I know it’s hard to look beyond Saturday, but with Selection Sunday quickly approaching, the bowl picture is becoming a little less foggy. The following is a list of bowl games and what has to happen for Northwestern to go to each one. But first, here’s an updated list of the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings for reference.
Rose Bowl | Jan. 1 | Pasadena: This one is pretty simple. Beat Ohio State. With a win on Saturday, Northwestern will return to Pasadena for the first time since 1995 and play the winner of the Pac-12, Washington or Utah.
The rest of the bowl games assume a loss in the Big Ten Championship.
Citrus Bowl | Jan. 1 | Orlando: It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Citrus Bowl chooses 8-5 Northwestern over 9-3 Penn State. That said, Northwestern has a path to Orlando that rests in the hands of the the Selection Committee; the Committee would need to rank Penn State among the top 11 Power Five teams next Sunday to ensure a possibility for Northwestern to become the Big Ten representative in its best bowl outside of the New Year’s Six. Right now Penn State is ranked 12th (11th among Power Five teams) and ahead of two-loss Washington State, which is huge for the Big Ten. What has to happen for Penn State to remain in New Year’s Six position is Oklahoma beating Texas, keeping the Longhorns beneath the Nittany Lions. This game would be against the ACC or SEC. Likely opponents are Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M.
*I don’t think UCF would still be ranked ahead of Penn State if it loses to Memphis. The AAC Championship should not affect Penn State’s New Year’s Six hopes.
**The winner of the Pac-12 Championship will go to a New Year’s Six (Rose Bowl) while the loser will not be ranked in the top 12, so that outcome does not affect Penn State either.
Outback Bowl | Jan. 1 | Tampa Bay: The Outback Bowl might want to avoid hosting Northwestern again. The bowl’s agreement with the conference is for five different teams in six years, if possible, and the Wildcats played in Tampa in 2015. That likely means no Iowa (‘16) and Wisconsin (‘14), although the Hawkeyes were selected in 2013 as well. Michigan State makes a lot of sense here, but there’s a chance the Outback Bowl looks past the agreement to take the best team available. That’s Northwestern, and this would be against the SEC. Likely opponents are pretty much the two that the Citrus Bowl doesn’t choose among Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M.
Holiday Bowl | Dec. 31 | San Diego: Despite Northwestern winning the head-to-head matchup last season, the Holiday Bowl chose Michigan State to be its Big Ten representative. Their agreement with the Big Ten is intended for five different teams in six years, so that likely rules out Wisconsin and the Spartans. Northwestern makes sense here if Penn State goes to the Citrus Bowl and the Outback Bowl takes Michigan State. This would be against the Pac-12 No. 3. Likely opponents are Oregon and Utah.
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl | Dec. 31 | Jacksonville: The Big Ten and ACC combine to play the SEC in the Music City Bowl and TaxSlayer Bowl. This is possible, although Northwestern would have to fall past the Holiday Bowl. The Gator Bowl will stay away from Iowa, if possible. Likely opponents are Texas A&M, Auburn, Missouri, and South Carolina.
Let’s round out the other Big Ten bowl games for good measure.
Music City Bowl | Dec. 28 | Nashville: Since the Big Ten has played in Nashville the last two seasons (Northwestern in ‘17, Nebraska in ‘16), the ACC will likely play the SEC this year. On top of that, Northwestern isn’t going for a consecutive season.
Redbox Bowl | Dec. 31 | Santa Clara: I can’t imagine a scenario in which Northwestern falls to the Big Ten’s fifth non-New Year’s Six bowl game.
Pinstripe Bowl | Dec. 27 | New York: Northwestern will be long gone by the time the Pinstripe Bowl selects a Big Ten team, but they will also be looking for an unfamiliar program. The Wildcats beat Pittsburgh at Yankee Stadium in 2016.
Quick Lane Bowl | Dec. 26 | Detroit: Unfortunately, you won’t be spending the day after Christmas in Detroit.
First Responder Bowl | Dec. 26 | Dallas: The Big Ten won’t even have enough teams to send a participant to Dallas, and if Penn State goes to a New Year’s Six, they won’t send a participant to the Quick Lane Bowl either.
Martin’s Big Ten Bowl Predictions:
Rose Bowl : Ohio State vs. Washington
Peach Bowl: Michigan vs. Florida
Sugar Bowl: Penn State vs. Georgia
Citrus Bowl: Northwestern vs. Kentucky
Outback Bowl: Michigan State vs. Mississippi State
Holiday Bowl: Iowa vs. Oregon
Gator Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Texas A&M
Redbox Bowl: Minnesota vs. Cal
Pinstripe Bowl: Purdue vs. Pitt