College football fans in the Sauk Valley have two reasons to smile after the past weekend.
Northern Illinois University fans learned that their 12-1 Huskies football team received an invitation to travel to Miami and play Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1.
The University of Wisconsin Badgers, coached by Prophetstown native Bret Bielema, won the Big 10 title game and the right to travel to Pasadena, Calif., and play Stanford in the Rose Bowl, also on Jan. 1.
NIU’s bowl bid was more improbable than Wisconsin’s, but not by much.
This is the third straight appearance in the Rose Bowl for the Badgers; they lost to Oregon by a touchdown this past New Year’s Day and fell to Texas Christian University by 2 points in 2011.
However, unranked Wisconsin had only a 7-5 record as the team faced No. 14 Nebraska Saturday. The Badgers responded with a 70-31 blowout win.
Wisconsin fans must hope the third time is a charm as their team prepares to face No. 8 Stanford (11-2) 4 weeks from now.
For NIU, securing a BCS bowl bid brought joy to the DeKalb campus and Huskie Nation and controversy elsewhere. Some sports commentators have not looked kindly on the Huskies’ surprising rise in the college football world.
Enough of the sour grapes.
NIU has had a fine season. It might have even been a perfect one had the Huskies not lost to the Iowa Hawkeyes by 1 point in the season opener.
Given the current Bowl Championship Series system, along with their 12-win season, the Huskies certainly deserve a taste of the oranges.
A major bowl appearance brings excitement to the NIU campus, adds prestige to the football program, and could bring other benefits.
We also tip our hat to the Northwestern Wildcats, who with their 9-3 record are headed to the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1 to play Mississippi State.
NIU’s success has already meant a promotion for Coach Dave Doeren, who was hired Saturday by North Carolina State. Bielema will also be on the move. The University of Arkansas confirmed Tuesday that Bielema will be the new coach of the Razorbacks.
We won’t dwell on the Fighting Illini’s 2-10 season record or the aforementioned Iowa Hawkeyes, who finished 4-8.
Perhaps better days are ahead for Illinois and Iowa. In the meantime, go Huskies!