Commentary: Post-Thanksgiving Weekend NU Bowl Update
by Jonathan Hodges

Northwestern (9-3, 5-3) couldn't have asked for much more this past weekend as Oregon pasted Oregon State to open up the Rose Bowl for USC and thereby restricting the Pac-10 to just one BCS bowl representative (assuming USC beats UCLA this Saturday - they are currently favored by 30.5 points and face a struggling UCLA offense who just gave up 4 turnover return TDs to Arizona State).  This virtually assures the Big Ten 2 BCS bowl representatives - the at-large selection being Ohio State (who will likely be selected over Boise State, Ball State, and TCU for the final at-large spot).  The BCS bowl matchups are officially announced on FOX next Sunday (Dec. 7) at 7PM, but here is how the slate appears to be filled out (10 bids total - 4 BCS games + National Championship):

National Championship
- SEC Champion (Florida or Alabama)
- Big XII (Oklahoma as conference champion or Texas as at-large)
Conference Champions
- USC (Pac-10): Rose
- Penn State (Big Ten): Rose
- Cincinnati (Big East)
- ACC Champion (Virginia Tech or Boston College)
Non-BCS Conference Automatic Bid
- Utah (Mountain West)
At-large Bids
- SEC (Florida/Alabama loser)
- Big XII (Texas at-large or Missouri as conference champion)
Remaining Bid
- Ohio State/Boise State/Ball State/TCU: OSU will likely get the nod over 3 non-BCS conference teams with decidedly smaller fan bases.

Assuming that the BCS plays out as predicted above (which is likely given the current BCS standings and opponents for the top teams this coming weekend), next up are the Big Ten bowls, which have been discussed in detail at the HTP Bowls page and my previous commentaries.  This assumes that MSU will be selected for the Capital One bowl, despite the fact that both NU and Iowa are technically in the running as they are within one win of the Spartans, but MSU has a better conference record and defeated both teams (and has a hungry fan base to boot).  Also, we are assuming that the Outback and Alamo Bowls do not select Wisconsin and Minnesota (remember, they no longer have any restrictions given that the conference has 2 teams in the BCS and there are enough Big Ten bowl slots to accomodate all eligible conference teams), which is extremely unlikely (considering Minnesota is the Big Ten team traditionally picked last - even behind NU).  There are basically three scenarios that can befall Northwestern assuming the above plays out as listed above:

Scenario 1: NU to Outback

This would mean that the 'Cats got selected over Iowa, which appears to be their biggest competitor.  As noted on HTP's bowl page, there are numerous arguments that should give NU the edge, most importantly: merit, as NU has a better overall record AND a head-to-head victory over Iowa in Iowa City this season.  Other arguments include the fact that NU is ranked in all major polls and the BCS, while Iowa remains unranked, and the fact that NU has traveled well to every bowl it has been to and pumps a lot of money into the local economy surrounding that bowl.  Also, Iowa has been to the Outback Bowl in 2 of the past 6 seasons; NU has never been there and has most recently been to Florida following the 1996 season (Orlando).  One more note is that the only Big Ten school that has had its team "passed over" in bowl selection (within the past decade) for a team with fewer wins is Minnesota (when the Outback picked OSU over NU in 2000, the two teams had the same overall records, although NU had a better conference record and won a co-championship).  In the end, though, it could go either way and nobody will really know for sure until next Sunday.

Scenario 2: NU to Alamo

If the Outback passes over NU for Iowa, the Alamo will have a very difficult time selecting either Wisconsin or Minnesota over NU, given that the 'Cats have 2 more overall wins than both of them, although technically the Alamo could pick any eligible Big Ten team (see the rules laid out in my previous analysis).  While previous reports had the Alamo Bowl concentrating on Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota (the first 2 in particular), a recent report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has quoted the president and CEO of the Alamo Bowl as saying, "Going from a 9-3 team to a 7-5 . . . that might be a little bit steep," which infers that it is very unlikely that it would pass on the 'Cats if NU is indeed left out of the Outback.  He goes on to say that "From 8-4 to 7-5 is just one game so that is certainly reachable." which means that picking 8-4 Iowa over NU is in the realm of possibilities - but if they have already been taken by the Outback, NU would be a likely choice here.

Scenario 3: NU to Champs Sports

Given the quotes straight from the head of the Alamo Bowl, it seems highly unlikely that the 'Cats will fall to this point, but it is conceivable if the Alamo does pick Wisconsin (which they, again, can do under the scenario described above).  If just NU and Minnesota are left on the board at this point, the Champs must select NU, and quotes from insiders suggest that the Champs Sports Bowl would be more than willing to select the Wildcats if this situation comes up.

When will the picks occur?

Given that the results of games on Saturday, December 6 directly affect the BCS scenario (i.e. USC must defeat UCLA for the scenario above to occur, even if they are heavy favorites), most bowl announcements will be held off until Sunday, December 7 after the BCS pairings are announced.  Also there is the possibility that the final remaining BCS at-large berth could go to Boise State, Ball State, or TCU over Ohio State (even though that is unlikely).  So, the Big Ten bowls will be forced to hold off on their decisions until they know which teams are available for their respective bowls.  Some information may leak out earlier on Sunday, but don't expect anything official until the evening around 8PM when ESPN has its bowl announcement special directly following the BCS show on FOX.  After that, it'll be a mad dash to the online travel sites to book those tickets.

Again, what's great is that Northwestern has put itself in a position to be a prime contender for a January 1 bowl slot and has locked up a warm weather destination.  While it would be nice to get to the most prestigious bowl possible, no matter where the 'Cats end up they'll have a chance to do something only one other NU team has ever done: win that game.

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.