Kent State in the Orange Bowl? It absolutely can happen and I couldn't be happier about it. For years, we've extolled the virtues of the Mid-American Conference: the random midweek November games on TV, the ability to create a pretty decent fantasy team comprised solely of players from MAC schools (Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Turner, Greg Jennings, Antonio Gates to name a few), even the conference's attempt to brand itself is cutting edge.
Now for the first time a MAC school can crash the BCS party. Tonight's MAC Championship features two ranked teams in Kent State and Northern Illinois. Usually the winner of that game heads to the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl but thanks to a wrinkle in the BCS selection process the MAC champion might go to Miami instead.
Here's how it works: the champion of a mid-major conference can receive an automatic birth to the BCS if that champion is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS standings and is ranked higher than the champion of an automatic qualifying conference (i.e. the Big 10, SEC, etc.) As it stands, Kent State is 17th in the BCS. To add to the drama of the night the Pac 12 Championship game between Stanford and UCLA will kick off shortly after the start of the MAC title game. UCLA is ranked 16th, one spot ahead of Kent State. Conceivably, if Kent State wins and UCLA loses the Golden Flashes would move up at least one spot to get into the top 16. And it appears that Louisville will win the Big East which is an automatic qualifying conference. The Cardinals are well behind Kent State in the BCS rankings. For good measure Texas, which is ranked 18th, would likely need to lose to Kansas State. Northern Illinois has an outside shot of pulling this off but they are ranked 21st and it's not likely that they can leap over idle Michigan.
So to recap: Kent State win+UCLA loss+Texas loss should guarantee the MAC their first BCS bid. But there's yet another layer to this story. Win or lose Kent State is going bowling this year and it will be their first trip to a bowl game since the memorable 1972 Tangerine Bowl. That's right, it's been 40 years since Kent State last played in a bowl game. A trip to the Orange Bowl would cap a remarkable comeback for the program.
If it plays out that way Kent State would face the winner of the ACC Championship between Florida State and Georgia Tech. The 10-2 Seminoles are heavy favorites and a win there would set up a classic David vs Goliath matchup in Miami. Kent State-Florida State would rank up there with the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and the 2009 Sugar Bowl if the Golden Flashes pull off an upset. Not a bad way to start 2013, the year of the #MACtion.