Evaluating Illinois’ Bowl Chances

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Yes, I was incredibly wrong about the Illini’s chances at a bowl this season, because it would certainly appear they are headed towards the postseason, and I actually predicted they would win one, yes one game in the preseason. At 4-3 overall, and 2-2 in the Big Ten with a very favorable schedule remaining, the Illini could be headed towards a very good bowl.

So let’s handicap the odds:

By Paul Schmidt

No Bowl at All, 5% — OK, I can’t be fully optimistic yet. There still is a chance that the Illini miss the bowl season again, because they haven’t clinched a bid yet. I’ve got my guard up, because, as a Cubs and Illinois fan, I know that it’s very possible the Illini could lose out the rest of the season. And just when I thought that they had not only turned a corner but also become a likeable team.

However, it doesn’t look likely. As detailed here before, 5 win teams may end up bowl eligible this season, and I can’t fathom the Illini losing to Minnesota at home. A Purdue win seems fairly likely this coming weekend. Even if the Illini can’t pull off road wins against Michigan and Fresno State, or a neutral site game against Northwestern at Wrigley Field, not finishing 6-6 seems ridiculously unlikely. Still…it’s the Illini…and Ron Zook….so 5% seems about right.

BCS Title Game, 0% — You must be crazy, fool.

BCS Bowl Game, 1% — Now you’re probably looking at me like I must be crazy, but hear me out. This has been a CRAZY football season. Just insane, with out of character losses happening everywhere to all teams around the country. And the Illini would need an INSANE amount of help to get here, but the facts are these:

*A 4-3 Illinois team is currently 34th in the BCS standings.
*They have played THE nation’s toughest schedule.
*The three teams they have lost to are a combined 23-1 and all in the BCS top ten.
*If the Illini win out, they’ll be 9-3, and rising in the BCS standings as their opponents keep winning…

It doesn’t seem so crazy right now, does it?

If Michigan State wins out…and so does Missouri…and Ohio State manages to drop a couple of games (which they have to for Illinois to move up in the Big Ten standings), it’s possible they have a shot. Granted it’s small…

Capital One Bowl, 4% — Seems low, considering I just said the Illini have a shot at a BCS game, no? But it’s still 4 times as high as them going to a BCS game.

Realistically, too many things that have to happen for the Illini to be in either this position, or the above, not the least of which is the Illini actually winning out. It’s just highly unlikely.

Outback Bowl, 20% — It’s a little amazing to me that what we’re talking about this. And yet, here we are. If the Illini finish 9-3, 6-2 in the Big Ten, this is where they could end up.

Still, the Illini could post that record and get passed over for a couple different reasons. Say, for instance, the Illini end up tied with Iowa in the Big Ten standings. Since they didn’t play each other there is no real tie breaker for the bowl committees, the Outback Bowl committee would get to choose which team they want and could easily pass over the Illini.

Iowa travels EXCEPTIONALLY well, and have a long history of doing so. While the Illini will certainly travel, there’s not consistent, year-to-year evidence of it. Iowa would almost certainly get chosen.

The second possibility, also likely, is two Big Ten teams get into the BCS. Both Wisconsin and Ohio State are in position to earn a second Big Ten bid, throwing all the Big Ten selections into chaos. Why? Because, per their agreements with the conferences, any of the bowls have their slotted representative taken, they can choose ANY of the conferences eligible representatives. This means that the Illini could slide below historically great traveling schools like Michigan, Iowa etc.

Gator Bowl, 35% — At this point, as shocking as it may seem, it really is the most likely destination, against a solid SEC opponent. This would be a great opportunity for the Illini to showcase themselves on New Years’ Day, to a national audience.

Dallas Football Classic, 20% — This isn’t all that unlikely either given the scheme of things. The Illini could certainly slip up against Fresno State and Michigan or both, and if they do that, ending up at 7-5 overall but still 5-3 in the Big Ten, they could slip all the way into the Dallas Football Classic.  Nothing to be ashamed of there, either, but it would be a somewhat anti-climactic end to a season that has shown the potential to be so much more.

Texas Bowl, Insight.com Bowl, Little Caeser’s Bowl, 15% — These bowls are all grouped together because it is actually difficult to handicap each one individually. The middle of the Big Ten is going to be incredibly muddled, and any of these bowls is as likely as the other. The teams in this part of the bowl lineup will all end up around 4-4 in the conference, or perhaps even 3-5, with 7-5 and 6-6 records overall. Again, for a team that I thought could have one win, nothing to be horribly ashamed of, as any bowl game would be a victory.

One note about these bowls is that the Little Caeser’s Bowl is becoming increasingly unlikely. As Northern Illinois continues to win, they get closer and closer to winning the MAC, and could possibly garner the Little Caeser’s Bowl bid, meaning the Illini will most likely NOT be asked there, having already played the Huskies. So, hopefully, that won’t be their only resort come selection time.

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