Commentary: Bowl Update (One Week Remaining)
by Jonathan Hodges

I will continue to offer various scenarios and what needs to happen to send the 'Cats to a higher profile bowl.

1. Illinois vs. Northwestern

Priority one for the 'Cats should be to take care of business against the Illini in this week's important rivalry game.  There is no reason to overlook Illinois and Fitz should know it's time to pull out all of the stops as NU seeks to recapture the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk, which Illinois retook last season after a 4 season stint in Evanston.  Illinois, at 5-6, will be fighting for their collective bowl life as they need to reach 6-6 to even become eligible, and then hope that the Big Ten does get that second BCS spot so that they can slip into Detroit.  They have been an incredibly schizophrenic team this season (more on that in the game preview), so they have dangerous aspects, although they have made plenty of mistakes to counter that.

With a win, NU's record would increase to 9-3, and would guarantee that the 'Cats could slip no further than Champs Sports Bowl in a worst-case scenario, and would likely end up in the Outback Bowl (best-case) or, more likely, the Alamo Bowl.  This would also lock Illinois out of the postseason and would give the Big Ten 7 bowl eligible teams (and, if the conference gets 2 teams into the BCS, keep the Big Ten's slot in the Motor City Bowl vacant).  It will be a tough test, though, and NU must lay it all on the field against Illinois to boost its chances.

2. Goal: 2 Big Ten teams in the BCS

2A. Michigan vs. OSU

Ohio State needs to take care of business against a 3-8 Michigan squad in Columbus to stay squarely in the mix for a BCS bowl - as the Big Ten representative in the Rose Bowl with an MSU win or a potential at-large team with an PSU win.  If they get upset by their longstanding rival, then the chances of the Big Ten getting 2 teams in falls by the wayside (meanwhile, non-BCS conference teams like Boise State, BYU, and Utah are all rooting for the upset as they would likely seal up a second spot for a non-BCS team with an OSU loss).

2B. MSU vs. PSU

The result of this game won't end up meaning a whole lot because if Penn State wins, they'll go to the Rose Bowl and leave OSU in a good position for an at large BCS bid.  If MSU pulls off the upset, OSU will get the Rose Bowl nod (assuming an OSU win) while the Spartans will likely be in the top 14 of the BCS standings and be in a good position to grab an at-large BCS bid.  A Penn State win would be clearer, but in the end it may not matter.

2C. USC and Oregon State

The 10 BCS spots likely break down as follows, remembering that conferences are limited to 2 berths each, and the automatic bid for a non-BCS team only applies to one such team:

2 slots: SEC
2 slots: Big XII
1 slot each: ACC, Big East, Pac 10, Big Ten
1 slot: non-BCS conference
1 slot open

The key for that last spot remaining open is USC winning out (against Notre Dame and UCLA, which is likely) and Oregon State losing a game (against Arizona and Oregon, a toss-up).  The key is that Oregon State beat USC head-to-head, and they have the same current conference record, which would give the Beavers of Oregon St. the Rose Bowl automatic bid over USC, and USC, currently ranked #6, would be almost assured of a BCS at-large bid.  If Oregon State loses, they would be knocked out and the spot would remain free.

If that occurs, the BCS bowl with the open slot would have to decide between a second non-BCS conference team, such as Boise State, and a Big Ten team, such as Ohio State or Michigan State - see scenarios above.  The fact is that, despite on-field success, teams like Boise State don't hold a candle to Ohio State when looking at money - there are many more OSU fans who will pack the stadium, hotels, restaraunts, and attractions, likely giving the Big Ten team the edge.  The Big Ten is, of course, benefitting from the rule that a conference can send a maximum of 2 teams and the fact that the SEC and Big XII currently occupy 8 of the top 14 BCS positions but can send only 4 teams to BCS games.

With the season not coming to a close until December 6 and the BCS games not being announced until December 7, this question may remain unclear until that evening.

3. Iowa vs. Minnesota

Both teams stand at 7-4, one game back of Northwestern in the standings, so the winner would remain within the one game requirement to "jump" the 'Cats for a bowl bid, while the loser would, by rule, fall behind NU in the bowl pecking order (again, assuming a Wildcat victory over Illinois - which is why a win this week is vital).  A Minnesota win here would be best for NU's chances since they are the only bowl eligible Big Ten team that rivals NU in terms of "not traveling well," while Iowa would almost definitely jump the 'Cats given that they will travel virtually anywhere to watch their team play in droves (or at least that's the reputation).  Even then, it is unclear how the bowl would sway in picking NU vs. either of these teams, although NU owns a head-to-head victory over both.  Remember that bowls are all about the money, and it will come down to a lot of campaigning spearheaded by NU AD Jim Phillips to duke it out with these squads.


If everything goes right (NU wins, Big Ten gets 2 into BCS games, and Minnesota upsets Iowa while the highest available bowl decides to pick NU over the Gophers), the 'Cats could end up in Tampa for the Outback Bowl.  If some combination of good and bad scenarios occur, NU could fall to either the Alamo or Champs Sports Bowls, while a worst case scenario (where everything goes wrong) could send NU to the Insight.  The Motor City Bowl is still technically possible, if multiple bowls pass over the 'Cats, but sports a very small likelihood (and would be one of the biggest "screw jobs" in history).  In any case, Northwestern should be happy that it has locked up a bowl bid and has all but secured a warm weather destination - and right now the goal is to beat Illinois to increase those hopes even further.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

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jhodges is the primary content provider of HailToPurple.com.  His commentary and game analyses appear regularly during the season and occasionally in the offseason.