We get it. Northwestern is the smallest school in the Big Ten. We will never be able to turn out fans like Iowa, Michigan, or even Illinois.
The Music City Bowl is fine. Last year, we all said that Pittsburgh got jobbed by the bowl process. Then what happened. Northwestern should look on this as a great opportunity to cap off a great season. Nashville is cheaper than San Diego and within reasonable driving distance of Evanston.
But, let’s be honest, Northwestern got totally hosed by the bowl selection process. If Northwestern had a bigger brand, it’s hard to see it not panning out better. Instead, Northwestern got jumped by Michigan State and Michigan. The 9-3 Wildcats basically had a choice between Foster Farms and the Music City Bowl, two weekday games against weaker competition. While Nasvhille is a good city, the game’s timeslot and location hardly scream high-profile.
Let’s blame everything on Michigan! Michigan, who went 8-4 with its best win coming against Purdue, got into the Outback Bowl on January 1st over Michigan State and Northwestern. That’s a ludicrous pick made solely for marketing. Northwestern has a head-to-head win over Michigan State and the same record, but apparently that’s not good enough either. Fine, we see how it is. Northwestern could not have made the Outback Bowl anyway, but Michigan State certainly could have. In the end, the Outback Bowl picked Michigan in a vote. Definitely fair!
That shifted Michigan State to the Holiday Bowl. In a fairer system, Michigan State would’ve played the Outback and Northwestern would’ve gotten the Holiday Bowl. Michigan would be the team headed to play Kentucky, which makes sense considering they are the worst of the trio. Instead, Harbaugh and Michigan got the best spot. Okay.
It seems that, whatever scenario played out with Ohio State and Wisconsin at the top of the Big Ten, Northwestern was the good team that got left out of the discussion. Never mind that Northwestern was ahead of both Michigan and Michigan State in Jeff Sagarin’s ratings, and ahead of Michigan in the CFP Rankings and the AP Poll. Northwestern’s lack of national clout clearly prevented it from playing a bigger bowl game. The fact that we even had rumors of a 7-5 Iowa team jumping Northwestern is absurd.
For 2017, we can live with the process. This has happened before, and it will probably happen again. However, this is not Northwestern c. 2005. This is, legitimately, a rising Big Ten program that has won 26 games in three years. It’s unnerving that even as Northwestern builds up it program to arguable the best stretch in team history, the bowl process is rigged against Northwestern’s success. If Northwestern wanted to play in a better bowl, it should have beaten Duke, obviously. But even with that win the Wildcats would’ve surely still been placed behind 9-3 Michigan State. Given that Michigan seemed to jump everybody, perhaps it could’ve jumped a 10-2 Northwestern team as well.
In the coming years, unless the CFP really loves Northwestern and places it in the New Year’s Six, we can basically expect low priority in bowl games. The lack of national respect is usually infuriating, but in this respect, it’s having real effects on the team itself. Northwestern needs to keep winning games and making its case, but you have to wonder how these situations will play out in the future. From what we’ve seen, it’ll usually be unfair for Pat Fitzgerald’s crew.
The best Northwestern can do is stomp Kentucky. However, the honchos at the Holiday Bowl and the Outback Bowl can do much better.