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.

Wade Davis' impact on Cubs goes far beyond his eye-popping numbers

Wade Davis' impact on Cubs goes far beyond his eye-popping numbers

Wade Davis may not light up the radar gun like Aroldis Chapman, but the veteran closer has still had a similar impact shortening games for the Cubs.

Davis is 10-for-10 in save opportunities in his first year in Chicago, providing Joe Maddon and the Cubs with peace of mind as an anchor in a bullpen that has thrown the eighth-most innings in baseball (and ranks No. 8 in ERA with a 3.45 mark).

Davis just surrendered his first runs of the season Wednesday night on a Mac Williamson homer that snuck into the right-field basket.

Yet Davis still wound up preserving the victory by buckling down and turning away the Giants in the ninth. It was the first homer he's allowed since Sept. 24, 2015 and only the fourth longball he's given up since the start of the 2014 campaign, a span of 201 innings.

Even with Wednesday's outing, Davis boasts a microscopic 0.98 ERA and has allowed just 14 baserunners in 18.1 innings.

With 24 whiffs on the season, Davis is striking out 34.8 percent of the batters he's faced in a Cubs uniform, which would be the second-highest mark of his career (he struck out 39.1 percent of batters in 2014 as the Kansas City Royals setup man).

The 31-year-old nine-year MLB veteran is showing no ill effects from the forearm issue that limited him to only 43.1 innings last season.

[RELATED: How Wade Davis transformed into an elite pitcher by simply not caring]

But his impact isn't restricted to just on-the-field dominance. In spring training, Justin Grimm said he spent as much time as he could around Davis in an attempt to soak up all the knowledge he could.

"It's the stuff that you see — obviously he's really good," Maddon said. "He knows how to pitch, he's a very good closer, he's very successful. But he's a really good mentor to the other guys.

"Oftentimes, I'll walk through the video room and he'll be sitting there with a young relief pitcher or a catcher. There's a lot of respect. A lot of guys come to me and say, 'Listen, Wade's really great to be around.'"

Maddon was the manager with the Tampa Bay Rays when Davis first made his big-league debut in 2009 and the now-Cubs skipper credits the Rays organization with teaching Davis the right habits.

Davis also began his career as a starter before moving to the bullpen full-time in 2014 and reinventing himself as one of the best pitchers on the planet.

"He's grown into this," Maddon said. "He was raised properly. He comes from the organization with the Rays — really good pitching, really good pitching health regarding coaching. And then some of the veteran players that were around him to begin with.

"He's passing it along. The obvious is that he's got a great cutter, slider, fastball, curveball, whatever. He's very good with everybody else around him."

Davis needed 34 pitches to work around a couple jams and get the save Wednesday night. That's his highest pitch count in an outing since June 2, 2015.

Wednesday was also Davis' first time working in a week as the Cubs have not had a save situation in that span.

Maddon said he sees no link between the week off and Davis' struggles in Wednesday's outing and the Cubs manager also has no hesitance going to his closer for more than three outs.

However, Maddon doesn't see a need to extend Davis at this point in the season and would prefer to keep the Cubs' best reliever fresh for the stretch run and what the organization hopes is another shot at a World Series title.

Bears' makeover continues with salsa dancing ex-Giants WR Victor Cruz

Bears' makeover continues with salsa dancing ex-Giants WR Victor Cruz

The 2017 veteran makeover of the Bears’ wide-receiver position group continued on Thursday with the signing of former New York Giants wideout Victor Cruz to a one-year deal, a fourth move this offseason fitting an intriguing pattern in Bears roster construction.

Cruz “announced” the move on his Instagram account, declaring, “The Giants will forever be family,” Cruz wrote. “But for now, Bear down!!!” He becomes the fourth free-agent wide receiver signed by Bears and coming in with no fewer than four seasons of NFL experience.

The Bears have been about the business of shoring up their receiver group virtually since the 2016 season ended, adding depth in addition to filling in the vacancies created by Alshon Jeffery leaving for the Philadelphia Eagles via free agency, and the subsequent release of veteran Eddie Royal.

In their places, the Bears have added Cruz, Rueben Randle (Jan. 10), Markus Wheaton (Mar. 10) and Kendall Wright (Mar. 11), in addition to having Joshua Bellamy, Daniel Braverman, Cameron Meredith, Deonte Thompson and Kevin White in place.

Cruz, whose trademark Salsa dance to celebrate touchdowns has been an NFL staple over his six seasons with the Giants, for whom he started 53 of 70 career games after signing with the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts in 2010. Cruz has caught 303 career passes for 4,549 yards and 25 touchdowns, earning a Super Bowl ring with the Giants and earning selection to the 2012 Pro Bowl.

Cruz has not played a full 16-game season since 2012, when he caught a career-best 86 passes for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns. He missed all of 2015 after rehabbing from a torn patellar tendon in the 2014 season and then suffering a calf injury that eventually required surgery. The Giants released Cruz in early February this year.