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Northern Illinois Makes BCS; Notre Dame Plays Alabama for Title

Northern Illinois University made Bowl Championship Series history by earning a spot in the Orange Bowl, while the universities of Notre Dame and Alabama will play for college football’s national title.

Notre Dame (12-0) and Alabama (12-1) finished as the top two teams in the final BCS standings released last night and will play for the championship Jan. 7 in Miami.

The other four BCS bowl matchups also were determined, with Northern Illinois becoming the first team from a conference without an automatic qualifier berth to get in one of the sport’s biggest postseason games without going undefeated. The Huskies (12-1) won the Mid-American Conference championship and will face Florida State (11-2), the Atlantic Coast Conference champion, in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1 in Miami after finishing 15th in the final BCS standings.

“It’s a dream come true,” said NIU junior quarterback Jordan Lynch, who leads the nation with 1,771 yards rushing and 4,733 yards of total offense. “We’re hungry and we can’t wait to play. We’re going to play our hearts out.”

The University of Florida (11-1) finished third in the BCS standings and will meet Big East Conference champion Louisville (10-2), ranked 21st, in the Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl.

Fourth-ranked Oregon (11-1) will face No. 5 Kansas State (11-1) in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3, while sixth-ranked Stanford (11-2), the Pacific-12 champion, plays Big Ten winner Wisconsin (8-5) in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

By climbing six spots in the final BCS rankings and into the top 16, Northern Illinois earned an automatic spot in a BCS game because the Huskies were ranked ahead of the Big Ten and Big East champions. Northern Illinois’s lone loss this season was an 18-17 setback against Iowa, which went 4-8 and tied for last place in the Big Ten’s Legends Division.

Huskies Questioned

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit questioned the Huskies’ candidacy, saying they don’t measure up with the seven undefeated teams from outside the major conferences that previously have played in BCS bowl games.

“You have to be a team that stands out,” Herbstreit, a former quarterback at Ohio State, said on the network. “What has Northern Illinois done this year to make you say, ‘Remember 2012?’ The quarterback had a great year and I love MAC football, but to put them in the BCS is an absolute joke to the rest of these teams who are more deserving.”

Rules allow a maximum of two teams per conference to participate in the BCS bowls. With Alabama and Florida already representing the Southeastern Conference, seventh-ranked Georgia (11-2), No. 8 Louisiana State (10-2), No. 9 Texas A&M (10-2) and No. 10 South Carolina (10-2) were automatically excluded from BCS consideration.

Oklahoma Out

The biggest loser in Northern Illinois making the BCS mix may have been the University of Oklahoma, which went 10-2 and claimed a share of the Big 12 title while only losing to Notre Dame and Kansas State. The Sooners will instead play in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4 in Arlington, Texas, against Texas A&M.

“It was a matter of Northern Illinois meeting the threshold by their performance all season,” BCS executive director Bill Hancock said on a conference call.

The BCS title game will match two of the sport’s most acclaimed programs, with Notre Dame and Alabama combining for 1,691 wins and each winning eight Associated Press national championships in the past 70 years. Alabama will be seeking its third BCS crown in four seasons, while Notre Dame is playing for the national title for the first time since 1988.

The popularity of the two teams may lead to a worldwide betting handle of more than $2 billion on the BCS championship game, Las Vegas oddsmakers have estimated.

Irish Invasion

“Alabama and all their fans will be in Miami and Notre Dame will invade as well,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said on a media conference call. “It will be great for college football to have both teams.”

Alabama, whose lone blemish this season was a 29-24 loss to Texas A&M, opened as an 8 1/2-point favorite. The Crimson Tide captured last year’s BCS championship with a 21-0 victory against Louisiana State University.

Notre Dame and Alabama have met twice before in bowl games. The national championship was at stake in their December 1973 Sugar Bowl showdown, when coach Ara Parseghian’s Notre Dame squad won 24-23 against an Alabama team coached by Paul “Bear” Bryant. The schools met again the following postseason, in January 1975, with Notre Dame defeating Alabama 13-11 in the Orange Bowl.

“We have a special respect for Notre Dame, all that they’ve done and all the tradition they have,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “This is a really good team, a great matchup and a little bit of old-fashioned football.”

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