The Motor City Bowl may not sound like the sexiest option for NU football, but making a low-level bowl game isn’t all despair and ESPN2 coverage. Playing in a low-level such as the Motor City Bowl still rakes in a $750,000 payout, not to mention exposure, for the school. After Northwestern’s last Rose Bowl, the school saw the highest number of applicants ever. The Motor City Bowl has got to inspire somebody, right? Northwestern is one of ten out of 11 Big-10 bowl-eligible schools and, with only seven bowl spots left open, this Saturday’s football action will determine who plays in December and who waits for spring practices.
Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin and Illinois are locks for bowls, leaving only two guaranteed spots for the Big Ten. NU has a shot at one, a lot will need to happen to guarantee an appearance in a low-level bowl next month. The Wildcats have to beat in-state rival Illinois, and hope that a myriad of other events will happen by the end of Saturday.
NU can kick back and relax until December if everything goes their way; that is, if every team posing a threat to the squad’s bowl dreams goes down Saturday, NU just has to beat the Illini and they will be virtually guaranteed a spot in the Motor City Bowl. Perhaps maybe even a slightly higher bowl (Insight Bowl anybody?) might be in the cards. In a football season seeing a boat-load of upsets, this could very well happen.
Unfortunately, having everything go perfectly for NU isn’t likely to happen. Purdue pounding Indiana is possible, and would eliminate the Hoosiers from contention. Penn State definitely has the edge against Michigan State. And Iowa losing to crappy MAC team Western Michigan in Iowa City? Uhhhh, don’t bank on that. Still, Purdue would scoop up one bowl bid, while the last spot (most likely the Motor City Bowl) would be a toss-up between NU and Iowa. Consider the considerations going into the bowl decision: the Hawkeyes may be historically respected, but Northwestern would actually have an edge. Chicago is closer to Detroit than Iowa City, but more importantly, Wildcat fans would be excited about a Motor City appearance, while Iowa supporters would be let down by such a mediocre bid for a team accustomed to New Year’s Day bowl appearances.
You think a win against Illinois is all it takes for Northwestern to sneak into postseason action? Nope, not if Michigan State stuns the Nittany Lions in East Lansing. The Spartans would go 7-5, the same as the ‘Cats, but would be the obvious choice for the Motor City Bowl. They could pack Ford Field completely with fans since MSU is only an hour away from Detroit. Besides beating the Illini, Michigan State has to lose or the Wildcats can just free up December now.
If Northwestern loses to the Fighting Illini, the season’s done. The ‘Cats need seven wins in the uber-competitive Big Ten to get consideration, especially if Iowa or Indiana can somehow win. Can NU beat Illinois? Logic screams “no,” especially after Illinois punked the number one Ohio State Buckeyes last weekend. But don’t lose hope yet. The Wildcats, when consistent, have a very talented team that matches up well with the Illini. The ‘Cats shut down Indiana’s scrambling QB this week, and Illinois’ Juic Williams is of a similar calibre. And, as cliche as it is, rivalry games always even the playing field, even if the NU-Illinois contention isn’t remotely as fierce as OSU-Michigan. Plus, this isn’t a must win for Illinois. The ‘Cats have something to play for here.
What happens if Michigan State steals the Motor City Bowl, or the selection committees opt for Iowa or Indiana over us? Northwestern would still have a shot at postseason play. Bowls set up deals with conferences to host their teams (That’s why the Rose Bowl usually has a Pac-10 and Big Ten showdown.), but if not enough teams in a conference are bowl eligible, those bowls can choose any at-large team to play in their game. NU can hope a conference doesn’t fill up it’s bowl quota, and sneak in. Northwestern should keep its collective fingers crossed that Kansas State, UCLA, Oklahoma State, Memphis and Southern Mississippi lose out, which would mean more bowl spots. Don’t bank on this one, though; even if a team can’t make it, the bowl’s can choose any team in the country to play. Why in the world would they want NU in the Texas Bowl instead of, say, anyone from the SEC?
So, pray that Michigan State, Indiana and Iowa collapse, and that NU destroys the Illini. A lot needs to happen for the ‘Cats to become bowl bound, but if NU has proven anything this year, it’s that nothing is ever certain.