We like underdogs in American sport. We like them a lot. Cinderellas have made March Madness what it is. Boise State and its wild Fiesta Bowl win over OU was a great jolt of energy to college football.
But college football power brokers don’t underdogs. And now there’s an underdog that could really upset the world axis. Bob Stoops’ old employer could be a thorn in his flesh. The Kent State Golden Flashes, once one of college football’s sorriest programs, has the chance to be a BCS buster. Kent State is No. 17 in the latest BCS rankings. If Kent State beats Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference championship game on Saturday and rises into the top 16, the Golden Flashes will be in the Orange Bowl.
That’s right. The Orange Bowl. Which would take a BCS spot away from a power conference team, quite possibly Stoops’ Sooners.
Notre Dame, Florida and Oregon are virtually assured of three at-large BCS spots, leaving only one available. That one is likely to go to the Sooners, so long as OU beats TCU on Saturday and Kansas State beats Texas to win the Big 12 title outright. But Kent State would snare that berth under the BCS rule that says the highest-ranked mid-major in the top 16 gets an automatic berth if it is ranked higher than the champion of an automatic qualifying conference. With UCLA playing at Stanford on Friday night in the Pac-12 title game — a rematch of two days ago, when Stanford won 35-17 — the likelihood of Kent State reaching the top 16 is high.
Which is where the Big East comes in. The Big East is a total mess of a league — Rutgers, Louisville, Cincinnati and Syracuse could all finish in a four-way tie for the title. Rutgers wins the Big East with a win over Louisville on Thursday night. If Louisville wins, the BCS berth is determined by BCS ranking. None of the Big East teams will be in the BCS top 25, but Louisville figures to be the highest-ranked.
On Oct. 27, Kent State beat Rutgers 35-23. So blame all this on Rutgers, the newest ode to mediocre Big Ten football.
Anyway, even if Northern Illinois beats Kent State, the drama isn’t over. Northern Illinois is ranked 21st, and while a jump from No. 21 to No. 16 isn’t likely, it’s also not impossible. So all the power brokers in college football will have to sweat out not just the Northern Illinois-Kent State game, but the BCS rankings on Sunday night.
Look what happens if Kent State makes the BCS. The Flashes almost surely would be the last pick of the BCS bowls. Which means a Florida State-Kent State Orange Bowl. Or if you really want to dream, how about 6-6 Georgia Tech upsetting Florida State in the ACC title game. That would give us a 7-6 Georgia Tech against Kent State on New Year’s Night.
That means Rutgers or Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. A Florida-Rutgers Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3. Welcome to our world, says the Fiesta Bowl folks who tried to market Oklahoma-UConn two years ago.
The Fiesta Bowl would be sitting pretty with Oregon-Kansas State or Oregon-OU. The Rose Bowl would be fine, with Nebraska/Wisconsin vs. Stanford/UCLA. Any of those pairings are sweet compared to Florida State-Kent State or Florida-Rutgers.
I love underdogs as much as the next guy. But the Mid-American teams are not Boise State. Boise State can hang with the big boys, win occasionally, and beat good teams on a regular basis. Kent State lost at Kentucky 47-14 in September. Kentucky is one of the worst teams in major college football.
Northern Illinois actually is favored to beat Kent State and should be. The Huskies’ only loss was 18-17 to Iowa in Chicago. Northern Illinois should have won that game. I know because I watched it (I know, I’ve got issues). Northern Illinois beat Kansas 30-23. Northern Illinois is a solid team. But Northern Illinois is not Boise State or TCU of recent years.
If Kent State or Northern Illinois makes the Orange Bowl, that would relegate the Sooners — should they not make the Fiesta Bowl — to a Cotton Bowl showdown with an SEC team. So in some ways, it’s no skin off OU’s teeth. What’s the difference between playing an SEC rattlesnake on Jan. 1 in New Orleans or Jan. 4 in Arlington? Little better chance of winning in the Cotton Bowl, so no big deal to the Sooners.
But it’s a big deal to the Orange and Sugar Bowls. Now you know why the bowls demanded change. Why they wanted more control over who and when they play. A Wednesday night Sugar Bowl matching Florida and Rutgers? Ugh.
If Kent State or Northern Illinois makes the Orange Bowl, I’ll be pulling for the MAC. But it’s going to be a mess for the BCS bowls.