For the second year in a row, Northern Illinois University captured the Mid-Atlantic Conference title. The college football world has taken notice, resulting in now-former head coach Dave Doeren getting a new job at North Carolina State. That's great for Doeren, but what about the team he's leaving behind? Despite going 8-0 in MAC play and taking the conference title, the 12-1 Huskies are projected by SB Nation to be No. 17 when the BCS standings are released later today.
Normally, placing 17th among a group of college football giants would be a big win for NIU. The only problem is, the top 16 schools can play in major bowl games over the next month or so. Playing in a BCS game means big money for the school and conference and notoriety when recruiting.
The two teams above Northern Illinois in the projected rankings are No. 16 Nebraska and No. 15 UCLA. The Cornhuskers are 10-3 for the season and went 7-1 in the Big Ten's Legends Division. The team's only win over a ranked team was a 23-9 win over No. 22 Michigan. The other ranked team Nebraska faced was No. 12 Ohio State, and they got hammered 63-38.
UCLA sits one seat above Nebraska, in large part due to beating the Cornhuskers 36-30. For the season, UCLA is 9-4 overall and 6-3 in the Pac-12 South, good enough for first place. Aside from Nebraska, the Bruins split the four games they played against ranked opponents. The two wins came against No. 22 Arizona and No. 18 USC, and the two losses were in back-to-back games against the No. 8 Standford Cardinal.
On paper, NIU has a better record than UCLA and Nebraska, but it could be the teams they beat that is leaving them on the outside looking in. The magic elves that calculate the BCS standings factor in strength of schedule and wins against ranked opponents. The lone top 25 opponent the Huskies faced was in the MAC championship game against No. 17 Kent State.