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North grad's amazing dream

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So why don’t big MAC football teams get to play in BCS bowl games?

Because their players are all small fries.

Brrruuummmppp deee dump. Ha ha ha.

The Mid-America Conference has been plastered with its share of jokes over the years as it has tried to gain respect among the giants of the college football world.

Matt Krempel, a tower of power out of Columbus North High School, might not have paid any attention to the jokes when he signed with Northern Illinois out of high school, but he was aware there would be limitations.

Krempel, a junior offensive tackle, had dreamed of playing in one of the major bowl games, such as the Orange Bowl. While he was proud to play for a MAC school, he knew that a BCS game was a very, very long shot.

Well, Matt, welcome to Miami Gardens, Fla.

On Jan. 1, Krempel will start at offensive tackle for Northern Illinois (12-1) as it challenges Florida State (11-2) in the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium. In terms of matchups, it might have been the biggest shocker in the history of the bowl system.

Although the BCS system is set in print, it would have taken three attorneys and a slide rule to figure out how the Huskies could slip into the Orange Bowl slot. They needed several teams to wilt on the final day, including Nebraska, which was pancaked by Wisconsin, so it could move to No. 16 or higher in the BCS rankings. Then it had to rank ahead of a BCS automatic qualifier.

As it turned out, the Huskies finished at No. 15, and they ranked higher than two BCS qualifiers, Louisville and Wisconsin.

It should be pointed out that Northern Illinois handled its own business on the field, losing its first game against an awful Iowa team before running off 12 straight wins, including a 44-37 double-overtime victory in the MAC title game against Kent State. The Huskies have won 21 of their past 22 games.

Even so, the players weren’t convinced that NIU would receive a BCS berth.

“With our loss, I didn’t feel we had much of a chance,” Krempel said. “Going into (the selection show), we still didn’t think it was much of a possibility.

“Then a few hours before the show, we started to hear rumors that we would be in the Orange Bowl. I was thinking, ‘Don’t get too excited.’ I didn’t want to have that big letdown. I just wanted to wait.”

Standing alongside his teammates, Krempel listened to the improbable news. Northern Illinois was going to the Orange Bowl.

“That was as happy as I’ve ever been,” Krempel said. “I think I was more excited than I ever have been.”

Although Boise State and Texas Christian University had been BCS busters in the past, Krempel thought it might be false hope when it came to wishing for a BCS game.

“I do feel like just about every goal I have set has been reached,” he said. “This is just amazing. Everything is amazing.”

As of Thursday, Florida State was a 13½-point favorite over Northern Illinois, which ranks as the fourth biggest mismatch of all the bowl games by odds-makers. Krempel doesn’t care.

“It seems like I’ve been an underdog my entire life,” Krempel said. “At North my sophomore season, we went to the state semifinals, and we were underdogs every single game.”

He expects Northern Illinois to gain a lot of respect around the nation.

“This means our conference will get more respect,” he said. “I think you are going to see the MAC jumping up.”

For Krempel personally, it is a fantastic ending to a difficult season. He started the first game of the season for Northern Illinois with a broken hand. Struggling a bit to deal with his injury, Krempel was placed into a rotation among the tackles. The system worked well as Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch finished third in the nation in rushing with 1,771 yards and third in total offense with 4,733 yards.

Eventually, Krempel regained his starting spot. The Orange Bowl will be his third consecutive start.

Although he is excited about the opportunity in front of him, Krempel is trying to take a workmanlike approach.

“You’ve got to treat it like a regular game,” he said. “I have to keep my mind on business.”

But how can it be business as usual when your dream just came true?

Jay Heater is the Republic sports editor. He can be reached at or 379-5632.

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