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Northwestern Week 13 bowl projections roundup: There’s still no consensus

Where will the Wildcats be going bowling this winter?

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NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Northwestern vs Pittsburgh William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the final week of the college football regular season, the Northwestern Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in the country. Say what you want about some of the competition, but a six-game winning streak — which has a great chance to become seven on Saturday — in a Power 5 conference is always impressive. As a result, Northwestern has quickly gone from 2-3 team hoping for a berth in the Quick Lane or Foster Farms Bowl to No. 22 in the CFP and in the running for much a stronger postseason matchup.

Stupid Wisconsin and their undefeatedness (if that’s a word) have kept the Wildcats from really being in the Big Ten West race since their loss to the Badgers in late September, but this last month and a half has still been a ton of fun. Hopefully, Northwestern can give fans another reason to cheer with the fourth bowl win in program history and take an eight-game win streak into Clayton Thorson’s senior year.

As you read these, keep in mind that the Big Ten seems likely (but certainly not guaranteed) to have three teams in the New Years Six games: Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State. That leaves three teams in the second tier: Northwestern, Michigan State, and Michigan.

As far as the quality and prestige of the Big Ten-affiliated bowls go, I’d tier them like this:

NY6 (Sugar, Rose, Peach, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton)



TaxSlayer/Music City

Pinstripe/Foster Farms/Armed Forces

Quick Lane

Without further ado, let’s see who and where the experts see Northwestern playing come bowl season.

ESPN (David Hale) - Holiday Bowl vs. Washington

Date: Thu. 12/28; Location: San Diego, CA

I’m honestly pretty surprised that Hale is the only one who has the Cats in the Holiday Bowl, since I’ve been thinking of San Diego as our most likely destination for several weeks now. If Michigan can upset Ohio State this weekend, I’d be shocked if UM didn’t pass NU for the Outback. Even if OSU wins that game, it’s still entirely possible Michigan jumps us even if the Wolverines end up 5-4 just because of the difference in brand name/fanbase size and the fact that NU was clobbered in Tampa Bay just two years ago, relegating us to the Holiday. And it certainly wouldn’t be a bad place to be relegated to! I’ll refer to commenter MrBigCup’s analysis from a week or so ago on San Diego: “It’s a small, expensive place to go and not over a holiday…which makes it perfect for the NU fan base.” The weather would be excellent, too. Washington is 9-2 and really, really good (No. 6 in S&P+ good). I think a Stanford rematch is more likely.

Hale has MSU in the Citrus.

CBS (Jerry Palm) - Citrus Bowl vs. Mississippi State

Date: Mon 1/1; Location: Orlando, FL

Let’s take Palm’s projections with a grain of salt. As my co-manager Tristan Jung mentioned in his pre-season roundup, Palm is 82nd in NCAA Tournament accuracy. The Northwestern vs. Michigan State (who Palm has in the Outback bowl) argument is an interesting one regardless. Both are 8-3 and NU obviously has the head-to-head victory, but the Spartans have the best win by beating Penn State, who Northwestern lost to by 24. MSU also has a win in Ann Arbor and its 20-point non-con loss was to an actually good team (Notre Dame). Northwestern doesn’t have a win better than the Spartans themselves, but at least it didn’t lose by 45 to anybody like MSU did in Columbus. This isn’t to say that the Citrus is necessarily “better” than the Outback, it’s just a comparison. Again, the big thing is Northwestern went to the Outback very recently while the Spartans haven’t played in either of these games since 2010 and 2011.

This would be a rematch of the 2013 Gator Bowl and the Wildcats’ SECOND appearance in the Citrus Bowl (luckily Nick Fitzgerald is no Peyton Manning), which was called the Capital One Bowl for a while.

ESPN (Kyle Bonagura) - Outback Bowl vs. LSU

Date: Mon 1/1; Location: Tampa, FL

Ah, the Outback Bowl. No bad memories there or anything. Northwestern is 0-2 in Tampa, one in thrilling fashion (2009-10) and one in less than thrilling fashion (2015-16). Still, maybe it’s time to slay our demons there. Being picked ahead of MSU and Michigan (more on that in a second) would be cool, but I’m a bit skeptical.

The interesting thing about Bonagura’s Big Ten projections is that he has Penn State falling out of the New Years Six. That pushes the trio of UM/MSU/NU all down a spot. He’s got Penn State in the Citrus, MSU in the Holiday, and Michigan all the way down to the Foster Farms.

LSU is 8-3, No. 18 in the CFP, and 21 in S&P+. The Tigers would be a very tough opponent. If you want to go to Raymond James Stadium two days in a row, the Buccaneers and Saints play there on Sunday! Just kidding. Don’t do that.

Bleacher Report (Kerry Miller) - TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Kentucky

Date: Sat. 12/30; Location: Jacksonville, FL

Miller’s commentary:

Northwestern has won six in a row and was competitive in a road loss to undefeated Wisconsin. The 41-17 loss at Duke remains one of the most bizarre results of the season, but the Wildcats have been much better than the national attention they have (not) received since then. Barring a terrible loss to Illinois this Saturday, they'll be 9-3 and might end up getting selected for a bowl ahead of both Michigan and Michigan State.

This would be Northwestern’s second appearance in the renamed Gator Bowl after the big win in 2012. Kentucky is 7-4 but got blown out in games against Georgia and Mississippi State. Its best win is...Southern Miss? Kentucky is No. 88 in S&P+. This game would have the added bonus of being a Wildcat-off, though.

Miller has Michigan passing NU for the Outback and Michigan State falling to the Holiday. He has the Citrus Bowl — which can pick from the Big Ten as well as the SEC, ACC and Notre Dame — avoiding the B1G and taking Virginia Tech and Auburn.

Sporting News (Bill Bender) - Outback Bowl vs. Texas A&M

Date: Mon 1/1; Location: Tampa, FL

Bender has Michigan in the Holiday and MSU in the Citrus, which seems fair assuming the Outback will take us back. MSU has the head to head win over Michigan and the Wolverines just played the Citrus in 2015-16. This game would also be a rematch; Northwestern lost to A&M in the 2011 Meineke Car Care Bowl. Texas A&M is nothing special this season.

Sports Illustrated (Eric Single) - Music City Bowl vs. Kentucky

Date: Sat. 12/29; Location: Nashville, TN

Single, like ESPN’s Bonagura, sees Penn State failing to reach a NY6 and playing in the Citrus. He’s got Michigan State taking the Outback spot and Michigan taking on Stanford in the Holiday. Hey, Nashville would be a fun location, right? Maybe come back to the stadium the next day for Titans-Jags? (Again, don’t do that.)

USA Today (Erick Smith) - TaxSlayer Bowl vs. South Carolina

Date: Sat. 12/30; Location: Jacksonville, FL

Smith has the same landing spots for the two Michigan teams as Single, but thinks Penn State makes the Cotton Bowl and like Miller, sees the Citrus avoiding the Big Ten.

South Carolina is a good but not great SEC team.


There’ consensus here. Seriously, how is it possible that with one week left in the season and a Northwestern team that is almost guaranteed to be 9-3 (7-2 Big Ten), there could be five different bowl projections between seven analysts? That’s incredible. How much research these guys actually put into their predictions definitely varies.

I’m absolutely no bowl expert, but I’ll take a crack at it. Unlike most of those experts, I think Northwestern ends up in the Holiday Bowl, with the Michigan schools taking the two New Years Day games (Outback/Citrus) and Penn State in an NY6 game. On an unrelated note, I hope Wisconsin wins the Big Ten Championship game, goes to the Playoff, and Jonathan Taylor runs all over Bama in the natty. It’s not gonna happen, but it would be cool. Go rep the Big Ten West.

But back to NU. I think Michigan State’s win over Penn State and lack of a Duke loss are enough to outweigh our 3OT H2H advantage and I think Michigan takes the Outback because they probably don’t want us back to stink up the joint again. If the Citrus goes ACC-SEC and Michigan State takes the Outback, there’s still the possibility — which none of the experts mentioned — that Northwestern would drop to the Foster Farms.

However, I think if it’s just Northwestern’s resume against Michigan’s resume, it would be hard to take 5-4 over 7-2 even if the brand name is tempting. Of course, that changes if Michigan takes down Ohio State and, of course, if Northwestern somehow loses to Illinois, which I haven’t really been considering because I DON’T WANNA THINK ABOUT IT. HAT HAT HAT.

But those are just my two cents. I want to know what you guys think, so here are two polls because polls are fun. Plus, even the people who didn’t read my entire 1500+ words and just scrolled down here can vote in them!


Where do you think Northwestern will play its bowl game?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Santa Clara (Foster Farms)
    (58 votes)
  • 17%
    Nashville (Music City)
    (204 votes)
  • 5%
    Jacksonville (TaxSlayer)
    (70 votes)
  • 50%
    San Diego (Holiday)
    (593 votes)
  • 8%
    Tampa Bay (Outback)
    (100 votes)
  • 12%
    Orlando (Citrus)
    (149 votes)
1174 votes total Vote Now


Where do you WANT Northwestern to play its bowl game?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Santa Clara (Foster Farms)
    (48 votes)
  • 15%
    Nashville (Music City)
    (152 votes)
  • 3%
    Jacksonville (TaxSlayer)
    (30 votes)
  • 32%
    San Diego (Holiday)
    (307 votes)
  • 12%
    Tampa Bay (Outback)
    (120 votes)
  • 31%
    Orlando (Citrus)
    (301 votes)
958 votes total Vote Now