Northwestern football coach Randy Walker has tried to avoid talking about his team’s bowl prospects all season. But he finally decided to discuss the issue at a team meeting this weekend as the bowl picture becomes clearer.
NU Director of Athletics Mark Murphy also weighed in.
"Realistically it’s probably between the Music City Bowl (Dec. 31 in Nashville, Tenn.) and the Motor City Bowl (Dec. 27 in Detroit)," Murphy said. "I doubt we would go to the Sun Bowl, but you never know."
The Wildcats must win their last two games, against Illinois and Hawaii, to become bowl eligible.
If the Cats (5-5, 4-3 Big Ten) finish 7-5, they could go to a Big Ten-affiliated bowl, a non-Big Ten bowl or no bowl at all.
Currently the Big Ten has six bowl-eligible teams: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio State and Purdue.
If NU and Michigan State qualify, the Big Ten will have eight bowl-eligible teams. Both NU and Michigan State (5-5, 4-3) play Big Ten bottom feeders in their conference closers — the Spartans face Penn State – and both teams finish the season at Hawaii.
The eighth Big Ten team would either go to a bowl not affiliated with the Big Ten or no bowl at all. (Eight teams qualified last year, and all played in bowls because two teams made it to BCS bowls.)
Murphy said he expects all eight teams would receive bowl invites and was optimistic the Cats would receive one of the seven Big Ten bids.
Murphy said the Chicago television market helps the Cats, as does NU’s fan attendance, which helped set a record at the Motor City Bowl last year with a crowd of 51,286.
With Wisconsin’s loss to Michigan State and Michigan’s perfect Big Ten record, the Wolverines have secured a share of the Big Ten title. As long as they beat Ohio State, they probably will go to the Rose Bowl. It would take a Wisconsin win and a Michigan loss for the Badgers to go to the Rose Bowl.
Murphy said he expects Purdue (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) and Ohio State (6-4, 3-4) to get the Texas bowls, the Alamo Bowl and the Sun Bowl, despite the speculation that NU could be invited to the Sun Bowl for a matchup with a Pac-10 team.
The situation is confusing, and the scenarios seem endless.
The Hawaii game has no possible benefit to NU. A win wouldn’t improve the Cats’ position because it wouldn’t count toward bowl eligibility, but a loss would count against the Cats’ bowl eligibility.
Walker explained all this to his team.
"He went through and said we can go 7-5 and not go to a bowl game, or we could go to a regular Big Ten bowl, or we could go to another conference bowl that didn’t fill out their bids," NU running back Noah Herron said. "He laid that out for us and said, ‘This is what’s at hand, but nothing matters unless we go 2-0.’"
The Cats go into the game against Illinois in the same situation they did last year: It’s a must-win if they want a postseason.
Reach Tania Ganguli at [email protected]