UPDATING ALL DAY – Bowling for Northwestern – The Final Analysis and Northwestern Bowl Destination Open Thread
UPDATED Sunday 12/2, 1:10 pm CT: ESPN reporting Nebraska to Capital One Bowl, Northwestern likely to Gator Bowl. New post here with details as they story develops.
UPDATED Sunday 12/2, 12:27 pm CT: Added Stewart Mandel tweet suggesting Texas A &M may not be Capital One Bowl-bound.
UPDATED Sunday 12/2, 12:02 pm CT: Added @ESPN_BigTen tweet regarding Nebraska still being “very much in play” for Capital One Bowl. Also added release of final regular season AP and Coaches polls.
UPDATED Sunday 12/2, 11:01 am CT: Added Phil Steele’s projection of Northwestern to Gator Bowl.
I have to confess… Of all of the scenarios I considered, this is one I definitely did not foresee — Wisconsin absolutely waxing Nebraska in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game 70-31.
Let me say that again.
And you could argue that it was not even that close!!! Heck, it was 42-10 at halftime! Sheesh. Just unbelievable. I am still in shock.
This definitely changes my perspective on what will happen today, as I never conceived of this total annihilation. I think the headline on the front page of the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star’s website late Saturday night says it all — “One B1G Nightmare.”
I will leave the analysis of that game to others (two Wisconsin running backs rushed for over 200 yards!!!), and just jump straight to the bottom line implication for Northwestern… I think this puts the ‘Cats in prime position for the Capital One Bowl. And Teddy Greenstein at the Chicago Tribune agrees…
So does SI.com’s Stewart Mandel, who posted his final bowl projections late night Saturday. He put Northwestern into the Capital One Bowl against Texas A&M. (More on the potential opponent in a bit, as well as Stewart’s update early Sunday afternoon that A & M may drop down.)
However, @ESPN_BigTen (the combined Twitter account of Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett) tweeted late Sunday morning that, according to their source, we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Nebraska.
I just have a hard time seeing how the folks in Orlando could pick Nebraska over Northwestern at this point, a deflated Nebraska that just got completely obliterated by Wisconsin, a team that finished in third place in its division with a .500 conference record (remember, Ohio State and Penn State both were ahead of Wisconsin in the standings, but were ineligible). Bowls typically prefer teams with momentum, not teams who end their season with a giant thud by getting totally embarrassed on national television in their conference championship game.
Couple that with Nebraska’s punishing 63-38 defeat at the hands of Ohio State earlier this season, and, if nothing else, I would be nervous if I was the Capital One Bowl that Nebraska would get obliterated by the top-level SEC opponent they would face — likely Texas A&M or Georgia. Nebraska plain did not show up, and for the second time this season. If I was a bowl exec, I’d be terrified this could happen again in my game.
Last week, a member of our LTP community pointed out another factor going against Nebraska — they lost a lopsided Cap One Bowl just last season to South Carolina, 30-13. At that point, I thought the Capital One Bowl would still lean toward Nebraska if the Huskers lost on Saturday, but now with such a punishing defeat, I think the scales have tipped to Northwestern. NU has not been to Orlando since 1997, and is fired up to go back. And remember this – while Nebraska has now had their doors blown off twice this season, Northwestern was in every game they played this year, and just barely lost by 1 to Nebraska.
Going back to the criteria Robert Shelton, Executive Director of the Fiesta Bowl and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl shared with us, the one thing that changed here is “Fan excitement,” with a bit more weighting on the “bowl fatigue” factor. Could you imagine the mindset of a Nebraska fan right now? Would you want to hop a plane to Orlando and see that team play??? Even if Orlando is the Happiest Place on Earth? Especially if they were just there last year?
Another factor to consider, not that polls matter much at this juncture, but its a good data point – Northwestern outranks Nebraska in both the AP and Coaches polls that were released Sunday. Northwestern is No. 17 in the Coaches, No. 21 in the AP. Nebraska dropped to No. 21 Coaches and No. 23 AP. And a good side note for Northwestern – in the Coaches Poll, which does not include banned-from-postseason-play Ohio State, the Wildcats are the highest ranked Big Ten team. Michigan is five spots back of NU at No. 22. In the AP Poll, the Buckeyes are up to No. 3, and Michigan is two spots ahead of Northwestern at No. 19.
As for those of you saying “wait – the Cap One Bowl could select Michigan.” No, they cannot.
As we have detailed in depth a few times over the last week, the Cap One Bowl, by rule, cannot select an 8-4 Michigan squad over 10-3 Nebraska, because Michigan has two fewer wins than Nebraska. Both the conference and the Capital One Bowl publicly confirmed this last week. So, if Nebraska’s not the choice for the Capital One Bowl, it would have to be Northwestern. Of course, in the world of bowls, nothing is ever certain until its certain. But if the rules are followed, without any waivers or anything else, then Michigan has no chance at the Capital One Bowl.
Now, we all know bowls are nothing if not unpredictable. So, yes, there is a chance Cap One does take Nebraska. In that case, it would be up to the Outback Bowl to select between Michigan and Northwestern. Given what Teddy Greenstein reported earlier this week, I gotta think Outback would pick NU, unless they were just being overly polite in their description of the Wildcats.
CBS’ Jerry Palm posted his final projections late Saturday night, and he sees Northwestern indeed headed to Tampa for the Outback Bowl, ahead of Michigan, with Nebraska on its way to Orlando.
Based on my estimation, and the estimation of just about everybody out there, the lowest spot Northwestern could find itself is the Gator Bowl. The Orlando Sentinel projects Northwestern to Jacksonville, to take on Vanderbilt. I think that’s an unlikely scenario, as I just don’t see a bowl staging a Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt rematch. (Note that this is not the same Orlando Sentinel projection we’ve been following all along. This projection comes from Brant Parsons, their Digital Community Manager for sports. As of this writing very early Sunday morning, Matt Murschel, the Sentinel’s national college football writer we’ve been following for the last several weeks, has not yet posted updated projections. Recall that he was the only projector last week who picked NU to Capital One.)
Phil Steele updated his projections Sunday morning, and he too projects Northwestern to the Gator Bowl, against Mississippi State. He has Nebraska in the Capital One, Michigan in the Outback. He projected NU to Gator Bowl last week too, but he had Nebraska going to Rose Bowl and Wisconsin to Capital One, a scenario that we explained couldn’t happen (a 7-6 Wisconsin team could not have gone to Cap One over 9-3 NU).
On the Big Ten Network’s Big Ten Championship Game postgame show Saturday night, Tom Dienhart also placed Northwestern in the Gator, with Nebraska in the Capital One and Michigan in the Outback. Oddly, after sharing his picks, Dienhart then said “You could see Nebraska and Michigan get flipped there,” suggesting Michigan could wind up in the Capital One Bowl. So, either he misspoke, misread the rules, or knows something we don’t know about some kind of rules waiver or something else that would allow Michigan to trump Nebraska for the Capital One slot.
Big picture – just when we think there might be some kind of consensus and clarity emerging, it’s clear that nothing is clear.
Back to the Capital One Bowl, for whom I still think Northwestern is their most sensible pick… it appears Texas A&M is the favorite to represent the SEC. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reports Texas A&M to Orlando is pretty much a done deal.
Makes sense. There’s a fever in college football right now. Johnny Football Fever. And the only prescription? More Johnny Football. (h/t to this classic SNL skit for my inspiration on that line.) The Cap One Bowl cannot resist the opportunity to be the stage for Johnny Football’s glowing star. And who can blame them? I had originally thought the Cap One Bowl would still go with the SEC Championship Game loser, but the more I have seen and read, and the more I have thought about it, this pick makes a ton of sense and I cannot really argue with it that much.
One little curveball though, on the opponent, if indeed the Capital One Bowl feels compelled to take Northwestern over Nebraska. As Wildcats fans all remember, Northwestern played Texas A&M last year in a the Meineke Car Care Bowl. So, would the Capital One Bowl be resistant to stage a bowl game rematch, concerned fans might not be excited to travel to a matchup they saw just one year ago? It is possible, and if so, I would figure on Georgia here, but I think it is pretty unlikely. Johnny Football is such a draw, Texas A&M has never been to the Capital One Bowl, and Nebraska right now could not be lower, so, in trying to be totally objective, I think Northwestern vs. Texas A&M makes the most sense.
Plus, it sounds like Georgia may be headed elsewhere. Reports started circulating late Saturday that Georgia is Arlington-bound for the Cotton Bowl. (As an aside, this would actually be in conflict with the SEC’s bowl rules, which give the Outback Bowl first choice of SEC East teams after the Capital One Bowl makes their selection, if I am reading things correctly. The Cotton Bowl has first pick of SEC West teams. If I’m interpreting things correctly, the Outback Bowl would have to essentially yield their selection to the Cotton Bowl for this to happen, or the SEC would need to grant the Cotton Bowl some kind of waiver.)
However, Stewart Mandel tweeted early Sunday afternoon that there could be some last minute changes in SEC country…
(We’ve been having a periodic embedded tweet problem. If you see the words “There was a problem connecting to Twitter,” click on this link to see it -https://twitter.com/slmandel/status/275303921067646976)
When will we know for sure?
The Capital One Bowl tweeted earlier this week that they generally hold their announcements until after the 7:30 p.m. CT BCS Selection Show. That could change this year, so keep your ears and eyes open (and we will too). This final run up to the announcements can be a steady avalanche of information, so please let us know if you see or hear anything. We are posting this very late Saturday night/early Sunday morning. We will continue to update throughout the day as more projections are posted and as we gather more information.
We also want to ask you – Where do you think Northwestern is headed? We invite you to share you thoughts in the comments below.