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Iowa State's football team fell upward Sunday.
If you foolishly believed all the experts' bowl projections, the Cyclones were destined to play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Purdue, a fellow 6-6 team. The Heart of Dallas Bowl has become affectionately known to some as the Zombie Cotton Bowl, because it's played at the Cotton Bowl stadium in front of few fans, and has none of the status of the actual Cotton Bowl game, which is played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Here's what ISU was facing with the Heart of Darkness, er, Heart of Dallas Bowl:
Maybe 25,000 fans in an 83-year-old stadium that has seating for 92,100. A game on ESPNU at the same time on Jan. 1 that the Capital One, Outback and Gator bowls are being played on ESPN, ABC and ESPN2, respectively. An opponent with an interim head coach, because Danny Hope was fired even though his Boilermakers finished the season with three straight wins to get to 6-6, the same record the Cyclones own.
But then the BCS' kooky computers got involved. The system that had always seemed so rigged against teams from non-BCS conferences blew up in the big conferences' face Sunday. It was wonderful. The Cyclones became bowl free agents because of the following circumstances:
The automatic BCS qualifiers from the Big East and Big Ten weren't in the top 16 of the final BCS standings, and Northern Illinois was. So, Northern Illinois Northern Illinois! got an Orange Bowl berth. Big East-champ Louisville goes to a none-too-thrilled Sugar Bowl, and Oklahoma was iced out of the BCS altogether.
Oklahoma fell to the Cotton Bowl, and all other Big 12 bowl teams slipped. The Big 12 had more bowl-eligible teams than bowl-affiliations. Northern Illinois' ascension led to Iowa State's "descent" into bowl free-agency.
Oh, I should mention the Cyclones will play Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis on Dec. 31.
If that sounds familiar, it's because Iowa State played Tulsa in Ames on Sept. 1. The Cyclones won, 38-23. Everyone who was craving to see a rematch, stand on your head.
But 6-6 teams can't complain about a bowl site or opponent. Plus, Tulsa is 10-3 and the champion of Conference USA. If you beat this team, you've done something. Again.
Fear not, any ISU fans who can't make the Memphis trip. Maybe you can go to the Cyclones' first road game next season. At Tulsa.
All in all, it was a great Selection Sunday. When the BCS' system works against itself to put Northern Illinois in one of its bowls instead of a superpower like Oklahoma, all is right with the world.
Northern Illinois' BCS berth should please Iowa fans. For one thing, the Hawkeyes have defeated an Orange Bowl team for the second time in four years. This time, they didn't have to go all the way to Miami to get it done.
For another, had Iowa's 18-17 win over NIU in Chicago kept the Huskies out of the BCS it would have cost the Mid-American Conference about $8 million in additional bowl revenue. Who wants that on their conscience?