CAPITAL ONE BOWL
If Nebraska wins: If the Cornhuskers beat the Badgers, Northwestern has a 30 percent chance of going to Orlando. Insiders say the Capital One Bowl has a lot of interest in the Wildcats because when the team went there in 1997, about 21,000 fans made the trip to cheer on the Cats. The choice for the bowl would boil down to Michigan and NU, with the Wolverines being a more marquee name and having the head-to-head advantage. However, the Cats ended with a better record and have played some fairly entertaining bowl games in recent years.
If Wisconsin wins: If the Badgers knock off the Cornhuskers and win the Big Ten title, the Cats will have a 60 percent chance of going to Orlando. This may sound weird, given that NU only has a 30 percent chance if Nebraska wins, but here’s the deal: A Wisconsin win would make Nebraska available for the Capital One Bowl, which by rule means Michigan can’t be selected. The Wolverines have two fewer wins than the Cornhuskers, eliminating them from contention and leaving NU and Nebraska as the only choices. The Cornhuskers graced Orlando with their presence last season so the Cats have a chance to sneak in this year because the bowl committee might not want to take the same team two years in a row.
Potential Opponent: Now to the fun part of these projections: the opponents. The Capital One Bowl will get the first choice of any Southeastern Conference team after the Bowl Championship Series. That means the SEC title game loser, either Alabama or Georgia, should be available. Other possible selections are Louisiana State and Texas A&M, both of which are top-10 teams, but ineligible for the BCS assuming Florida and the SEC champion go to BCS bowls. All four of these opponents would pose significant challenges to the Cats as they search for their first bowl win since 1949.
If Nebraska wins: A Cornhuskers’ win would give the Cats a 70 percent chance of traveling to Tampa for the second time in four years. In this situation, Michigan would be off the board and headed to Orlando. No other team would be eligible for the Outback Bowl because they would not be within two wins of NU. In theory, the Big Ten can give the Outback Bowl a waiver to select Wisconsin as the championship game loser, but the Badgers at 7-6 would not be nearly as appealing as the Cats at 9-3. Besides, the Outback Bowl would love a game similar to what they saw in 2010, although NU would like to come out on top this time around.
If Wisconsin wins: A Badgers’ victory would virtually eliminate any chance the Cats have of going back to Tampa. The chance of NU going to the Outback Bowl after a Wisconsin win is a generous 5 percent, because this bowl would love nothing more than to welcome the Maize and Blue to Tampa. This situation would arise if Nebraska goes to the Capital One Bowl instead of NU, and the Outback Bowl would be left with either Michigan or NU as the choices. Michigan seems to be the more appealing candidate to the bowl, which would knock NU down another spot in the bowl pecking order.
Potential Opponent: This bowl is a lot trickier to predict because there are so many ways the bowls preceding is could pick. The Outback Bowl technically gets the second choice of SEC teams after the BCS, but they split that choice with the Cotton Bowl. Historically, the Outback Bowl has taken a team from the SEC East and the Cotton Bowl has taken from the SEC West, but there’s nothing written in stone. Assuming the SEC title game loser goes to Orlando, potential opponents in Tampa are LSU or Texas A&M — if the Outback Bowl takes the one the Cotton Bowl doesn’t take. South Carolina could also be the pick, especially if the bowl wants to pick a SEC East team. The Gamecocks would be an intriguing matchup for the Cats, but the Aggies and Tigers spell trouble out of the SEC West.
If Nebraska wins: If the Cornhuskers win the Big Ten, there is almost no chance the Cats go to Jacksonville. As mentioned above, the only way NU slips this far is if the Big Ten gives the Outback Bowl special permission to take Wisconsin and they actually take the 7-6 Badgers over the 9-3 Cats. If this were to happen, athletic director Jim Phillips would be extremely upset about the major blow to NU’s program.
If Wisconsin wins: If the Badgers win the Big Ten, NU stands a 35 percent chance at going to Jacksonville. This would happen if NU gets passed over by both the Capital One Bowl and Outback Bowl in favor of Nebraska and Michigan. The tricky part about this is the two-win rule, which does not apply to the Gator Bowl — so, in theory, NU could get jumped by a 6-6 Michigan State team. However, the chances of that happening are about as slim as NU going to the Gator Bowl if Nebraska wins, and the reaction would be the same, as well.
Potential Opponent: This is a much easier bowl to project because most of the difficult decisions will be made before the Gator Bowl picks its SEC team. The likely candidates are Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt, but one of them will be snatched up by the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which picks between the Outback and Gator bowls. NU almost certainly won’t play Vanderbilt because the two schools met on Sept. 8, a 23-13 Cats’ win. That leaves the Bulldogs and Gamecocks as possible candidates — and both are winnable games for the Cats.