The Bowl Page


'Cats Look to Keep Their Bowl Streak Rolling

**Spring Projection Posted**

Northwestern enters the 2019 season with a three-bowl winning streak, and is in a good position to make a run at victory #4. The 'Cats have veteran lines, a solid defense, and second-year powder keg Isaiah Bowser. They need to replace Clayton Thorson at quarterback, no small feat-- Thorson holds most key school records for the position. The logical frontrunner is five-star Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson, a 6-foot, two-inch, 207-pound quarterback who specializes in surgical-precision passes. However, Johnson has yet to throw a pass in an actual college football game (the only Wildcat who has yet done so is T.J. Green). Johnson, Green, Andrew Marty, Jason Whittaker, and Aidan Smith are all on the roster, and all are  possibly in the mix for the QB role. Who gets that spot, and how he responds and performs in the early part of the season, will determine much of how NU does in 2019.

This year's postseason slate is similar to the one introduced in 2014, when the Big Ten bowl tiers were installed. As noted elsewhere, after initially stating that there would be a formal tier system, the Big Ten backed off of the idea, and the tiers are more of a guide. Nevertheless, there are significant differences in quality between tiers, and very little difference within a given tier.
Because of this structure, stopped predicting NU's chances for each individual bowl.  Instead, we  forecast in which tier NU will land (see below).

The 2014 arrangement involves 11 different bowl games that rotate to fill nine spots per year.  Nine landing places for the conference is a record for the B1G. When we add to that the possibility of the Big Ten filling multiple "New Year's Six" bowl games, it becomes clear that the conference will likely have fewer qualified teams than bowl slots. This has been the case for three years running, and it means that a team need only go 6-6 to virtually guarantee a bowl game.

2018 Projection Recap

HailToPurple's 2018 bowl projections began and ended fairly accurately, picking NU for the Holiday Bowl, the team's eventual destination. However, we faltered in the middle, losing some confidence after the stunning loss to Akron. The lowest point for our predictions came two weeks later, when the 'Cats fell to Michigan, taking their record down to 1-3. Even then, the HTP odds for making it to a bowl stayed above 50% (at 56.5%), but we dropped the most likely destination to Detroit. The victory over Michigan State righted the ship for both the team and our forecasts:

Initial April 2019 Projection

The opening odds for 2019 are actually rather consistent with the past two years: we are projecting an 85% chance of the 2019 team making the postseason. While we aren't predicting another West title (yet), we are very confident that NU will make the required number of games to reach a bowl.

The initial models are based on:

  • The Wildcats' schedule. This is a challenging schedule, but HTP thinks that NU will win most of the games in which it is favored, and should pick up a couple of upsets.
  • Preseason team outlook. We're cautiously optimistic about the QB situation. Even so, expect to drop a game that NU might have taken with a four-year starting QB.
  • Injuries. No signs of significant injuries so far in 2019.
Based on the too-early April probability models, we predict that NU will finish the regular season with seven wins. NU's performance vs. Stanford will likely move this model a lot:

Dropping to five wins (or less) appears unlikely, and even if NU did finish with five wins, there is currently a 74% chance that the 'Cats would still make it to a bowl. Detailed bowl odds are below.

HTP NU Bowl Projections

As mentioned, the current odds of NU returning to a bowl game are 85%. The most likely destination seems oddly clear-cut: the TaxSlayer (Gator) Bowl is in the heart of the third tier of bowls, it is a nice destination, and it has been several years since NU has been to Jacksonville. The Music City and Pinstripe Bowls have hosted NU more recently, and RedBox is on the West Coast, which is where NU played in last year's Holiday Bowl. This leaves the Gator as the most likely spot. Of course, this will likely change as we get into the season.

The next update to the projections will be right before the season opener in August.

Schedule of Possible Bowls, 2018-19

AND Schedule for the 2017 Big Ten Championship Game
(and Date)
(may change)
NU's Chances1
(as of 4/14/19)

West #1
vs. East #1
Big Ten Championship
Lucas Oil Stadium
Dec. 7, 2019
Fox 19%
Tier One
Big Ten #1

Playoff semifinal games:
Fiesta - Dec. 28, 2018
Peach - Dec. 28
Rose (vs. Pac-12)
Jan. 1, 2020
Orange Bowl (at large)
Jan. 1

Cotton Bowl (at large)
Dec. 28
Tier Two
Big Ten #2-4

Citrus Bowl (vs. SEC)
Jan. 1
[for 2019, B1G will either place in Citrus or Orange]
ABC 21%
Outback Bowl (vs. SEC)
Holiday Bowl (vs. Pac-12)
[Will not select NU in 2019]
Tier Three2
Big Ten #5-7

Music City Bowl (vs. SEC)
[Unlikely to select B1G in 2019]
ESPN 43%
TaxSlayer (aka Gator) (vs. SEC)
[Likely to select B1G in 2019]
Pinstripe Bowl (vs. ACC)
[Unlikely to select NU in 2019]
Redbox Bowl (vs. Pac-12)
Tier Four2
Big Ten #8-9

Quick Lane Bowl (vs. ACC)

ESPN 16%
Armed Forces Bowl (vs. MWC)
[Likely to select B1G in 2019]
First Responders Bowl (vs. Big 12 or C-USA)
Dec. 26
[Unlikely to select B1G in 2019]
At Large
Non-Aligned Bowl
n/a <1%


1. The likelihood of each bowl is a simple projection by  The likelihood numbers are additive.  So, if for instance the chance for a tier three bowl is given as 10%, that should NOT be read as saying that NU has only a 10% chance of making any bowl at that level or higher.  To calculate that likelihood, simply add all the chances above tier three to it.  The sum of all the listed chances equals the projected likelihood that NU will make any bowl game in 2016.  When adding, remember not to include the likelihood for the Big Ten championship game, since its chances overlap with the other postseason games.  During the season, this list will change after each game.
2. There are more bowl games in these tiers than there are Big Ten team slots.  It is likely that a Big Ten team will not be chosen for both the Music City and Gator Bowls in a given year (in 2017, the B1G will likely play in the Gator Bowl, not the Music City Bowl).  This is also the case with the Heart of Dallas Bowl and the Armed Forces Bowl, which will try to alternate B1G selections.


Northwestern Bowl History

Select a link to view details about NU's 15 bowl appearances, bowl records, and other special games.