Final BCS analysis: Alabama-Notre Dame to title game

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Northern Illinois rocks postseason with Orange Bowl bid

<p> Alabama-Notre Dame clear BCS championship pairing, but Northern Illinois rocks final rankings.</p>

The most drama in the BCS selection was settled by the most dramatic game of the season when Alabama defeated Georgia 32-28 in the SEC Championship Game.

While the Notre Dame-Alabama championship game was clear from the final seconds in Atlanta, the most unlikely BCS crasher wasn’t revealed until Sunday afternoon.

Northern Illinois became an automatic bid, giving the Huskies a series of firsts in MAC and BCS history: Northern Illinois is the first MAC team to play in the BCS and the first team from a non-automatic qualifying conference to reach the BCS despite a loss. NIU reached the Orange Bowl by a BCS rule triggering an automatic bid for a non-AQ conference to play in BCS game as long as it finished in the top 16 and finished ahead of a champion of an AQ conference.

By rule, Northern Illinois is an automatic bid to the BCS, but the snubs -- Oklahoma, Clemson and a slew of SEC teams -- have gripes for being left out of the five major bowl games. The bowls themselves, however, had little choice as the BCS rulebook won over the eye test.

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Here are a few more observations from the final release of the BCS standings:

BIGGEST WINNER

BCS Standings
Dec. 2

Coaches' Poll Harris Poll Comp. Avg. Last Wk.
1. Notre Dame 1 1 1 1
2. Alabama 2 2 3 2
3. Florida 4 4 2 4
4. Oregon 3 3 6 5
5. Kansas St. 6 6 T-4 6
6. Stanford 8 7 T-4 7
7. Georgia 5 5 11 5
8. LSU 7 8 7 7
9. Texas A&M 9 9 10 9
10. S. Carolina 10 10 9 10
11. Oklahoma 11 11 8 11
12. Florida St. 12 12 16 13
13. Oregon St. 14 14 12 15
14. Clemson 13 13 15 14
15. N. Illinois 16 16 19 21
16. Nebraska 21 18 13 12

Northern Illinois. Clearly, the first MAC team in a BCS game is the big winner. But a series of events had to occur to put Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl as the Huskies weren’t one of the top two candidates for a BCS bid going into the final week of the season. Kent State and Boise State were considered more likely possibilities at the time. But Northern Illinois defeated Kent State 44-37 in overtime for the MAC, moving the Huskies from No. 21 to No. 15 in the BCS. Aiding NIU’s move was a rout by then-No. 12 Nebraska in the Big Ten title game and losses by Nos. 16-18 in the rankings in the final week of the season. With the Wisconsin win over the Cornhuskers, Northern Illinois ended up ranked ahead of two AQ conference champions.

BIGGEST LOSERS
Oklahoma and Georgia. Georgia lost the SEC title on the final play, and Oklahoma lost an outright Big 12 title with a loss on Sept. 22 to Kansas State. With all automatic bids exhausted, Oklahoma was left to the Cotton Bowl. Despite stumping by Alabama coach Nick Saban, Georgia had no place to go in the BCS. At No. 7, the Bulldogs were the highest ranked team to be left out in the BCS as No. 15 Northern Illinois, No. 21 Louisville and unranked Wisconsin will all play BCS games.

BCS SELECTIONS
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME (JAN. 7): No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama. A ratings bonanza will pit the Alabama run game against Manti Te’o and the formidable Irish run defense.

ROSE BOWL (JAN. 1): No. 6 Stanford vs. Wisconsin. This is a rematch of the 2000 Rose Bowl, in which Wisconsin defeated an 8-3 Stanford team. This team, the Badgers are the team with the mediocre record at 8-5.

ORANGE BOWL (JAN. 1): No. 12 Florida State vs. No. 15 Northern Illinois. The MAC champs have every reason to have a chip on their shoulders after being derided as undeserving of their automatic bid. Florida State has ample talent, but after the Noles allowed NC State and Georgia Tech to hang around, does NIU have a shot?

SUGAR BOWL (JAN. 2): No. 3 Florida vs. No. 21 Louisville. Louisville coach Charlie Strong was the defensive coordinator for both of Florida’s titles under Urban Meyer. This is an intriguing matchup against another defensive stud in Will Muschamp.

FIESTA BOWL (JAN. 4): No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State. Whose tempo will win out? Chip Kelly wants to run as many plays as possible. Bill Snyder is methodical. An interesting chess match.

OTHER NOTES
Disagreement among the human polls and computers pushed Northern Illinois into the BCS. How did NIU end up at No. 15 when none of the elements ranked the Huskies that high? Northern Illinois ranked 16h in the Harris and coaches’ polls and 19th in the computers, yet ranked 15th in the BCS. Meanwhile, the Harris and the coaches both ranked Boise State ahead of Northern Illinois. The answer is the havoc in the title games - Big Ten title game loser Nebraska ranked 13th in the computers, 21st in the coaches and 18th in the Harris; UCLA ranked 17th in the Harris and computers and 19th in the coaches. And even though the human voters favored Boise State, the computers hammered the Broncos with a No. 22 ranking. That mess allowed NIU to ascend to No. 15.

All 10 BCS slots went to automatic qualifiers. The six champions of Big Six leagues were automatic qualifiers, as was Notre Dame. Northern Illinois earned its bid by finishing better than 16th and ahead of the Big East and Big Ten champions. Florida and Oregon also earned automatic bids by BCS rules. The Gators earned an automatic bid by finishing third, and Oregon followed suite by finishing fourth. In terms of selection, the Sugar selected Florida, followed by Kansas State to the Fiesta, Louisville to the Sugar and Northern Illinois to the Orange.

Seven SEC teams in the top 10. A sign of SEC dominance or a sign that no other conference could supply top flight teams? The SEC had seven teams in the top 10 -- No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Florida, No. 7 Georgia, No. 8 LSU, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 10 South Carolina.

Notes on BCS selection:
Automatic BCS bids go to the top two for the title game, the champions of the ACC (Orange Bowl), Big 12 (Fiesta), Big Ten (Rose), Pac-12 (Rose) and SEC (Sugar). The Big East’s automatic bid is not tied to a particular bowl.

Notre Dame receives an automatic bid if it finishes in the top eight.

A champion from a non-automatic qualifying league (Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, WAC and non-Notre Dame independents) receive an automatic bid if it finishes in the top 12 of the standings or if it finishes in the top 16 and ahead of a champion from a non-AQ conference.

To be eligible for an at-large BCS bid, a team must have nine or more wins and finish in the top 14 of the BCS standings.

Once automatic tie-ins are placed, the selection order for BCS bids goes as follows: 1. The bowl losing the BCS No. 1 team to the championship game, 2. The bowl losing the BCS No. 2 team, 3. The Fiesta Bowl, 4. The Sugar, 5. The Orange.

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