Northern Illinois made it into the Orange Bowl this year as the MAC Champion, and next season the odds are even higher that whoever wins the MAC can repeat the feat. We show you why, with lots of pretty pictures. In order to not overwhelm your puny brains, today brings you part one.
Oh man, I bet you saw the tease and were getting all excited for graphs or pie charts or something, right? Well, hold your horses, I would be irresponsible as a blogger if I didn't waste some space explaining myself first.
As all of those who regularly follow the Mid-American Conference know, this was a banner year for the MAC. Both the eventual conference champion (Northern Illinois) and the title game runner-up (Kent State) eclipsed the 10-win barrier, and both even finished the season ranked in the final BCS standings (15th and 25th, respectively).
On top of that, the Big East posted another hideous season that saw their eventual champion (Louisville) just barely make it into the BCS standings. On top of that, sanctions against Ohio State and Penn State meant that third-place Wisconsin (they of the 7-5 record) went to the Big 10 Championship - where they absolutely obliterated an historically awful Nebraska run defense.
Those two results meant that Northern Illinois made it all the way into the top 16 of the final BCS standings and finished ahead of not one, but two of the "AQ" conference champions, more than meeting the criteria necessary to receive an at-large berth in the Orange Bowl against Florida State.
Well, guess what folks, I am here to be the first to let you know - the MAC will do it again next year, in the BCS' last stand. After the 2013 season, the playoff system will kick in and make all of these computer mathematics and grumpy pundits, if not moot, then at least more irrelevant than before.
But until then, next year's landscape shifts so dramatically that unless every MAC team falls off a cliff with their performance (pretty much impossible) this season's feat is indeed repeatable.
How? Boy, am I glad you asked. So the current criteria, as you know, state that a "non-AQ" conference champion (the winner of the MAC, WAC, Mountain West, Conference USA, or Sun Belt) is automatically guaranteed a BCS bowl berth either a) if they reach the top 12 in the BCS standings or b) if they make the top 16 and finish ahead of an "AQ" conference champion (B1G, Big East, Pac-12, Big 12, SEC, ACC), like the Huskies did this season.
Now, I do not expect the MAC winner to finish ahead of multiple AQ champions next season like it did this season. The B1G would not have finished as low as it did had Ohio State been in the title game, and next season they probably will. Also, while the ACC isn't elite, they have never been so thin that their champion doesn't wind up in the top half of the BCS standings.
That said, I most certainly do expect the Big East to continue to be a mediocre conference at best, and they - along with the non-AQ conferences, will see an alignment shuffle that will affect the MAC's status significantly.
Next up: the Mountain West's thievery thins the herd ad creates a domino effect in the MAC's favor...