College Sports

Huskies’ Orange Bowl bid still resonates

Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher spent each of the past four annual MAC media days fielding questions about whether or not one of his league’s teams could earn a BCS berth.

But thanks to Northern Illinois’ run to the Orange Bowl, he finally got a break this season.

Instead, the 2013 MAC Football Media Day on Tuesday finally allowed him a rest from the repetition. Now that the Huskies have ended the conference’s chase for a BCS bowl appearance, the MAC is getting some of the attention that Steinbrecher believes it deserves.

“It adds legitimacy to what you’re doing,” he said of NIU’s BCS berth. “People go, ‘Oh heck, those folks are pretty darn good!’ You have four different teams ranked in the Top 25, you pile up the number of nonconference games that you did, all those sorts of things, and people start getting the message.”

That message had not been received for a long time, but NIU changed that. In a league with great depth, as well as two teams (NIU and Kent St.) on the cusp of the elusive BCS bid, it sometimes hurt the MAC when there was too much parity for one team to sit above the rest.

The MAC is still even, but the Huskies were able to find a way to get into the BCS. Even though many of these teams are rivals, they were all rooting for NIU, because that team represented the future of the conference.

“Having a MAC team in the Orange Bowl is one of the greatest feats this conference could ever have,” said Western Michigan coach and former NIU player/offensive coordinator P.J. Fleck. “I have a lot of respect for that program. That’s going to be the start of, who knows what could happen.”

And people have certainly been talking about the MAC. Before the conference’s championship game last season, “#MACtion” became a trending topic on Twitter, as it became apparent that one of those teams could make history.

When NIU took the field at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, the Huskies represented the entire conference and, although they did not finish the season with a victory, they instilled pride in the MAC’s players.

“It was definitely big for the conference as a whole,” Kent State running back Dri Archer said. “NIU, they went down there and represented our conference. They’re a great team. Now [major conference teams] will take us more seriously.”

The upcoming changes that will alter the college football landscape could help the MAC to take another step forward, as well. With the installment of a playoff system, mid-major schools could be given a better opportunity to compete for a national championship than teams have under the bowl system.

Despite the heightened expectations, Steinbrecher just wants to take it step-by-step.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about me flapping my jaws so much as it is about our young men and women going out on the field and competing and being successful,” Steinbrecher said. “If they do those things, all this other stuff will follow.”

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