All eyes will be on injuries this week as NU prepares for Illinois in the ultimate HAT battle. I don't think the game is a given at all, but if NU becomes bowl eligible with a win, where could the Wildcats head for a bowl game? Let's take a look.
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus (Orlando, 1/1 vs. SEC)
Outback (Tampa, 1/1 vs. SEC)
National University Holiday (San Diego, 12/27 vs. Pac-12)
TaxSlayer (Jacksonville, 1/2 vs. SEC) or Franklin American Mortgage Music City (Nashville, 12/30 vs. SEC )
Foster Farms (Santa Clara, 12/30 vs. Pac-12)
New Era Pinstripe (NYC, 12/27 vs. ACC/Notre Dame)
Quick Change (Detroit, 12/26 vs. ACC)
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas (Dallas, 12/26 vs. C-USA)
If the Big Ten has more bowl eligible teams than affiliated bowls, a bowl whose conference affiliation does not have enough eligible teams would take the remaining eligible Big Ten team.
We know that Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska would be taken ahead of Northwestern. It's a pretty safe bet that Iowa would be, as well, even if they lose. It is also a pretty safe bet to assume that Michigan will lose to Ohio State, leaving them ineligible for a bowl.
The remaining Big Ten bowl eligible teams would be:
Northwestern (6-6, 4-4 if they defeat Illinois)
Penn State (6-5, 2-5 but likely 6-6, 2-6 since they host Michigan State)
Maryland (7-4, 4-3 and hosting Rutgers)
Rutgers (6-5, 2-5 and visiting Maryland)
Ohio State is currently in line to go to an at-large bowl, meaning Michigan State and two of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska are slotted for the top tier bowls. If Ohio State wins out and gets into the playoff, though, Michigan State could move up into an at-large bowl.
In the first scenario, there could be an opening in a middle tier bowl. If Maryland were to win and improve to 8-4, that would very likely go to them. If Maryland were to lose, it could be a possibility for Northwestern. In the second scenario, there could be one or two openings in middle level bowls for Northwestern depending on whether Maryland wins or loses.
I see seven possibilities still in play in Jacksonville, Nashville, Santa Clara, NYC, Detroit, Dallas, and an at-large. Jacksonville seems very unlikely, though. If the Big Ten sends a team there, that would mean the number of potential destinations would probably be down to five. If the Big Ten sends a team to Nashville, instead, that number is six.
If you want to see Northwestern in a tier two bowl, here are your rooting interests:
Ohio State to defeat Michigan and then west division winner with a spot in top four opening up
Michigan State to defeat Penn State
Rutgers to defeat Maryland
If you want to see Northwestern head to NYC, it would probably help if the ACC teams at 8-3 (Duke, Clemson, Louisville) all win and Notre Dame (7-4) loses at USC. Notre Dame can be taken ahead of any ACC team with one additional win. Notre Dame losing would be helpful if you think the Pinstripe Bowl would be in line to take Notre Dame and would avoid a rematch from the regular season. Also keep in mind that there is pretty much no way that Rutgers will play in NYC since they played in Yankee Stadium in 2013 and 2011.
Much has been made about the bowl tier system and the new selection process, but in the first year of the cycle, we likely won't see any difference. There will be few, if any, scenarios in which the Big Ten would want to intervene. The bowls will make their own selections after working with the school of their choice and the conference will likely approve each one. Expect the typical lobbying.
But first, let's go protect that hat.