The Bowl Page


'Cats Look to Keep Their Bowl Streak Rolling

**Final Preseason Projection Posted**

Northwestern enters the 2018 season with a two-bowl winning streak, and is in a good position to make a run at bowl win #3 in a row. The 'Cats are returning a solid set of linemen, a powerful defense, and an offensive backfield that is stocked, despite losing Justin Jackson. There is, of course, a giant question mark hovering over the quarterback spot: will Clayton Thorson be fully recovered from his serious ACL injury suffered during the Music City Bowl win?

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.

2017 Projection Recap

While 2016 was not a year for tight, stable, accurate projections, 2017 brought a return to form, and HTP's models held up fairly well.

HailToPurple's 2017 bowl projections began with the strongest opening odds of making it to the postseason that we've ever assigned to NU-- a whopping 90%. However, an early slump by the 'Cats dragged the odds down a bit, taking the probability down to a season-low 65%. From week six, however, the odds never again dipped below 80%, and the forecast tilted between Music City (NU's eventual destination) and Foster Farms.

August 12, 2018 Projection

The opening odds for 2018 are actually very similar to what they were in 2017: we are projecting an 89% chance of the 2018 team making the postseason (this year, unlike previous seasons, we did not post an April projection). While we aren't predicting a Big Ten 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:
  • NU's preseseason rankings.
  • The Wildcats' schedule. This is a very 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.
  • Injuries. No signs of significant injuries so far in 2018.
Based on the August probability models, we predict that NU will finish the regular season with six to eight wins. Depending on the outcome of the Purdue game, this model could change substantially:

Dropping to five wins (or less) appears very unlikely, and even if NU did finish with five wins, there is currently an 84% 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 is interesting this year. I think that NU and the B1G will lobby to get the 'Cats in a game on the West Coast. If NU's record allows, that game should be the Holiday Bowl. If NU is mid-pack, the game should be San Fran (the former Foster Farms).

The next update to the projections will be after the Purdue game.

Schedule of Possible Bowls, 2018-19

AND Schedule for the 2017 Big Ten Championship Game
(and Date)
(may change)
NU's Chances1
(as of 8/12/18)

West #1
vs. East #1
Big Ten Championship
Lucas Oil Stadium
Dec. 1, 2018
Fox 13%
Tier One
Big Ten #1

Playoff semifinal games:
Cotton - Dec. 29, 2018
Orange - Dec. 29
Rose (vs. Pac-12)
Jan. 1, 2019
Fiesta Bowl (at large)
Jan. 1

Peach Bowl (at large)
Dec. 29
Tier Two
Big Ten #2-4

Citrus Bowl (vs. SEC)
Jan. 1
[Orange Bowl is a semifinal game for 2018-19]
ABC 31%
Outback Bowl (vs. SEC)
Jan. 1
[Unlikely to select NU in 2018]
Holiday Bowl (vs. Pac-12)
Dec. 31

Tier Three2
Big Ten #5-7

Music City Bowl (vs. SEC)
Dec. 28
[Unlikely to select B1G in 2018]
ESPN 32%
TaxSlayer (aka Gator) (vs. SEC)
Dec. 31
[Likely to select B1G in 2017]
Pinstripe Bowl (vs. ACC)
Dec. 27
[Unlikely to select NU in 2018]
San Fran Bowl (vs. Pac-12)
Dec. 31
Tier Four2
Big Ten #8-9

Quick Lane Bowl (vs. ACC)
Dec. 26

ESPN 21%
Armed Forces Bowl (vs. MWC)
Dec. 22
[Won't select B1G]
Heart of Dallas (vs. Big 12 or C-USA)
Dec. 26
[Unlikely to select B1G]
At Large
Non-Aligned Bowl (including Frisco TX)
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 14 bowl appearances, bowl records, and other special games.