Illinois and Northwestern Bowl Projection/Preview


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Currently, 70/120 FBS college football teams participate in a bowl game at the end of the season. This includes 6-6 teams, and this year believe it or not, a couple 5-7 or 6-7 teams. Yes, this is turning into “everyone gets a trophy” and setting a horrible example for our children.

But on to more positive things- Illinois has their second bowl berth since 2002, and now Zook is in a more relaxed state than he was here.

For the Illini, it would currently appear that they are looking at the Insight/Texas and Ticket City bowl area, with a sprinkle of Gator Bowl added in for flair. The final week of the season will have a TON to say about what happens in this area, but the Illini have a lot going for them at this point — They actually are done with Big Ten games, and have finished at 4-4. Interestingly, the Illini could finish as high as fifth overall in the Big Ten, having a tiebreaker with Penn State. However…

We’re making this pick under the assumption that two Big Ten teams — for the purposes of this discussion, Wisconsin and Ohio State — make the BCS.

By Paul M. Banks and Paul Schmidt

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This is critical, because when that happens, chaos reigns supreme. OK, maybe not…but it does mean that slotting in their places in the conference doesn’t really matter any more. Now, if any bowl has its slotted team taken away from them by the BCS, they can choose any of the conference teams they want.

So, in this case, should Ohio State get to the BCS, The Capital One NotttheCitrus Bowl would have their slotted team taken away from them — so they are free and clear to choose whomever. Most likely it will be Michigan State…which means that the Outback Bowl lost their natural slot team (the third place Big Ten team), and then THEY get to choose whomever.  So on, and so forth.

This is how we arrive at these numbers…

Gator Bowl, 10 percent — It’d be pretty amazing to get slotted back into the Gator Bowl, a place I thought the Illini would be when they were 5-3, but even if they beat Fresno State next week and Penn State loses, as expected, to Michigan State, I think the Gator Bowl takes Penn State over the Illini. They’re a notoriously good travelling team, and it could be JoePa’s last game. I don’t think it will be, but it certainly could be. They leapfrog the Illini for sure, even if they are tied.

Insight.com Bowl, 20 percent — Again, we’d be looking at a Michigan team leapfrogging Illinois. There seems to be some doubt about how well the Wolverine fans would travel for a not-premier bowl game, but it would be their first bowl in 3 years — I think they would come out for it. And that’s how a team a full game behind the Illini in the standings would jump over them. And I really think it’s realistic.

Texas Bowl, 50 percent – The most likely destination at this point, against a more-than-likely manageable opponent from the Big 12 (8th position). I also happen to believe that this is, quite simply, the best case scenario for the Illini, as even though this game is slotted down the line for the Big Ten, it’s still a New Years’ Day bowl.  HUGE coup for the Illini to get here, and I think that it is realistic that they can, regardless of whether or not they beat Fresno State next week.

TicketCity Bowl, 20 percent — So, let’s say the Illini lose in two weeks. Let’s say NU upsets Wisconsin next week. Then…well, it’s at least conceivable that Northwestern gets picked for any bowl over the Illini. However, I consider this scenario unlikely only because it’s hard to see them getting picked to go anywhere over any of the Big Ten teams currently in front of them.

In the end, my gut feeling is CERTAINLY the Texas Bowl, although the Insight Bowl wouldn’t shock me. Either way, I’m excited about one simple fact — THE ILLINI HAVE A ZERO PERCENT CHANCE OF MISSING A BOWL GIVEN THIS SCENARIO!!! WOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

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On to Northwestern

In his fifth year of coaching the Cats, Pat Fitzgerald has led to them to bowl eligibility in every season but his first. And to the postseason three seasons in a row- a school first. And although I got my last five picks wrong, I did say NU would go 7-5, 3-5 in conference this season, when I made my projection back in August.

Look at their record right now, not bad!

35% Texas Bowl: As this is the Big Ten’s 7th bid, this could very well be where the Cats are headed.

60% Dallas Football Classic (Now re-named the Ticket City Bowl): As this is the Big Ten’s 6th bid, this could very well be where the Cats are headed. Yes, I know it’s confusing as this bowl and the Texas Bowl are essentially the same exact thing, just on different days. And one’s in Houston while the other is in Dallas (look at the names and guess which one!). However, meeting the Big 12′s 8th team instead of the 6th is huge break for NU.

Now the chances at ending that bowl game win drought (1949) got a lot better.

Looks like my prediction I made a few weeks ago hasn’t changed. So Wildcat Nation, when you make your travel plans in December, play this song to get in the mood.

5% Little Caeser’s Pizza Bowl: This could still happen, but only if Wisconsin and Ohio State both lose this week, and some chaos happens in the BCS forcing everyone down a slot.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He’s also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

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