Predicting Northwestern's bowl game

    With seven wins under their belts, the Northwestern Wildcats (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) have guaranteed a berth in one of college football’s plethora of bowl games come December or January. While it’s far too early to say which bowl Northwestern will play in, NBN Sports takes a look at where the ‘Cats could end up when all is said and done.

    Rose Bowl (Big Ten No.1 vs. Pac-12 No.1),
    Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Ca.

    Nicknamed the "granddaddy of them all," the Rose Bowl is one of college football’s most prestigious and historic bowl games. First played in 1902, it is held in the stadium of the same name as part of Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses.

    The Rose Bowl has been played on New Year’s Day annually since 1916 and Northwestern has represented the Big Ten twice in it: in 1949 (Northwestern 20, Cal 14) and in 1996 (Southern California 41, Northwestern 31).

    To return to the Rose Bowl, Northwestern needs to win its Big Ten division and then the Big Ten Championship Game. Unfortunately, part of this path can’t be paved by the ‘Cats alone.

    Northwestern is third in its division with a 3-2 conference record. Nebraska and Michigan are ahead in the standings, tied at 3-1. For the ‘Cats to win the division, they must win their last three games of the season against Michigan (5-3, 3-1), Michigan St. (5-4, 2-3) and Illinois (2-6, 0-4). Nebraska must also lose two more games and Michigan needs to lose to another team besides Northwestern.

    Needless to say, it’s not likely that Northwestern will even get the chance to play in Pasadena – but it’s not impossible either.

    Capital One Bowl (Big Ten No.2 vs. SEC No.2),
    Jan. 1 in Orlando, Fla.

    The Big Ten's runner-up would play the SEC's second-best team in the Capital One Bowl, which would be Northwestern’s next best landing spot. 

    The Wildcats' path to Orlando is the just about the same as their path to Pasadena, but in this case it would lose the Championship game. For the same reasons, it’s not likely for Northwestern to end up here either.

    Outback Bowl (Big Ten No.3 vs. SEC No.3-4),
    Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla.

    The Outback Bowl is the best bowl Northwestern can qualify for completely on its own merit. To finish third in the Big Ten, the Wildcats need to win their remaining games or finish with a better conference record than Michigan. This includes beating Michigan, so both teams would have a 6-2 conference record (assuming Michigan loses no other game). Since Northwestern would have beaten Michigan, the 'Cats would take third place.

    If Northwestern finishes third in the conference and the SEC standings stay the same, the ‘Cats would play either No. 5 Louisiana St. or No. 6 Georgia, which makes a bowl win highly unlikely.

    Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Big Ten No.4 vs. Big 12 No.4),
    Dec. 29, Tempe, Ariz. 

    OR Gator Bowl (Big Ten No.4-5 vs. SEC No.6),
    Jan. 1, Jacksonville, Fla.

    To finish fourth in the conference, Northwestern would need to win against Michigan St. and Illinois, but fall to Michigan. This would land the 'Cats in either the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl or the Bowl.

    In this situation, NU would have also clinched fifth place in the conference. Both Indiana and Minnesota can finish off with the same 5-3 conference record as Northwestern would have in this situation, but since the 'Cats beat both of them, a berth in the Gator Bowl would be all theirs.

    The situation gets more complicated if A) Northwestern beats Michigan and Illinois, but not Michigan St. and B) if Michigan St. also beats Minnesota at the end of the season. However, the Wildcats will almost certainly end up in one of these two games barring the aforementioned craziness.

    Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (Big Ten No.6 vs. Big 12 No.6),
    Dec. 28, Houston, Tx.

    Northwestern fell to Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas 33-22 last New Year’s Eve, but it doesn’t seem likely the ‘Cats will be coming back.

    Right now, it looks like either Michigan St. or Indiana (3-5, 1-3) would represent the conference in the bowl, assuming that both teams win enough games to stay bowl eligible. Indiana has already lost to Northwestern, and while Michigan St. has played some of the best teams in the conference quite closely, the Spartans match up poorly against Northwestern.

    The farther down the standings you go, the harder to predict the outcome. But barring a major collapse, it’s not likely Northwestern will end up any lower than fifth in the conference.

    Irresponsibly Early Prediction:

    Northwestern looked great against Iowa last week, but Michigan is a tough team to beat and the ‘Cats have struggled in inhospitable environments (like Penn State and home against Nebraska) this year. There are few stadiums in college football as hard on visiting teams as The Big House, so it’s hard to see Northwestern winning if Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson is healthy.

    Northwestern should beat Michigan St. and decimate a miserable Illinois squad, giving them a 9-3, 5-3 record, No. 4 ranking in the Big Ten and a trip to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

    Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Northwestern (No. 4 Big Ten) vs. Texas Tech (No. 4 Big 12)


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