What a weekend for Northern Illinois: Win a conference title, lose a coach and bust the BCS.

The Huskies are headed to the Orange Bowl, set to make their Bowl Championship Series debut against Florida State. Northern Illinois won the Mid-American Conference title Friday, lost coach Dave Doeren to North Carolina State on Saturday and then spent Sunday waiting to see if it cracked the top 16 in the final BCS standings. By 0.0404 points, the Huskies did just that and will play in Miami on Jan. 1 as their reward.

"We are sure excited," said Rod Carey, the Huskies offensive assistant who was promoted to head coach Sunday evening, just before learning the team made the Orange Bowl. "It's been a crazy weekend."

The MAC champions (12-1) were 15th in the final BCS standings. Finishing in the top 16 and ahead of the champion of a qualifying conference -- they actually finished ahead of two, Big East winner Louisville and Big Ten titlist Wisconsin -- meant the Huskies were automatically BCS-bound, earning them this date with the ACC champion Seminoles (11-2). Northern Illinois, which was 21st last week, is the first MAC school to reach the BCS.

"We are very excited to host two conference champions," Orange Bowl CEO Eric Poms said.

Associated Press poll: Notre Dame (12-0) ended the regular season as the No. 1 team for the first time since 1988, the last championship season for the school. Alabama (12-1), which will play the Fighting Irish in the BCS title game Jan. 7 in Miami, was No. 2. Ohio State (12-0), banned from the postseason because of NCAA sanctions, was No. 3.


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USC: Coach Lane Kiffin said star quarterback Matt Barkley is expected to play for the Trojans (7-5) against Georgia Tech (6-7) in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas. Barkley missed the season finale against Notre Dame on Nov. 24 with a sprained shoulder. "He hasn't gone to a bowl game the last couple years, so it's a chance to go to one and finish off strong for him and for the senior class," Kiffin said. USC, which began the season ranked No. 1, hasn't been able to play in a bowl game the past two seasons because of NCAA sanctions.

South Florida: Skip Holtz was fired as coach after two straight losing seasons. The son of former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz went 16-21 in three seasons at the Big East school. The Bulls went 3-9 this season. Holtz will receive a $2.5 million buyout.

Cincinnati: One day after clinching a share of the Big East title, Bearcats coach Butch Jones visited Purdue. He's regarded as the Boilermakers' top target to replace the fired Danny Hope.