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Going Bowling: Where Are The Boilers Headed?

For the first time since the blog moved over here to Hammer & Rails our football team is eligible for a bowl game. For all intents and purposes, it looks like we will go to one, too. The Big Ten has eight bowl tie-ins, and ten teams are eligible. Of those ten, Purdue defeated two. That technically doesn't mean anything, as bowls are not required to choose based on the order of finish, but in the case of Illinois it likely makes a major difference since they lost their final six games of the season and their status is up in the air without a coach.

The Big Ten has official tie-ins with the Rose, Capitol One, Outback, Gator, Insight, Meineke Car Care, Ticket City, and Little Caesar's Pizza Pizza Bowls in that order. The only one we know that is a stone cold lock as of right now is that the winner of Saturday's Big Ten championship game will go to the Rose Bowl. Everything else is up in the air, and Purdue will be affected by the BCS.

First, the biggest wild card right now is Michigan. The Wolverines are done with the regular season at 10-2. They are also currently No. 16 in the BCS poll. They must rise two spots to No. 14. At that point, things can get very good for Purdue, and our chances of going to a Big Ten affiliated bowl rise to about 99%. There is a good chance that they will move up as well. If Michigan State beats Wisconsin again the Badgers will fall from No. 15. If Georgia loses to LSU in the SEC title game they will fall as well. Michigan State is also at No. 13, but with their head-to-head win over Michigan they may stay ahead of of them in a close loss.

Another wild card is the SEC championship game. It is possible that LSU could lose, but still face Alabama in the BCS championship game and Georgia would get an unprecedented 3rd BCS spot for the SEC. Let me explain: The BCS is under contract to take the automatic qualifier of a conference champion (in that case Georgia) but they also must pair the top two teams in the BCS standings for the title game. If LSU loses a very close game to Georgia they may fall no lower than No. 2 while Alabama rises to No. 1. If current No. 3 Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma the chances become even better. You could have a very crazy scenario where Georgia beats LSU, Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State, Clemson beats Virginia Tech, and Houston either loses to Southern Miss or doesn't get enough heft to get into the top two. If all that happens, your choices for the title game are this:

1. LSU vs. Alabama, each with one loss

2. Alabama vs. Stanford, both not even as division winners in their conference

3. Houston (if they beat Southern Miss) vs. Alabama

In that first scenario, the SEC gets three teams into the BCS with Georgia stealing a bid. That leaves two at large bids. Stanford, still sitting at No. 4 automatically gets the third because they are a top 4 team that is not a conference champion (the old Kansas State rule). The fourth then goes to an undefeated Houston or TCU with two losses. How do the Horned Frogs fit in, you ask? If Houston loses, TCU gets a BCS berth as a non-automatic qualifier conference champion in the top 16 ranked ahead of an automatic qualifier conference champion. In this case, that is the Big East winner, who will likely be well behind TCU. Since it has to go to a conference champion, Boise State and Houston in this case would get passed over as non-champions. It is also possible that Southern Miss, currently at No. 24, could jump into the top 16 ahead of TCU with a win over Houston, thus earning a BCS bid themselves. Thisclause is invoked when a non-automatic qualifier conference champion is in the top 12 period or top 16 if they are ahead of an automatic qualifier conference champ (thanks, Big East).

So, are you all confused yet? This all affects Purdue because we want Michigan as a second team in the BCS. That means the Big Ten gets nine of its 10 teams in guaranteed bowl games, and it also means more revenue to spread about the conference. When considering out bowl game, let's look at it both ways. First, let's see how things break down if Michigan does go to the BCS. That means no crazy third SEC team scenario. Houston wins and takes one of the four at large spots. The SEC is definitely getting two teams, and Stanford gives the Pac-12 a second bid, leaving one for Michigan or possibly Oklahoma State if they lose to Oklahoma. If they get it, here is how the bowls play out:

Rose - Big Ten Championship Game Winner - Duh

2nd BCS (likely Sugar) - Michigan - Most projections have them facing Houston, which would be a fun game to watch.

Capital One - Nebraska - This bowl only has second choice. They are not required to pick the title game loser. Nebraska's legions of red-clad fans would be irresistible, as they have never played here before.

Outback - Big Ten title game loser - Not a bad consolation prize.

Gator - Penn State - This is a toss-up, as I don't know if Penn State is considered "radioactive" due to the Sandusky scandal. That is a major issue. The Gator could also go for Iowa or Ohio State here.

Insight - Ohio State - It's all about selling tickets, and these organizers know that OSU traveled well to Fiesta bowls out there.

Meineke Car Care - Iowa - Formerly the Texas Bowl, I see Iowa going here.

TicketCity - Purdue - They are left with the choice of the team they had last year (Northwestern), Purdue, or a faltering Illinois team. Here is what Mike Carmin had to say about this bowl today:

carminjc mike carmin

"It's safe to say they're the frontrunner if they do move two to the BCS," TicketCity President and CEO Tom Starr said of #Purdue

Little Caesar's Pizza Pizza - Northwestern - Northwestern is a much more desirable choice than a crappy Illinois team right now.

Kraft Fight Hunger - Illinois - The SB Nation Bowl projections have this bowl as being open without a Pac-12 tie-in. That leaves it as a possible destination for the last Big Ten team. The Pac-12 has six teams bowl eligible and one that can get there in UCLA, but UCLA is 6-6. They go to the Rose Bowl if they shock Oregon on Friday, or they don't go anywhere at all. Since Stanford is a lock for the second BCS spot, the conference would then have eight commitments, but only six eligible teams. Also, since Army is not eligible, the other spot in this bowl is open.

Now, let's look at how things break down if Michigan does not go to the BCS, which is very possible.

Rose - Big Ten Championship Game Winner - Duh

Capital One Bowl - Michigan - It seems like they would jump at getting the Wolverines.

Outback - Big Ten title game loser - Very bittersweet if it Michigan State, but the Spartans went to Orlando last year.

Gator - Nebraska - Another pick made based on a traveling fanbase

Insight - Penn State - Again, are they radioactive? If so, Ohio State could go here.

Meineke Car Care - Ohio State - Most of these smaller bowls want Ohio State because they know they won't often have a chance at getting the Buckeyes

TicketCity - Iowa - Seems fair since they beat us at home.

Little Caesar's Pizza Pizza - Purdue - The only two Big Ten teams they have ever had are Purdue and Northwestern. They know we bring more fans.

Kraft Fight Hunger - Northwestern - With possibly both spots being open I can see then grabbing a Big Ten team

New Mexico or Hawaii - Illinois - The New Mexico bowl is the last Pac-12 bowl, and it will not have a team available as long as Stanford goes to the BCS. The Hawaii Bowl will have an open slot if BYU beats Hawaii this week.

If we fall out of the Big Ten bowls, we're still likely to go somewhere. Currently, there are 71 teams bowl eligible for 70 spots. Only two teams (UCLA and Hawaii) can gain eligibility with wins this weekend against favored opponents. If both lose as expected, we're likely guaranteed to go somewhere. The teams that we would be competing with in the unaffiliated pool (they are eligible, but their conferences don't have enough bowls affiliated) are: Toledo, Air Force, Wyoming, Western Michigan, Western Kentucky, or Ball State. As a Big Ten team, we're likely above all of them in terms of being chosen for an open slot.

Finally, if you want a terrifying scenario, think of this: Conference USA would be our opponent in the TicektCity Bowl, and that conference would try to place its teams regionally. That means we could play Houston if they lose to Southern Miss.