Football’s goals remain the same

By Frank Gogola

Talk last season by fans and media alike revolved around the possibility of NIU crashing the Bowl Championship Series party for the second straight year.

And why not? The Huskies were coming off an Orange Bowl berth, had a future first-round pick in playmaking safety Jimmie Ward and were led by electrifying quarterback Jordan Lynch, who placed third in Heisman voting at season’s end.

The Huskies themselves were more concerned with taking things one game at a time in the short run and winning the MAC title in the long run.

They faltered in the latter goal, but the team made football even more of a top priority for Huskie fans, who routinely tuned into games on the west coast — because of BCS implications — that could creep into the early morning hours in DeKalb and who fretted over how many thousandths of a point NIU was behind Fresno State in the weekly BCS poll before eventually jumping them.

Now, the BCS is abolished. It has been replaced by the College Football Playoff. But, the focus remains the same for the Huskies: win the next game in the short run and win the MAC Championship in the long run.

“The focus is really to win the first game,” said senior wide receiver Tommylee Lewis. “We take it game by game. Right now, all we want to be is 1-0. The ultimate goal is always to get back to the MAC Championship.”

While the Huskies had to complete a checklist of specific rankings each of the last two seasons in order to make a BCS bowl, the process has more or less been simplified under the College Football Playoff.

Under the BCS system, the Huskies had to finish in the top 12 of the final BCS standings or finish in the top 16 of the final BCS standings and be ranked higher than at least one Automatic Qualifying conference champion.

“It was a whole bunch of stuff,” said head coach Rod Carey. “Well, you don’t have that anymore. You just have to take care of your business, and someone in the Group of Five is going to end up in [an access] bowl.”

In the College Football Playoff system, the highest-ranked champion from the Group of Five — American Athletic, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt — obtains an automatic berth into one of the six access bowls: Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Peach, with the options differing each season as two bowls are used as the semifinal games in the College Football Playoff. This year’s semifinal games are the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl.

In a sense, the Huskies — and every other Group of Five team — control their own destiny to a point. The simplest path would be to be the only undefeated conference champion from the Group of Five, and you’re likely in as the highest-ranked champion as ranked by the 13-member selection committee.

While going undefeated isn’t a requirement, a realistic approach to earning a spot in the College Football Playoff would be to handle your own business as best as possible and not worry about the outside college football world, which is the Huskies’ focus no matter what system they play in.

“If we want to reach our goals we have to … take it one week at a time [and] not overlook things,” said senior defensive end Jason Meehan. “… If you don’t do that than you’re not going to go where you want to go.”