If Northwestern loses this weekend against Michigan, it has a very slim chance of going to a bowl game at 6-6. That would mean winning three straight against Notre Dame, Purdue and Illinois, and in all likelihood, that's not going to happen.
However, thanks to a new NCAA rule, there is a chance the Wildcats could end up going to a bowl game at 5-7, assuming they win two of the next four.
Given the rise in the number of bowl games — there are 38 of them this year, meaning 76 teams will go bowling — it's becoming more and more likely that there won't be enough 6-6 teams to fill out all of the bowl slots. Power conferences generally don't fill all of their allotted spots, but those tend to be filled by 6-6-or-better teams in the Group of Five conferences who otherwise would not be going bowling. Now, there's a chance, albeit a slim one, that there won't be enough 6-6 teams.
If that's the case, and if there are no eligible 6-7 teams — and if the bowls don't want to invite FCS teams — then a team with a top-five APR score can be invited. That includes Northwestern, which has the second-highest football APR in the country, behind Duke.
Granted, this probably isn't going to happen. Most prognosticators are projecting all of the spots to be filled. However, Northwestern is in as good of shape to make a bowl game as any 5-7 team, and that has drawn some eye-rolls from fans, questioning whether it's a good thing for the program. Moreover, some have even questioned whether NU should accept an invitation to a bowl game at 5-7 if it becomes a reality.
While there would certainly be some jokes pointed in the Wildcats' direction — and possibly from this site, too — it is absolutely the right call to accept a bowl bid whenever possible. The game itself isn't as important as what comes with it. Bowl teams are allowed 15 extra practices in December, which would be vital for a team that will likely be starting a lot of young players next season. It allows position battles to start earlier, and it's extremely important for player development.
Yes, going to the R+L Carriers Bowl to play Louisiana-Lafayette at 5-7 would be embarrassing. But as Pat Fitzgerald might say, that's where you really have to "embrace the suck" — and embrace your brains. If it happens, it could be instrumental in getting things turned around next season.