Football: Northwestern’s bowl destination remains up in the air


Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Tyler Lancaster celebrates with the Land of Lincoln trophy after Northwestern’s 42-7 victory over Illinois. The Wildcats will learn their bowl destination on Sunday.

Ben Pope, Reporter


Northwestern’s regular season is over, but the team and its fans will have to wait another week before finding out exactly where the Wildcats will be playing postseason football.

The nationwide slate of bowl games for 2017-18 will be announced after the culmination of Saturday’s conference championship games. In the Big Ten, a Wisconsin championship would send the Badgers to the four-team College Football Playoff, while an Ohio State championship could possibly deny the Big Ten a playoff representative — a result that would have ramifications all the way down to NU.

Bowl games used to choose teams from each conference in a predetermined order, but that concrete process has been replaced by a more dynamic one, athletic director Jim Phillips told The Daily earlier this month. Now, teams are selected by bowls based on a variety of factors, including how recently a team last played in a particular bowl.

If the Big Ten gets three teams (Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State) into the Playoff and the other so-called New Year’s Six bowls, which is the most likely outcome, then NU (9-3, 7-2 Big Ten) and Michigan State (9-3, 7-2) will probably, in some order, be the next two teams selected from the conference.

The Cats won the head-to-head meeting between the two schools, but Michigan State has the most impressive win of the two (beating Penn State on Nov. 4) and a larger fanbase, which would better fill a bowl venue. Thus, which school would be selected first is unclear.

Uncertainty lingers about which bowls will be choosing between the two teams, as well.

The Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1 in Orlando) has the first priority selection after the New Year’s Six bowls, but it can also pick Notre Dame instead of a Big Ten team, which is not unlikely. If the Citrus Bowl picks a Big Ten team, and picks the Cats over Michigan State, NU would play an SEC team — most likely South Carolina, LSU or Mississippi State.

The Outback Bowl (Jan. 1 in Tampa, Florida) and the Holiday Bowl (Dec. 28 in San Diego) are one step below the Citrus Bowl in prestige.

The Outback Bowl is required to select at least five different Big Ten teams over a six-year period, so the fact that NU played there in 2015 makes it an improbable, though not impossible, choice. This is probably Michigan State’s most likely destination. In the event that the Cats are Tampa-bound again, they’ll probably play one of the SEC teams listed above.

The Holiday Bowl seems like NU’s most likely destination, although “likely” is used liberally here. This bowl will pit a Big Ten team against an elite Pac-12 opponent, presumably either Washington or the loser of the USC-Stanford conference championship.

If the Cats slip past the Citrus, Outback and Holiday, they could end up in the Music City Bowl (Dec. 29 in Nashville) or the TaxSlayer Bowl (Dec. 30 in Jacksonville, Florida), one of which will pick a Big Ten team to play an SEC team.

National sports sites are highly divided on their projections for NU: Sports Illustrated and SB Nation foresee the Holiday, CBS and ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura predict the Citrus, Sporting News forecasts the Outback and ESPN’s David Hale anticipates the Music City.

The many projections will be made irrelevant and non-refundable plane tickets will become bookable, however, when the Cats find out their real fate next week.

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