UPDATED – Watching the Bowl Watchers – Wings or Alligator With a Chance of Steak

UPDATED Friday, 11/16, 2:42 PM CT Bowl selection rules can be pretty confusing to follow sometimes, and I was thrown off a bit yesterday. My intent in writing this feature was to help make things easier to understand. However, I instead made things more confusing because I misunderstood what I had been told by a reliable source with respect to the two-loss rule, both in what it means and who it applies to. I then wrote the original post based on that misunderstanding. I apologize for the inaccurate information conveyed in the original post, and I appreciate the fantastic members of the LTP community for bringing this to my attention. We now received the most updated rules from the Big Ten, and I spoke with two very reliable, independent sources last night/this morning. Everything should now be everything clarified.

The “two-loss rule” actually allows the bowl(s) to which it applies to select “any eligible team… except a team that has two fewer wins or two more losses (in all games) than another eligible team.” The full text of the rules is below. Also, the rule always applies to the Capital One Bowl and Outback Bowl, except for when the Big Ten sends a second team to the BCS. When the Big Ten sends a second team to the BCS, the rule no longer applies to the Outback Bowl.

This post now reflects this rule correctly. My sincere thanks to all who helped.

This whole bowl watching thing for the Wildcats appears to be down to a two-horse, two-bowl race with two games to go. According to our latest tracking, the professional guestimators project the Cats to either be in the Gator Bowl or the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (as they did last week). Whichever one each of the writers doesn’t have Northwestern in, they have Michigan State. Many of you might be thinking to yourselves “Well, all we’ve got to do is beat Michigan State (and Illinois) and we’re going to Jacksonville on January 1.” In the words of a certain pencil-toting, mascot-head-wearing analyst “Not so fast my friends…”

Remember the warning we’ve been giving you over the last several weeks – bowl order is selection order, not order of finish. And head-to-head matchups don’t matter. Plus, the Gator Bowl is notorious for going for the money, picking “less qualified” teams for the sake of a good “matchup.” Recall 2009, when the Gator chose 6-6 Florida State, over an 8-5 Clemson squad, to play West Virginia, so that they could host Bobby Bowden’s final game… Or last year, when the Gator Bowl selected a 6-6 Ohio State team, instead of a 9-3 Penn State team, to take on Florida (also 6-6) in the “Urban Meyer Bowl.” (Yes, Penn State was toxic following the outbreak of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but I’m using this example more to illustrate the larger point that the bowls can do as they choose.)

The complete text of the Big Ten’s bowl rules are included at the bottom of this post, but for the purposes of this conversation, here are the most important ones…

  • The Capital One Bowl and the Outback Bowl “may select any eligible team after [previous bowl in selection order] except a team that has two fewer wins or two more losses (in all games) than another eligible team.” An example would probably make this simpler – They could select an 8-4 team over a 9-3 team, but they could not select a 7-5 team over that same 9-3 team.
  • If there were two Big Ten teams going to the BCS (unlikely this year), then the Outback Bowl would NOT be governed by that rule and could select whoever they want. After Capital One and BW3, it’s pretty much a free for all.

Before we review what the prognosticators have to say, let’s take one more look at our regular quick recap of the Big Ten’s bowl tie ins, and a reminder again… the order is order of selection by the bowls, not order of finish in the conference standings.

  • Big Ten Champion – Rose Bowl vs. Pac-12 Champion – January 1, Pasadena, CA
  • Big Ten #2 – Capital One Bowl vs. SEC #2 – January 1, Orlando FL
  • Big Ten #3 – Outback Bowl vs. SEC – January 1, Tampa, FL
  • Big Ten #4/#5 – Gator Bowl vs. SEC #6 – January 1, Jacksonville, FL
  • Big Ten #4/#5 – Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl vs. Big 12 #4 – December 29, Tempe, AZ
  • Big Ten #6 – Meineke Car Care Bowl vs. Big 12 #6 – December 28, Houston, TX
  • Big Ten #7 – Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. Conference USA – January 1, Dallas, TX
  • Big Ten #8 – Little Caesars Bowl vs. MAC – December 26, Detroit, MI

The Gator Bowl and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl alternate selection order, and this year, the Gator picks ahead of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Gator #4, Buffalo Wild Wings #5).

So, now on to the prognosticators… Basically, it’s just about an even split between the Gator Bowl and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Two writers made a move from last week’s projections – Erick Smith of USATODAY and Phil Steele dropped NU down to the BW3 Bowl.

Note that we’ve added one guestimator to the list, SI.com’s Stewart Mandel (a Purple Mafia member), as he started making bowl projections at the beginning of November.

Note that changes (or lack thereof) from last time are marked in parentheses.

Gator Bowl, January 1, Jacksonville, FL

  • Brad Edwards/ESPN.com, vs. Mississippi State (was vs. TCU) / has Michigan State in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
  • Mark Schlabach/ESPN.com, vs. Mississippi State (was vs. Oklahoma State) / has Michigan State in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
  • Matt Murschel/Orlando Sentinel, vs. Mississippi State (no change) / has Michigan State in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
  • Paul Myerberg/USATODAY, vs. South Carolina (was vs. Mississippi State) / has Michigan State in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, December 29, Tempe, AZ

  • Jerry Palm/CBSsports.com, vs. Oklahoma State (no change) / has Michigan State in Gator Bowl
  • CollegeFootballNews.com, vs. Texas Tech (was vs. Oklahoma State) / has Michigan State in Gator Bowl
  • Erick Smith/USATODAY, vs. Texas Tech (moved down from Gator Bowl) / has Michigan State in Gator Bowl
  • Phil Steele, vs. Texas Tech (moved down from Gator Bowl) / has Michigan State in Gator Bowl
  • Stewart Mandel/SI.com, vs. Texas Tech / has Michigan State in Gator Bowl

Another scenario to consider… Wisconsin, like Northwestern, is currently 7-3. They finish their season against Ohio State and Penn State before heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan or Nebraska. It is conceivable that they could lose two out of those three games, if not all three. If they lose all three, putting them at 7-6, that would jump NU to the Outback Bowl, if NU wins out and finishes at 9-3. Even if Wisconsin only loses two of those games, they would finish at 8-5, the two loss rule would go into effect, and it appears NU would still be headed to the Outback. So, basically, if you want NU to spend January 1 is Tampa, root hard against the Badgers.

My educated guess – a loss this weekend would pretty much clinch a spot in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. A win (and a win next week vs. Illinois), and I still think it would be a tossup between the Gator and the Buffalo Wild Wings (with that outside shot that I mentioned at the Outback Bowl) but more likely than not, NU would be going to Jacksonville.

Another small note… if Iowa somehow wins out to get themselves to bowl eligibility at 6-6 (which would necessitate wins over Michigan and Nebraska), that would certainly add a wrinkle. However, even if that were to happen, I’m pretty confident NU would not drop below Tempe.

Here is the text of the Big Ten bowl rules, straight from the Big Ten.

A Big Ten team ranked #1 or #2 in the final BCS poll will play in the BCS National Championship Game. Otherwise, the Big Ten champion will play in the Rose Bowl Game.

A Big Ten team may be selected as a BCS at-large participant if it has won at least nine regular-season games and is ranked among the top 14 teams in the final BCS standings.
The loser of the Big Ten Football Championship Game will be selected no later than the fourth selection after the BCS selection(s) – i.e. no later than Gator or Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl selections.

1. Big Ten champion.

1. May select any eligible team after Rose Bowl Game/BCS except a team that has two fewer wins or two more losses (in all games) than another eligible team.
2. Moving a 2nd Big Ten team up into the BCS does not affect these selection rules.

1. May select any eligible team after Capital One Bowl except a team that has two fewer wins or two more losses (in all games) than another eligible team.
2. Should a 2nd Big Ten team move up into the BCS, then the two-win/loss differential requirement is no longer applicable.

1. May select any eligible team after Outback Bowl.

1. May select any eligible team after Gator Bowl.

1. May select any eligible team after Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

1. May select any eligible team after Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

1. May select any remaining eligible team

  • Alaskawildcat

    OK so if the loser of the championship game takes the guaranteed BWW spot could that drop us to one of the Texas bowls? Just as likely I assume we might actually move up to the Ouback if the bowl selection committees are down on Wisky as the loser?

    • Brett Kurland

      Technically, yes (on the drop to one of the Texas bowls). However, with Penn State and Ohio State ineligible for bowl games, it’s highly unlikely for the Big Ten champ game loser to drop that far.
      Plus, I doubt a bowl eligible Minnesota team and a technically-still-possible bowl eligible Indiana would be selected ahead of NU. I think MSU is our biggest concern, followed by a possible Iowa move to bowl eligibility.

      As for the Outback Bowl question – thank you for bringing that up. I meant to include that, but was scurrying to get out the door to the airport and, frankly, forget to put it in. If NU ends up 9-3, there’s is a pretty good chance Outback will give the ‘Cats a serious look, depending on how things play out in the rest of the Big Ten. Keep in mind Outback would need to bypass whoever is left from Nebraska, Michigan, and Wisconsin, after Rose Bowl and Capital One Bowl go off the board.

  • CatInTheHat

    I don’t think the championship game loser can contractually drop past Gator (or is it Outback?). Either way, it doesn’t look like there’s a scenario where we go below BWW.

    • Brett Kurland

      According to what I’ve been told, champ game loser can’t drop below the bowl with the fourth pick after the BCS. This year that’s the BW3, but last year it was the Gator. (They flip flop selection slots each year. )

  • cece

    Dear Jim Phillips, Florida please.

  • Doug

    greenstein and others have reported that the winner of the NU MSU game will play in the gator bowl (assuming they beat ILL/IN).

  • Carl the Cat

    Dear Dr Phillips, Arizona please. From most of the country, Phoenix is a much, much easier flight than Jacksonville.

  • Jimgocats93

    1st let’s win the next two!

    2nd let’s hope my previously stated theory about an opponent’s lack of a passing attack is our best defense proves true.

    3rd let”s get to a bowl where we play someone who cannot throw the ball well.

    These kids have played so well – let’s get by yet another game with our opponent coming off a bye week, score one more point than Illinois, and draw a bowl where our opponent does not have Heisman candidate at quarterback or first round picks at receiver.

    Santa you can give the Lionel Train – AND THE PONY to DT. All I want is the Cats 10-3 this year.


    • DT

      Coal in your stocking Jimgo…

  • Brett has had issues responding in the comments section. He’s got some clarifications and will address in the post.

  • Flo44

    Rooting for an NU win this weekend (for obvious reasons) and a Gator Bowl bid (for selfish reasons: driving distance).

  • CaliforniCat

    Selfishly hoping for BW3 since I’m only six hours away from Phoenix.

    • Polymersci

      Ditto here, I’m in Orange County CA, pretty short hop to Phoenix! And Phoenix is a great place for a bowl. We went to the NU-ASU game years back and had a blast! Go Cats.

    • nubobby95

      Ditto here as well, Will be in So Cal for the holidays.

    • ende

      Anyone else not fond of JAX on account of the non-travel destination element of the city? Look at the hotel options, culture, food–or lack thereof. PHX would be way better given the two options. Understand the travel for some, but JAX would be way closer for me, but I would much rather go PHX given the two options. More of a destination