It appears likely Northwestern’s impressive (and awesome) 50-14 win over Illinois will ensure there is a little number next to Northwestern’s name in the bowl game. The Associated Press has returned Northwestern to the polls, slotting NU at No. 22, while the Coach’s Poll has Northwestern at No. 20. The high Coach’s Poll ranking will surely mean the Wildcats will be ranked in this week’s BCS standings.
Northwestern sits four slots ahead of Michigan in this week’s Coach’s Poll perhaps signalling that Jim Phillips might be able to help Northwestern jump a bowl slot in the standings. Perhaps not.
The Orlando Sentinel projects Northwestern to play in the Capital One Bowl, but that possibility still seems unlikely (although Georgia appears destined for Orlando if the team were to lose to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game … Alabama would likely make the trip to Central Florida should Alabama lose next week in Atlanta). Barring any major upsets or bowl shifting, it appears Northwestern is likely headed to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, with still a slight possibility of the team headed to Jacksonville, Florida for the Gator Bowl.
Brett will have more on the bowl watch early on this week. Either way, plan on dressing warmly and getting a tan in Florida this New Year’s Day (provided the Mayans are not right… NU winning by 36 points should raise some suspicions that pigs will start flying).
Still, being ranked is a big deal for Northwestern and is a great reward of national recognition for what turned out to be a really special season. The only way to make it even more special would be to go out and defeat that SEC team and get the bowl monkey off the program’s back. That win would mean the first 10-win season since 1996 and it would mean Pat Fitzgerald becomes Northwestern’s all-time winningest coach.
The regular season may be over and the awards and accolades may be coming — the All-Big Ten teams get announced Monday and Venric Mark is likely to make an appearance on the first or second team — but there is still a lot of work to do.
Enjoy them now though!