Commentary: Bowl Snub is a Bowl Opportunity
by Jonathan Hodges

The Outback Bowl (January 1st, Tampa, FL) passing over 9-3 #23 Northwestern for 8-4 (unranked) Iowa is indeed troubling, especially considering that NU beat the Hawkeyes in Iowa City earlier this year and by all accounts deserved the nod over Iowa on any measure of merit.  Northwestern fans began getting riled up after the first bowl projections were released and had Iowa "jumping" NU for the New Year's Day bowl bid based on size of their "fan base" alone.  And this makes the second time that the Outback Bowl has passed on NU; the first being in 2000 when the bowl skipped the Big Ten co-Champion Wildcats for an Ohio State squad (albeit with the same overall record).  Wildcat fans are undoubtedly upset by this "snub" and for good reason - there is obviously a pecking order in bowl selection and the 'Cats got "dissed" in favor of a team that they defeated on the field of play.

Of course, Northwestern isn't the only one that is feeling down about the bowls this season - one doesn't have to look far away from NU's bowl destination, in Austin, to find a Texas team locked out of their own conference championship game and a chance at the national title in favor of a team that they defeated on a neutral field (Oklahoma) - and being kept out of the national championship game is far more troubling than ending up in San Antonio rather than Tampa.  Also, Northwestern's Alamo Bowl opponent, 9-4 #21 Missouri was passed over by the Gator Bowl (also on January 1) in favor of 8-4 (unranked) Nebraska, who the Mizzou Tigers defeated earlier in the year.  Sound familiar?  The parallels continue.

The fact that both teams were "passed over" and ended up in the Alamo Bowl actually set up what may be a more desireable matchup of ranked teams with 9 wins than where they would have ended up in those respective January 1 bowls.  The Gator Bowl opponent from the ACC is 7-5 Clemson, undoubtedly a disappointing team in 2008 (including the firing of 10-year head coach Tommy Bowden), while the Outback Bowl opponent from the SEC is 7-5 South Carolina, also a disappointing team as they lost to every ranked opponent that they faced (and coincidentally lost to Clemson to close out the 2008 regular season, essentially locking them into their current bowl fates).  NU and Missouri, both ranked and with 9 wins, would likely have no real motivating factor if they had landed in those New Year's Day games: they would both likely have been favored and if they had won, nothing would have been proven.  Instead, these teams now have something to play for on a national stage.

This bowl season (34 bowls), there are only 10 matchups featuring 2 ranked teams, and 5 of those are in BCS bowl games.  So the Alamo Bowl presents a unique matchup, as it's one of only 5 non-BCS games with 2 ranked opponents - and also presents an interesting regional matchup between a Big Ten and a Big XII team.  It will be a spotlight game on Monday evening, Dec. 29th, one day after the conclusion of the NFL regular season, and won't be lost in a post New Year's Day partying haze.  And, of course, the destination of San Antonio is a desirable one and should be nice and warm (temperatures into the 70s in December) and be a fun time.  The prize will be a likely top 20 ranking at the conclusion of the season, and buzz heading into 2009.

While NU fans should be upset at the Outback Bowl for passing on NU for, by all accounts of merit, a lesser team, they should be glad that this decision gave them an opportunity to face a better opponent on the field and will give NU a chance to prove something in this, it's final game of the 2008 season.  No, it's not a January 1 game, but the Alamo Bowl will be a "spotlight" game and won't have to share the stage with parades, other games, and hangovers.  So, for Northwestern fans, it's time to move on from the complaining and focus on a tough bowl opponent, the Missouri Tigers, and what should be an entertaining matchup on December 29.

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.