The Bowl Page


'Cats Look for First-Ever
Back-to-Back Bowl Wins

**April Projection Posted**

Northwestern, fresh off of a great win in New York at the Pinstripe Bowl, is returning much of its talent from 2016 and has a strong shot at heading back to a bowl this year. If NU can make it to the postseason, the team could achieve a second straight postseason win, which would be a first for NU.

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 two years running, and it means that a team need only go 6-6 to virtually guarantee a bowl game.

2016 Projection Recap

2016 was not a year for tight, stable, accurate projections. Whether it was the 2016 presidential election or postseason football picks, models broke down and projections were moot.

HailToPurple's 2016 bowl projections began with one of the strongest opening odds it has ever given to NU reaching a bowl, a commanding 82%. However, back-to-back losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State-- an all-time stunner of a loss-- sent the odds crashing to just over 7.5%. Our model could not reconcile both losses and account for a turnaround, and it over-adjusted, sending the odds closer to zero than it should have.

When the 'Cats got back on track with wins against Iowa and MSU, the odds returned to favorable for the postseason, and the win against Purdue brought the projection back to over 80%. It was, by far, the most dramatic projection movement in the 17 years that HTP has been posting them.

April 2017 Projection

While the 2016 opening odds were near the top, 2017 is officially over the top. HTP projects an 89% chance of the 2017 team making the postseason, the highest ever for our April projections. While we aren't predicting a Big Ten title (yet), we are confident that NU will make the required number of games to reach a bowl.

The initial models are based on:
  • NU's preseseason rankings. CFN, for example, has NU 35th in the nation this spring.
  • The Wildcats' schedule. NU will be favored over all three of its non-conference opponents, and should be favored over four of its conference foes (with two games likely being 50/50, and three games having NU as the underdog). With NU possibly being an underdog only to Wisconsin, MSU, and Nebraska, the schedule seems favorable.
  • Preseason team outlook. Thorson should be improved, and could be in the upper half of B1G quarterbacks. The running game remains solid. Both lines should be much better. The team seems in great shape.
Based on the April models, we predict that NU will finish the regular season with seven wins, and the likely range of wins is five to nine:

Dropping to five wins (or less) appears very unlikely, and even if NU did finish with five wins, there is currently a 63% 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 89%. The most likely destination: the Holiday Bowl.

The next update to the projections will be after Camp Kenosha in August.

Schedule of Possible Bowls, 2017-18

AND Schedule for the 2017 Big Ten Championship Game
(and Date-- dates may change through spring)
(may change)
NU's Chances1
(as of 4/9/17)

West #1
vs. East #1
Big Ten Championship
Lucas Oil Stadium
Dec. 2, 2017
Tier One
Big Ten #1

Playoff semifinal game:
Rose Bowl - Jan. 1, 2018
Sugar Bowl - Jan. 1
Orange Bowl (vs. ACC)
Dec. 30
Fiesta Bowl (at large)
Dec. 30

Peach Bowl
Jan. 1
Cotton Bowl
Dec. 29
Tier Two
Big Ten #2-4

Citrus Bowl (vs. SEC)
Jan. 1
[If Orange Bowl does not select B1G]
ABC 32%
Outback Bowl (vs. SEC)
Jan. 1
Holiday Bowl (vs. Pac-12)
Dec. 27

Tier Three2
Big Ten #5-7

Music City Bowl (vs. SEC)
[Unlikely to select B1G]
ESPN 29%
TaxSlayer (aka Gator) (vs. SEC)
[Likely to select B1G in 2017]
Pinstripe Bowl (vs. ACC)

Foster Farms Bowl (vs. Pac-12)
Tier Four2
Big Ten #8-9

Quick Lane Bowl (vs. ACC)
Dec. 26

ESPN 23%
Armed Forces Bowl (vs. MWC)
Heart of Dallas (vs. Big 12 or C-USA)
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 13 bowl appearances, bowl records, and other special games.