Northern Illinois' bowl hopes appeared to die with its season-ending loss to Navy.
But when Louisville, Arkansas State and Arizona State lost their final games this week, three at-large berths opened for 6-6 teams like the Huskies.
While the Independence Bowl could have picked an instate school like Louisiana-Lafayette, the Shreveport, La.-based bowl opted for NIU.
The Huskies, who finished 2-10 a year ago, will face Louisiana Tech (7-5) at 7 p.m. on Dec. 28.
"We've done it the old-fashioned way," said first-year coach Jerry Kill, who talked of his 21 seniors buying into the style he brought in last December. "I just think it's a never-quit kind of football team. This is a tremendous reward for them."
How did they earn this reward?
It certainly didn't hurt that Huskies senior associate athletic director Glen Krupica spent 11 years as the Independence Bowl's executive director.
"You've got to give a lot of credit to our administration," Kill said. "Glen did a great job. (AD) Jeff (Compher) did a great job. I think things fell our way."
The Bulldogs, who'll have a mere 70-mile drive from their home base in Ruston, feel the same as this marks their second bowl game since 1990.
"I think we've sold over 4,000 tickets already," said Louisiana Tech coach Derek Dooley, whose team went 1-4 against bowl-bound opponents. "It's a big bowl for our alumni base and our fans."