UPDATED 11/20, 3:16 PM CT to include the possibility of Michigan moving up to the BCS and its impact on Northwestern’s Capital One Bowl hopes.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last several days digging through the Big Ten’s bowl rules and talking to bowl and conference officials, as well as some college football experts. Let’s just say this stuff is not nearly as simple as it might appear on the surface. There are still some questions left to be answered, which we are working on. And while we wait on all of our “Bowl Watchers” to get their projections posted this week, I’m going to do my own guestimation of where and how the ‘Cats will end up, based on what I have come to understand is the most accurate information at this point.
First, quick recap of the Big Ten’s Bowl selection order for 2012, with our regular reminder that the order is the 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 – Gator Bowl vs. SEC #6 – January 1, Jacksonville, FL
- Big Ten #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
Now, as we enter the final weekend of the regular season, let’s take a look at the aggregate records of bowl eligible and possibly bowl eligible teams in the Big Ten and their remaining opponents. Note that we are ranking based on overall records, not Big Ten records, as Big Ten bowl rules, where they apply, are based on records in “all games,” except for obviously the winner of the Big Ten Championship Game, who will book tickets to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.
- Nebraska, 9-2; Friday @ Iowa, possible 12/1 Big Ten Championship Game* vs. Wisconsin
- Northwestern, 8-3; Saturday vs. Illinois
- Michigan, 8-3; Saturday @ Ohio State, possible 12/1 Big Ten Championship Game* vs. Wisconsin
- Wisconsin, 7-4; Saturday @ Penn State, 12/1 Big Ten Championship Game vs. Nebraska/Michigan
- Minnesota, 6-5; Saturday vs. Michigan State
- Michigan State, 5-6; Saturday @ Minnesota (needs a win for bowl eligibility)
- Purdue, 5-6; Saturday vs. Indiana (needs a win for bowl eligibility)
*Nebraska, by virtue of their 23-9 win over Michigan on October 27, holds the tiebreaker in the Leaders division, so if both teams win or both teams lose, Nebraska would be heading to Indianapolis on December 1.
Also, a reminder of the Big Ten’s bowl rules… After the Rose Bowl, the next two bowls in the selection order, the Capital One and Outback Bowls, respectively, are bound by the following:
CAPITAL ONE BOWL
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.
Note the “or” and the “in all games.” So it’s an either/or scenario on the two fewer wins/two more losses exception and it includes “all games,” meaning there is no distinguishing between conference and non-conference games and a loss in the Big Ten Championship Game is in play.
After those top three bowls have made their picks, it’s open season, and bowls may select whichever team they prefer. As noted above, if the Big Ten places a second team into the BCS, then the Outback Bowl is not bound by this rule and would also be entitled to select whichever team they prefer. (A lot of dominos would need to fall for the Big Ten to get a second team into the BCS, starting with Michigan defeating Ohio State and Nebraska defeating Iowa, so we are not going to address that possibility now. If the dominos do fall, then we can address that circumstance in a future post.)
Knowing all of this, here are my most likely possible scenarios for Northwestern, in order of likelihood…
Scenario 1 – Northwestern to Outback Bowl
Simply, if Northwestern beats Illinois, they would finish at 9-3 and have no worse than the second best record in all games among the teams from the Big Ten. The critical tipping point for Northwestern, to keep from dropping below the Outback Bowl, is to have two fewer losses or two more wins, than Wisconsin, which would put Northwestern no worse than the third selection spot after Nebraska and Michigan. If Wisconsin were to lose either to Penn State or in the Big Ten Championship Game, Wisconsin would finish 8-5. Northwestern would have two fewer losses than Wisconsin, and the Outback Bowl, by rule would not be allowed to select Wisconsin over Northwestern and the ‘Cats would be headed to Tampa.
Scenario 2 – Northwestern to Capital One Bowl
UPDATED TO INCLUDE MICHIGAN/BCS POSSIBILITY
It is possible that Northwestern could go as high as the Capital One Bowl. For that to happen, Northwestern would need to beat Illinois, Nebraska would need to beat Iowa and then Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game and Michigan would probably need to lose big to Ohio State. That would leave Northwestern at 9-3 and Michigan at 8-4. Granted, the two-loss rule would not be in effect here to automatically force Northwestern ahead of Michigan, but from what I’m hearing, there are some folks at the Cap One Bowl who are big Northwestern fans.
Another possible route to the Cap One for the ‘Cats… If Michigan somehow moves up into the BCS, which would mean a win over Ohio State, coupled with Nebraska wins over Iowa and then Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game, and several schools ahead of Ohio State in the BCS standings
losing (again, a lot of dominos, so we’re not going to dig too deeply into this at this point), and Northwestern beats Illinois, that could also push NU toward Orlando.
Scenario 3 – Northwestern to Gator Bowl
Again, this scenario assumes Northwestern beats Illinois to go to 9-3. If Wisconsin wins the Big Ten Championship Game to take the Rose Bowl spot, that would free up Nebraska and Michigan for the Outback and Capital One Bowls. If it’s Michigan who advances to the Big Ten Championship Game (by virtue of a Michigan win over Ohio State and a Nebraska loss to Iowa) and loses to Wisconsin, I think the Capital One Bowl would take Michigan and Nebraska would go to the Outback, leaving Northwestern to go to Jacksonville. Despite what’s been said and written about the Gator Bowl, I’d have a hard time seeing them chose a 7-5/6-6 Minnesota, 6-6 Michigan State, or 6-6 Purdue over a 9-3 Northwestern. Yes, they are free to select whomever they want, but there would be quite the uproar if they reached down for any of those three schools over Northwestern.
Scenario 4 – Northwestern to Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
Now, a Northwestern loss to Illinois and the 8-4 record that would result, and all bets are off. However, I don’t think Northwestern would drop below the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, because I’m told the folks in Tempe really like the Cats.