On Friday night, when Northern Illinois plays Kent State for the Mid-American Conference title, representatives for the Discover Orange Bowl will be watching carefully.
Because if they win, Kent State might be playing in Miami on Jan. 1, 2013.
Located less than an hour southeast of Cleveland, Ohio, Kent State’s campus has an enrollment of somewhere around 30,000. Members of my family received their higher education there, but you’ve probably heard of it because of the shooting that occurred on campus in 1970.
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Now, at 11-1 overall and 8-0 in the MAC, the Golden Flashes of Kent State will take on the Northern Illinois Huskies, who have an identical record. If they win, No. 17-ranked Kent State has a shot to play in the Orange Bowl, likely against either Florida State or Georgia Tech.
Here’s how this is, incredibly, possible.
For a team to earn a bid to a BCS bowl if they hail from a non-automatic-qualifier conference like the MAC, they must finish in one of the top 16 slots of the BCS. They must also finish with a higher ranking than the highest-ranked team in an automatic-qualifier conference. Kent State will likely finish with a higher ranking than even the highest-ranked Big East team, since there isn’t a single Big East team currently ranked in the BCS.
They’ll certainly need help, though. First, they need to beat NIU, a team that has been equally as strong in 2012 and has BCS aspirations of their own. Currently ranked No. 21 in the poll, the Huskies believe they could also ascend to the top-16 with a win Friday night.
If the Golden Flashes win, however, their easiest path to the Promised Land would be a loss by No. 16 UCLA in their rematch with Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. The Bruins lost by 18 points to the Cardinal on Saturday, so it’s definitely possible.
Or, they could do it with a Florida State loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game. But this blogger isn’t going to go there.
Maybe I buried the lede a little too far in this piece, but here’s one of the most amazing things about this Kent State run. At 11-1, the only blemish on their schedule is when they were handled 47-14 on Sept. 8 by 2-10 Kentucky. That’s right: A team that lost by 33 points to Kentucky — whose only other win this year is over I-AA Samford — could play in the Orange Bowl. And they could play a reeling and beaten-up Florida State team.
Obviously, I wouldn’t be rooting for them, but I know family members who would. And what a story that would be.