Iowa moved up one spot from No. 22 to No. 21, while Nebraska dropped a spot from No. 23 to No. 24. Neither team played this weekend.