College football’s last BCS buster may not necessarily be out of the conversation for the access bowl spot reserved for the top-ranked Group of Five conference champion. With a 27-17 win over Toledo (6-4, 5-1 MAC) Tuesday night, NIU (8-2, 5-1 MAC) moved into a tie for first place with the Rockets. The tie can turn into a three-team tie if Western Michigan wins its next game.
Cameron Stingily scored twice for the Huskies, who now are in control of their own path back to the MAC Championship Game for a fifth straight season. The only other school to play in five straight MAC Championship Games was Marshall, who played in six straight from 1997 through 2002.
On Tuesday night the College Football Playoff Rankings were updated as well. No Group of Five team appeared in the new top 25, but chairman Jeff Long did mention on a conference call the Huskies were one of the Group of Five schools discussed by the committee this week. Others included Marshall, Colorado State, Boise State and East Carolina. NIU is therefore on the radar for the committee, which will be tasked with choosing a Group of Five conference champion to play in one of the access bowls at the end of the season if none can crack the final top 25. NIU was upset in the MAC title game last season.
The final two games of the regular season for NIU will be played on the road against Ohio and Western Michigan. Now that we know NIU is officially on the committee’s radar, finishing strong will be critical for NIU’s chances to play in a major bowl game. Some help in the Mountain West Conference would not hurt, nor would Marshall getting tripped up somewhere in Conference USA. East Carolina taking another loss would not be bad either for the Huskies.
Of course, none of this matters if NIU doesn’t just keep winning.
Buffalo 55, Akron 24
In the other MAC game Tuesday night, Buffalo (4-6, 2-4 MAC) doubled up visiting Akron (4-6, 2-4 MAC) by a score of 55-24.
With the win, Buffalo managed to keep its postseason hopes alive for at least one more week. With six losses already, Buffalo is one loss away from being ineligible for postseason play. The loss also puts Akron up against a wall. Like Buffalo, Akron is now one loss away from being ineligible for postseason play.
If you were curious if this game has any impact on the College Football Playoff (don’t laugh), it could have at least a small impact. If Buffalo can string together two more wins to become eligible for a bowl game, then it might help make Baylor’s overall profile look at least a little better. The Bears have been trying to overcome a lacking profile in the eyes of the selection committee. Buffalo going to a bowl game will not be enough to flip Baylor over TCU, but it is one of those minor details that is probably reviewed to some extent at one point or another.
The loss for Akron does not help Marshall’s overall profile either. The Thundering Herd beat Akron 48-17 earlier in the season. Marshall’s strength of schedule has been a legitimate concern, so seeing Akron go from a possible bowl game to not playing in the postseason is just one less point to support Marshall’s access bowl argument.