Can Northwestern make a bowl game, and does it matter?

Byron Hetzler-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern can make a bowl game, and although we shouldn't be happy with a failed 2013, it's important that the team go somewhere this postseason.

After shouting HEY NORTHWESTERN COULD MAKE THE BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR just about a billion times, Northwestern is now 0-4 in conference play. They're 4-4 on the season. According to sources, you need to win six games to make a bowl. That leaves Northwestern needing two wins in their final four games to go to the postseason.

That leaves us with two questions. I'll attempt to answer both!

1. After sucking massively, is it possible for NU to win two games in their last four?

Yes. Although we're not in the latest SB Nation bowl projections, it's certainly possible.

We're talking about a team that nearly beat Ohio State, by far the best team on their schedule, and lost to Minnesota and Iowa, two of the worst. TodayI wrote something really long which I hope you read and liked, in which I mentioned that turnovers sometimes make actual football results fickle. I think Northwestern could reasonably win any of their four remaining games, and they could reasonably lose any of their four remaining games.

All four teams left on the schedule suck in some way. Let's examine:



They're 5-2, but they've played only two teams even approaching college football relevance so far, UCLA and Minnesota. The Bruins scored like 74 unanswered points and won by 20. They're coming off a loss to Minnesota, wherein they allowed 271 yards and 34 points to a Gophers squad that beat Northwestern 20-17 thanks to a pick-six and a fumble that led to a field goal by Trevor Siemian. Northwestern's offense has looked bad, but they should be able to do work against Nebraska's defense.



They're 6-1. But you want me to have faith in a team that beat Akron on the strength of a goal line stand at the end of the game? A team that couldn't put away UConn? A team that lost to Penn State in quadruple gosh-darned overtime? Why the hell am I supposed to think Michigan is good?

Michigan State

I don't think Michigan State sucks, but for the purpose of this exercise, let's just say they suck.

With Connor Cook under center, their offense appears to be competent. Their defense remains murder kill shoot deathsquad. My hope would be that Northwestern could practically shut out this team and maybe eke out a touchdown in a truly hideous football affair.



The problem, of course, is that at this moment in time, Northwestern sucks too. But their sucking has put them on the brink of two wins against two sucky teams. Continue sucking for four more games, and perhaps Northwestern can win two sucky games against two sucky teams.

2. This season is an incredible disappointment already. Does it even matter if NU goes to some crappy bowl game?

I, personally, think so.

Before the year, I said something along the lines of: "I can see NU going anywhere from 11-1 to 5-7." The implication was that 5-7 was a worst-case scenario, a hellscape season, and one that we're nearing.

I don't think making a bowl game is an indicator of a successful Big Ten program. In fact, considering the scheduling setup Big Ten teams have in 2013, it makes more sense to argue missing a bowl game is a sign your program is currently failing.

Northwestern has won six games every year since 2007, the longest stretch of maintaining that level in program history. When Northwestern won six games in 2011, it wasn't a fun year. That was a bad team that I did not enjoy. But it kept Northwestern from regressing. In 2012, Northwestern won 10 games. Looking at things rationally, that appears to have been kind of a blip. It was a fun blip, and I'm glad it happened.

But with that in the past, it's important Northwestern avoids taking a step back from where it was before that blip. The great thing about NU football is the positive momentum: the ever-increasing recruiting rankings, the new facilities, the still-excitable Pat Fitzgerald. There are wheels, and they appear to be in motion. Momentum is the most difficult difficult thing to quantify, but it's arguably the most important thing in college sports. It's the thing that separates a healthy program from one that needs change.

Going to a six-win bowl game wouldn't be good for Northwestern. But it wouldn't be bad either. It would keep the choo-choo chugging. Sitting at home, though, would be putting your foot down on the brake pedal.

So here's to Northwestern winning two -- or hey, maybe even three! -- of its last four games. We won't grin about our bowl destination, but we'd avoid having to grimace about the supposed best season in recent NU memory turning into the worst, either.

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