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Breaking down the human polls that put NIU in the Orange Bowl

The end of college football's regular season stinks for an obvious reason (no more football), but it also provides one annual moment of clarity: We finally get to see how the Coaches' and Harris poll voters filled out their ballots. This ballot parsing will only remain fun this year and next. After that, we'll have to settle for grilling members of the selection committee. So let's enjoy this while we can.

Last year, all the drama was at the top of the ballots. We wanted to know where everyone voted Alabama and Oklahoma State to determine exactly who helped make the LSU-Alabama BCS title game rematch happen. This year, the drama is on the lower end, where Northern Illinois rose to No. 15 in the BCS standings, allowing the Huskies to take advantage of a BCS rule and crash into the Orange Bowl. This knocked Oklahoma out of the BCS and into the Cotton Bowl, where the Sooners will play Texas A&M. It also forced the Sugar Bowl to take Big East champ Louisville. So instead of Florida-Oklahoma, we'll have to watch Florida-Louisville. Fortunately, the powers that be have already scrapped the system that made these matchups. Unfortunately, we're stuck with it for this bowl season and next.

What's fascinating about this year's balloting is the fact that voters broke their long-standing tradition of essentially eliminating non-AQ teams once they lost. For the first few years of the BCS, non-AQ leagues fought for rules that would guarantee them access to BCS bowls if they met certain criteria. That access rule changed after the 2004 season and went into effect after the 2006 season. If a non-AQ conference champ finished ranked higher than an AQ conference champ and was ranked in the top 16 in the BCS standings, it would earn an automatic berth. The first beneficiary was undefeated Boise State, which went on to beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2006 season in one of the most entertaining games ever played. Hawaii (in 2007), Utah (in 2008) and Boise State again (in 2009) took advantage of the rule to play in BCS games. (TCU reached BCS bowls in 2009 and 2010 by being ranked in the top four of the final BCS standings.) What did 2007 Hawaii, 2008 Utah and 2009 Boise State have in common? They were undefeated.

Judging by their votes, Coaches' and Harris poll voters would have been perfectly happy with either 12-1 Northern Illinois or 10-2 Boise State in the BCS. The Broncos, despite losses to San Diego State and a completely mediocre Michigan State team, were actually ranked one spot higher than the Huskies in both human polls. The computers gave Northern Illinois the bump, but the fact that human voters were more than happy to put Boise State's weakest team in years into the BCS is a testament to how much their minds have opened and how strong a brand coach Chris Petersen has built on the blue turf.

So who loved the Huskies?

In the Coaches' Poll, Central Florida's George O'Leary ranked them the highest of any of the coaches at No. 11. Now, O'Leary can add a line to his résumé stating he helped MACtion bust the BCS.

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, the former boss of now-former Huskies coach Dave Doeren, voted Northern Illinois No. 14. Doeren, who this weekend left NIU to take over at NC State, also voted his team No. 14. In a show of MAC solidarity, Akron's Terry Bowden and Toledo's Matt Campbell also voted Northern Illinois No. 14. Dabo Swinney of Clemson, whose high-scoring, low-defending team is the epitome of ACCtion, also voted the Huskies No. 14.

In the Harris Poll, former Miami and Kentucky coach Fran Curci voted the Huskies No. 13. But the biggest outlier was former Iowa State coach Jim Walden, who voted Northern Illinois No. 9.

Before you call Walden all kinds of unprintable names, remember one thing: After the 2006 regular season, Walden was the only voter in the Coaches' or Harris poll to rank Florida No. 1. Everyone else ranked Ohio State No. 1. We all thought he was nuts. Florida then clubbed Ohio State, 41-14, in the BCS title game. Maybe Walden knew something we didn't back then. Maybe he does now. Besides, Walden obviously wasn't trying to slight Oklahoma with his high Northern Illinois ranking. He had the Sooners ranked No. 6.

Who didn't think the Huskies belonged?

In the Coaches' Poll, most of the anti-NIU sentiment came from coaches whose teams might have had a shot at an at-large bid had the Huskies not grabbed that spot. Michigan's Brady Hoke ranked NIU 25th. He ranked Michigan No. 15. If Hoke is judging by a common opponent from the Big Ten, he probably has a point. Northern Illinois lost 18-17 to Iowa; Michigan beat Iowa 42-17. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, whose team was most directly affected by a BCS buster, voted the Huskies No. 24.

West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen didn't have a personal dog in the hunt, but the Big 12 coaches had good reason to help Oklahoma reach the BCS: Everyone in the conference would receive more money. Holgorsen ranked the Huskies No. 24; Baylor's Art Briles had the Huskies at No. 19.

Of course, none of the Big 12 coaches practiced conference and AQ solidarity like Vanderbilt's James Franklin. Franklin, who received a new contract over the weekend to ward off potential suitors, had three SEC teams in his top three, four in his top five and six in his top eight. Where did he have the Huskies? At No. 23.

In the Harris Poll, former Connecticut coach and athletic director John Toner was the ultimate NIU hater. He left the Huskies off his ballot entirely. Meanwhile, Toner ranked Kent State -- the team NIU beat Friday night to win the MAC title -- at No. 20.

Ladies and gentlemen, the BCS.

Is it 2014 yet?

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