Purdue is headed for the 18th bowl game in program history, and first since 2012.
Let that sink in for a moment. I will even give you a moment to soak it in.
There, doesn’t that feel good after the Hazell years? For those of us raised on the Tiller years, going to a bowl game was a given. That is what happens when you go to 10 in 12 years. It has been a while though, and things have changed.
First, there is no longer really a pecking order for bowl games. The Big Ten itself now helps to decide the bowls. Big Ten teams can no longer go to the same bowl game in consecutive years (so no 3 Sun Bowls in 4 years). They want to ensure “fresh and diverse” bowl lineups. They want to mix things up, but there are still some levels to consider.
First, there are the actual bowl tie-ins themselves. There are technically 11 with only 8 bowl eligible Big Ten teams. Indiana, Illinois, Rutgers, Maryland, Nebraska, and Minnesota are not eligible. The Big Ten champion (Wisconsin or Ohio State) will go to the College Football playoff (Rose or Sugar) if selected. If Wisconsin wins, they are in the playoff because there is no way an undefeated Big Ten team will be left out of the playoff. If Ohio State wins, they might sneak into the top 4 of the playoff, but if not they would probably go to the Orange Bowl in Miami.
Second, there are the “New Year’s Six” Bowls (Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, and Peach) to consider. These are the six premier bowls that include the playoff semifinals, and are generally considered to be the top six bowls for the top 12 teams in America. There is a qualifier that the best “Group of 5” team from either Conference USA, Sun Belt, MAC, Mountain West, or the American will get one of the 12 “New Year’s Six” spots. The likely candidate for this will be undefeated Central Florida if they close things out in the American title game.
Where this becomes significant is that the Big Ten can easily get a 2nd team into the “New Year’s Six” spots. Wisconsin or Ohio State will be in, possibly both. Penn State, at 10-2, is also in the running for one of those 12 spots. It is even possible all three (Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State) could get in, bringing a huge financial windfall to the league. Last year Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio State all made the big bowls.
Once that is all settled, the Big Ten then has tie-ins with 9 other bowl games. If Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State all get into one of the big money bowls, there are only 5 teams left for the other 9 bowls.
From there, the Big Ten has agreements with the Citrus, Outback, TaxSlayer, Holiday, Foster Farms, QuickLane, Music City, Pinstripe, and Heart of Dallas Bowls. Many of these have agreements to avoid repeat teams, as the most common is “five different teams in six years.” The agreements started following the 2014 season, so we’re already halfway through said six year agreements. Here are the Big Ten teams in each of the bowls so far:
Citrus: Minnesota and Michigan
Outback: Wisconsin, Iowa, and Northwestern
TaxSlayer: Penn State and Iowa
Pinstripe: Indiana, Penn State, and Northwestern
Holiday: Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Minnesota
Foster Farms: Maryland, Nebraska, and Indiana
QuickLane: Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland
Music City: Nebraska
Heart of Dallas: Illinois
Among these, the QuickLane in Detroit (the former Little Caesar’s Bowl) is probably out because the agreement is simply “subject to conference approval”. It has no agreement to have a certain number of teams, and since there will not be enough teams no matter what happens, it is probably out.
The Music City OR the TaxSlayer will pick a Big Ten team this year, and the agreement is that the Big Ten will play in three Music City and three TaxSlayer Bowls in the six-year agreement, with a limit of one appearance in each bowl per school. Nebraska was in the Music City last year, while the TaxSlayer had Penn State and Iowa within the last 3 years. That makes the Music City Bowl as a likely Big Ten destination.
If this is confusing as hell, well, it is. The Citrus, Outback, and Holiday have a “at least 5 different teams in 6 years” rule in place. So it is unlikely the Citrus will pick Michigan or for the Outback to pick Iowa or Northwestern, but the Holiday pretty much has free reign.
If I had to guess, I would say Purdue is headed toward the Music City in Nashville or the Pinstripe in New York. The Citrus will want a good team and will likely aim for Northwestern. Michigan can head to the Outback. That leaves Purdue, Iowa, and Michigan State for the other bowls if Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin stay in the New Year’s Six.
Long story short, we likely won’t know until next week, but we’ll see.