Is it Sunday Yet? Projecting Northwestern’s Bowl Destination, and Tracing the Rules Confusion
UPDATED Tuesday 11/27, 3:55 pm CT: Several commenters raised the possibility of Northwestern going to the Capital One Bowl even if Nebraska loses in the Big Ten Championship Game. I added some thoughts to address that possibility.
Sunday. Sunday. Sunday. All of the speculation, the rules parsing, will all come to an end on Sunday, when bowl selections are announced. Thank goodness for that.
Rules appear to be written in pencil. Involved parties (namely, bowls and conferences) provide conflicting information. And I am not talking about differing “interpretation.” I am talking about the rules saying one thing, and then one of the bowls saying the exact opposite, based on information they say they were told by the conference. And then, information circles right back around and gets flipped back to what you may have thought originally.
It is a very long, sorted explanation, which I will get to after going through the Wildcats’ bowl scenarios. (We will be posting later on this week what all of the professional guestimators project, once they all update their projections.)
First, as a refresher, a quick recap of the Big Ten’s Bowl tie ins for 2012…
- Big Ten Champion – Rose Bowl vs. Pac-12 Champion – January 1, Pasadena, Calif.
- Big Ten #2 – Capital One Bowl vs. SEC #2 – January 1, Orlando Fla.
- Big Ten #3 – Outback Bowl vs. SEC #3 – January 1, Tampa, Fla.
- Big Ten #4 – Gator Bowl vs. SEC #6 – January 1, Jacksonville, Fla.
- Big Ten #5 – Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl vs. Big 12 #4 – December 29, Tempe, Ariz.
- Big Ten #6 – Meineke Car Care Bowl vs. Big 12 #6 – December 28, Houston, Texas
- Big Ten #7 – Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. Conference USA – January 1, Dallas, Texas
- Big Ten #8 – Little Caesars Bowl vs. MAC – December 26, Detroit, Mich.
Now on to the scenarios, which are presented in order of what I perceive to be the likelihood of each, and I take a stab at possible bowl opponents.
Scenario 1 – Northwestern to the Outback Bowl
This one is pretty straightforward. Nebraska beats Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. Nebraska goes to the Rose Bowl, Michigan, at 8-4, goes to the Capital One Bowl, and Northwestern goes to the No. 3 Big Ten Bowl – the Outback Bowl in Tampa. The odds seem to favor this pick at this point. With the Capital One Bowl’s “interpretation” of the rules detailed below (and, according to the bowl, affirmed by the Big Ten), which they had said would allow them to select an 8-4 Michigan team over a 10-3 Nebraska team if Nebraska lost the Big Ten Championship Game, it’s clear they really want Michigan and are trying to do everything they can to get them.
Therefore, in this scenario, where Nebraska is out of the picture and on their way to Pasadena as the Big Ten Champs, and the Capital One Bowl is left with the choice of 8-4 Michigan and 9-3 Northwestern, I have a hard time seeing the Capital One Bowl passing on Michigan and taking Northwestern. (However, we do make a very compelling case for Northwestern-to-Orlando below.)
Now onto Northwestern’s possible SEC opponents in Tampa. The SEC has their own winding road of rules. To summarize, the Capital One Bowl has first pick after the BCS, regardless of division. After that, the Cotton Bowl has “the first preference of teams” from the SEC West and the Outback Bowl has “the first preference of teams” from the SEC East. However, if the bowl with preference for a division makes its chosen pick first, then the other bowl could select from that same division. In other words, the Cotton Bowl gets first pick from the SEC West, but the Outback Bowl can select an SEC West team after the Cotton Bowl makes their pick of an SEC West team. SEC selection order after that goes Chick-Fil-A Bowl, then Gator Bowl, and onward down the line.
So, given that understanding, here is how I see things playing out in the SEC… The SEC will be sending two teams to the BCS, the winner of the SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Georgia, and Florida. That is the maximum number of teams from any one conference allowed into the BCS. If that rule did not exist, it is conceivable that at some point we could have a B-S-E-C-S completely full of teams from the Southeastern Conference.
The loser of this weekend’s SEC Championship Game, either Alabama or Georgia, will likely spend New Year’s in Orlando at the Capital One Bowl. The Capital One Bowl could justifiable grab one of the hottest names in the sport, Johnny Football (Johnny Manziel) and Texas A&M, but my sense is they would take the loser of the SEC Championship Game, especially if it is Alabama. Of course, if it is Alabama to Cap One, that actually may slightly increase Northwestern’s chances at the Capital One Bowl instead of Michigan, because bowls generally try to avoid rematches (Alabama crushed Michigan 41-14 back in September), as can be seen in the tweet below from the Capital One Bowl. (And kudos to the Capital One Bowl for being extremely open about their process, and very responsive to inquiries from fans, journalists, and bloggers about that process. I would encourage you to follow them on Twitter @CapitalOneBowl).
Of course, that is not a hard and fast rule, and matching up two A-plus brands in college football may be too hard to resist, and I could not really blame them if they went that direction.
The next three teams in the SEC after those top three are LSU, Texas A&M, and South Carolina, all three of which have identical records — 10-2 overall, 6-2 in conference. Either LSU or Texas A&M would be headed to the Cotton Bowl because of the Cotton Bowl’s “SEC West” preference stated earlier. Given the Cotton Bowl’s proximity to the Texas A&M campus (about a 3-hour drive) and John Manziel’s star power, I’d expect the Aggies to play in that game in Dallas.
So, that leaves LSU and South Carolina for the Outback Bowl. It is a bit of a toss up here. LSU is the higher ranked team in the BCS standings (7 vs. 10), probably should have beaten Alabama, and LSU beat South Carolina. South Carolina has the better win on their books, having beaten Georgia. Of course, that win came with a healthy Marcus Lattimore at running back, who later blew out his knee in late October.
Let’s dig back to our conversation from last week with Robert Shelton, Executive Director of the Fiesta Bowl and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, who said that injuries to key players are not usually a factor in team selection, “unless there is something really exceptional — a team that relies totally on one player and then that player sustains an injury and then he’s out for the season – I don’t think that factor comes into play in any significant way.” You could argue that Lattimore is that kind of player, but there is a ton more talent on that team, especially quarterback-nightmare-inducer JaDaveon Clowney.
Basically, it is a toss up between LSU and South Carolina as opponents, with a lean toward South Carolina out of the SEC East, given the Outback’s history of SEC East selections. Only once since 1997 has an SEC West team played in Tampa, Auburn in 2010, and we all know what happened in that game.
Scenario #2 – Northwestern to the Capital One Bowl
This would also start with a Nebraska win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. Yes, Northwestern does have a better overall record than Michigan — 9-3 vs. 8-4. Yes, a Northwestern fan (and probably a Michigan fan if you shot him full of truth serum) would argue that Northwestern essentially won the game against Michigan, but for a freak tip on a downfield heave near the end of that game. Those are the standard kind of arguments. But let’s compare the two teams’ resumes, applying some of the criteria Robert Shelton told us the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl uses — win/loss record, quality of opponents/strength of schedule, fan excitement/performance vs. expectations, and bowl fatigue.
This one is crystal clear, as we just said in the previous paragraph. Northwestern 9-3, Michigan, 8-4.
Quality of Opponents / Strength of Schedule:
Northwestern did play the easier schedule of the two teams, although Northwestern’s schedule is better than one might think. Yes, Michigan played potential national championship game entrants Alabama and Notre Dame out of conference, so they have to get the strength of schedule nod based on that. However, Northwestern was the only school to open the season with three straight wins vs. “BCS conference” schools, and two of the schools turned in solid campaigns… Syracuse still has an outside shot to win the Big East and earn a BCS slot, and Vanderbilt finished up 8-4, 5-3 in the SEC.
In the Big Ten, beyond the common opponents, Michigan played Ohio State and Purdue while Northwestern played Indiana and Penn State. Neither team played Wisconsin.
Fan excitement/Performance vs. Expectations:
Michigan began the year ranked No. 8 in the AP and Coaches’ Polls, with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback. Then the Wolverines opened the season by getting embarrassed by the Crimson Tide, lost to the Fighting Irish, closed out with a loss to their hated rival Ohio State, and Denard Robinson got hurt mid-season. Three of their four losses were by a touchdown or more. I would say 8-4 was way below what the Wolverine faithful were hoping for.
Meanwhile, all three of Northwestern’s losses were heartbreakers, or, as Dr. Shelton said, “they’ve been in every game, even the ones they lost in the fourth quarter. That’s really a big plus for them.” Granted, Northwestern fans might not be happy with the way the three losses came about, but if you had told any Northwestern fan before the season began that this team would be 9-3, he or she would have signed for it right there on the spot. No votes in either of the preseason polls, and now No. 22 in the BCS rankings, No. 22 AP, and No. 20 in the Coaches Poll. I would say that is exceeding expectations.
Michigan ended a three-year bowl drought, their longest since the 1970s, with a 2011 Gator Bowl appearance that was followed up last year by a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. Not much bowl fatigue here.
As we all know, Northwestern is on its best streak of consecutive bowl games in school history — this season will mark the fifth straight season of a Northwestern bowl appearance. However, we also all know that Northwestern has not won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl. Northwestern fans are hungry for a win, and would love a return trip to Orlando for the first time since the 1997 Citrus Bowl against Peyton Manning and Tennessee.
Of course, Michigan does have a much larger fan base, and they are one of the marquee names in college football. However, Northwestern has historically traveled very well to bowl games, despite the school’s relatively small size.
Bottom line — a very strong case can be made for Northwestern to be selected ahead of Michigan.
Also, from what we hear, there are some big fans of Northwestern inside the Capital One Bowl, and despite what some may think, there is not any kind of clear favoritism toward Michigan in Orlando, as can be seen in these tweets regarding Sunday’s deliberations in Orlando.
As for the opponent, as I detailed above in the Outback Bowl Scenario, the opponent in the Capital One Bowl is likely to be the loser of the SEC Championship Game — Alabama or Georgia.
There is another possible, although not as likely, route to the Capital One Bowl, for the ‘Cats. If Nebraska loses in the Big Ten Championship Game to Wisconsin, the Capital One Bowl would be left with a choice of Nebraska or Northwestern. (The two loss/two win rule, which we explain in great detail below, would prevent the Cap One Bowl from selecting 8-4 Michigan over 10-3 Nebraska.) As some commenters pointed out, Nebraska played (and got crushed) in the Capital One Bowl last season, so there might be a “bowl fatigue” factor. However, I think it would be hard for them to turn down a 10-win team that travels incredibly well, and one who had only made the trip to Orlando once before last year (1990). There is also the “matchups” criteria that Dr. Shelton discussed, and it may be hard to deny the wattage that a Nebraska-Alabama or Nebraska-Georgia matchup would bring. Plus, the Capital One Bowl has a history of selecting teams repeatedly. Back when it was know as the Citrus Bowl, Tennessee played in the game 3 out of 4 years in the mid ’90s (including 1997 vs NU) prompting the famous Steve Spurrier quote – “You can’t spell Citrus without U-T.” Michigan went to Orlando in 3 out of 4 years from 1999 to 2002, and Wisconsin went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.
Scenario #3 – Northwestern to the Gator Bowl
For Northwestern to possibly pay a visit to Jacksonville, Wisconsin would need to upset Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game. That would send Wisconsin to Pasadena, freeing up Nebraska for either a Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl berth. Based on the Indiana Jones-esque journey through bowl rules below, it appears that the Capital One Bowl would be bound to take Nebraska over Michigan, regardless of any preference for Michigan, and I think they would be inclined to select Nebraska over Northwestern, as explained above. The Outback Bowl would then be left to choose between Michigan and Northwestern. I’m not sure of what the choice would be here, as I know the Outback Bowl folks were very pleased with the excitement and turnout Northwestern brought to the game in 2010.
However, if the Outback Bowl did pick Michigan, Northwestern would land in Jacksonville. One could argue the opponent for Northwestern in the Gator Bowl would be much more favorable… Remember that the Chick-Fil-A Bowl will have chosen an SEC team before the Gator, and the Cotton Bowl will have selected earlier, so the Gator Bowl is a few more rungs down the pecking order for the SEC than it is for the Big Ten (#5 pick for SEC after BCS, #3 pick for Big Ten after BCS, plus the SEC is expected to send two teams to the BCS). Plus, there’s a big drop off in team quality just before the Gator Bowl’s pick of an SEC team. Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Texas A & M, and South Carolina would all likely be off the board, leaving a choice of 8-4 Mississippi State and 8-4 Vanderbilt. If NU winds up in Jacksonville, I’d be shocked if the pick here was Vanderbilt, which would be a rematch of the game back in September. Instead, expect Mississippi State here.
HOW DID WE GET HERE? THE WINDING ROAD OF BIG TEN BOWL RULES INTERPRETATION
Wow. What a wild few days in bowlland as every time I thought I had the final, correct answer, it slipped through my hands, like a search for that elusive Black Friday deal.
Let’s start at the beginning, and buckle up, because this is one bumpy ride…
As you may have read in my post last week, the Big Ten rules for the Capital One Bowl and Outback Bowl read as follows…
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.
These rules came straight from a Big Ten Conference official. I then spoke to a representative at one of the bowls directly impacted by these rules, who said that it was as unclear if the Big Ten Championship Game would count within those rules, because they were written before the advent of that game. He said he was unsure and he deferred to the Big Ten. So, I reached back out to the Big Ten Conference official, and asked that exact question – do wins/losses in the Big Ten Championship Game count? I received the following reply:
A loss in the title game would count toward the two-loss differential section of the Capital One and Outback Bowl selection procedure, which is why it says “(in all games)” below.
OK, so we settled that piece of the puzzle. Then, to clarify the “two-win/two-loss” rule, I presented the exact scenario we discussed here on LTP last week, and explained it this way:
…Northwestern would finish 9-3 and Wisconsin would finish 8-5 after a loss in the Big Ten Championship Game [and a win over Penn State in the regular season finale]. That would obviously give Northwestern two fewer losses than Wisconsin, but only more win.
My interpretation of the rule, because it says “except a team that has two fewer wins OR two more losses (in all games) than another eligible team”, is that the Outback Bowl (or Capital One Bowl) would be bound to select Northwestern over Wisconsin, because of the two fewer losses, and the fact there is only a one win differential does not matter. But some folks have interpreted that Outback/Cap One would not be bound to select Northwestern, because Northwestern only would have one more win. Am I correct in my interpretation?
Here was the response:
Based on the below criteria, neither the Capital One Bowl or the Outback Bowl could select an 8-5 team over a 9-3 team (since the 8-5 team would have two more losses).
As I wrote last week, “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.”
So, that settles it right??? Wrong.
Our friend Teddy Greenstein, who covers NU for the Chicago Tribune, tweeted the following on Saturday, which led to the exchange below.
This conversation obviously took place before Wisconsin’s loss to Penn State, so it is moot in that circumstance. However, it is still valid when trying to determine if the Capital One Bowl could select an 8-4 Michigan team over a 10-3 Nebraska team (if Nebraska were to lose to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game).
Is your head spinning yet? Well, the Capital One Bowl threw us for a loop with this exchange…
Wait a minute… That is only half of what we were told by the Big Ten. We had been told losses mattered too. So I inquired… Here are the relevant tweets from that exchange.
Oh boy. At this point, my brain was mush.
Then, finally, like stumbling onto that last box of Twinkies when you thought all of the stores in town had sold out of Hostess products forever, this came through Monday from Adam Rittenberg at ESPN.com…
After checking with the Big Ten office, I can confirm the following:
- Both the Capital One and Outback bowls cannot select a Big Ten team with two fewer wins or two more losses than another eligible Big Ten team.
Therefore, if Nebraska loses to Wisconsin in Saturday’s Big Ten championship game, the Capital One Bowl could only select Nebraska (10-3) or Northwestern (9-3). Michigan would not be eligible because it has two fewer wins than Nebraska.
Yes!!! Back to where we started, our original understanding of the rule!
I contacted our friend at the Capital One Bowl, and he confirmed both what Adam wrote and what we’ve been saying all along…
I reached out to my contact at the Big Ten on Monday afternoon, and I am waiting to hear back to confirm everything. However, it appears that we can all take a deep breath, put our brains back together, and move on with our purple New Year’s plans.
Is it Sunday yet?
If You Thought Bowls Involved Politics…
LTP jumping in on the back-end of Brett Kurland’s post. WLS is reporting that Napoleon Harris, the ‘Cats star 2-sport player (football, basketball) is running to replace Jesse Jackson Jr.’s vacated spot in Congress. Check it out here.