It might be a slow climb, but it's one that's heading in the right direction.
Northern Illinois remained undefeated with a 59-20 win over Eastern Michigan on Saturday, and the Huskies were rewarded with a one-spot jump in the BCS standings, moving from No. 18 to No. 17.
The Huskies are one of eight remaining unbeaten teams in college football, though they are the lowest ranked of those teams. No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 6 Baylor, No. 7 Miami and No. 16 Fresno State all rank above Northern Illinois.
The key one of those teams to keep an eye on, however, is Fresno State. The other six all belong to a power conference, and strength of schedule will keep them far ahead of the Huskies. Northern could conceivably jump the Bulldogs of Fresno State, as the computer polls favor the Huskies, with an average spot of 13 and one computer poll ranking NIU as high as third. But the human voters are bigger fans of Fresno State, likely a reflection of the strength of the Mountain West over that of the MAC. NIU ranks 20th in both the Harris Interactive Poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll. Fresno State ranks 18th in both polls.
The importance of the Northern Illinois-Fresno State comparison is that potentially just one of these teams from outside a power conference could make a BCS bowl game, even if both finish their seasons undefeated. If NIU wants to make it back to a BCS bowl game for the second season in a row, a Fresno State loss would significantly improve those chances.