Commentary: Bowl Possibilities Summary
by Jonathan Hodges

For Northwestern to guarantee itself a bowl bid this weekend (e.g. one of the available Big Ten slots since no "at-large" bid is guaranteed even if Northwestern ends up with a winning record), the following events must occur:

- Northwestern beats Illinois.

AND 3 of the 4 following items:

- Penn State beats Michigan State.
- Purdue beats Indiana.
- Western Michigan beats Iowa.
- Michigan beats Ohio State, OSU remains in the top 14 of the BCS standings, and OSU is selected for an at-large BCS berth (which would be helped out with a Hawaii loss, whose toughest remaining game is against Boise State).

This is due to the fact that 6 Big Ten teams have already secured at least a winning record (5 of them have 8 wins or more, Purdue has 7).  Meanwhile, Iowa, Michigan State, Indiana, and NU all have 6-5 records going into the final game of their seasons, with none playing each other.  The bowl selection rules are pretty open, but there are certain restrictions which are as follows:

1) The automatic BCS qualifier is given its spot in a BCS bowl followed by any at-large BCS team selected (9 wins minimum, within top 14 of the BCS; note only two teams total are allowed to be selected for BCS games per conference which could help the Big Ten's cause to get a second team in).
2) The bowls with contractual spots per conference are given out in the selection order, although the bowls are not required to select teams in the order of the conference standings.  Teams with a winning record MUST be selected before teams with a 6-6 record (although it doesn't necessarily matter where the teams with a winning record go as long as they are guaranteed a spot - this is how last year 6-6 Iowa ended up at the Alamo Bowl which had a higher pick than the Insight Bowl, which ended up with 7-5 Minnesota).
3) Only if a contractual bowl spot for that conference remains after all teams with winning records within that conference are selected may teams with a 6-6 record from that conference be selected.  Any open spot only becomes an "at-large" spot if there are not enough teams with 6-6 records or better within that conference to fill the slot (although some bowls have secondary agreements to bring in a team from a difference conference in case of too few bowl eligible teams from the primary conference, e.g. the Motor City Bowl has a backup agreement with the Big East to bring in a bowl eligible team if the Big Ten does not have enough eligible teams).
4) If no bowl eligible teams remain from the contractual conference(s) remain, then the bowl may select any available team with a winning record.
5) Finally, if no teams with winning records remain and a bowl spot is still open, any 6-6 team may be selected.

Note that last year, which also had a 12 game schedule, every 7-5 team went to a bowl (e.g. 7-5 NIU to the Poinsettia Bowl), although there were 6-6 teams from BCS conferences left at home during bowl season.  So, basically, to even get in the bowl discussion NU must win its last game - especially considering that basically every other Big Ten bowl eligible team is more attractive to bowls than NU (the only team that a bowl would conceivable pass over for NU is Minnesota, who has been out of the bowl discussion for some time).

While Northwestern needs help to guarantee itself a spot, there will almost definitely be available "at-large" spots, for which NU (as a Big Ten team) would be an attractive team given that the 'Cats win their last game and get to 7-5.

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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