For the first time in three years and only the 20th time ever Purdue football is headed to a postseason bowl game. Growing up I knew Purdue had been to only five bowl games, and even with the far fewer bowls it isn’t like we missed on a bunch of others. Purdue has now been to the posteason 15 times since Joe Tiller took over, so it almost feels normal to not end the season with the Indiana game.
With win No. 6 already in our back pocket thanks to the Michigan State upset we know we’re going somewhere. There is not a defined hierarchy of “Second place goes here, third place goes here, etc.”, but there is a picking order among the games that have Big Ten tie-ins. Here is how it breaks down for the 2021 season:
1. College Football Playoff – Yeah, this isn’t happening for Purdue, but the playoff semifinals, this year the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl, pick first. The winner of Saturday’s Michigan State-Ohio State game has the inside track to one of the four spots. Michigan has a shot to if it can beat Ohio State. If one of those teams wins the Big Ten they will very likely go to the playoff as a one-loss team.
2. Rose Bowl – Yes, Purdue can still make it. The Boilers can win the Big Ten West and reach the Big Ten championship game if they win their last two, Wisconsin loses its last two, Indiana beats Minnesota, and Iowa loses once to either Illinois or Nebraska. All Purdue would have to do from there is beat Ohio State, Michigan State, or Michigan. Easy! Since the Big Ten winner is likely off to the playoff the Rose Bowl would still pick a Big Ten team, likely Ohio State, Michigan, or Michigan State.
3. “New Year’s Six” Bowls – The conference can get a third spot in one of the big bowls if the Peach or Fiesta picks them as an at-large. The most likely scenario is the East winner between Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State goes to the playoff, one goes to the Rose Bowl, and one goes to the Fiesta or Peach. Those three are likely in these first three games unless something crazy happens like Maryland beating Michigan this weekend. All three getting to these bowls is contingent upon no upsets from the West winner in Indy.
4. Vrbo Citrus Bowl vs. SEC – January 1 – It is probably pretty lofty to get picked for this one, but I would say it is possible, even probable, if Purdue reaches the Big Ten title game, but loses. Right now it is the most likely destination for Wisconsin, assuming they don’t win the conference title game. They have not played in it since 2014, so recency is not a factor. Purdue played in the 2003 Citrus (then Capitol One) Bowl.
5. Outback Bowl vs. SEC – January 1 – This is where things get interesting. The bowl committees like to avoid the same team appearing in them too often. In fact, I believe the current Big Ten contracts even have a “five different teams in 6 years” clause in them. The last six Big Ten teams in this game were Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Iowa, and Northwestern. That means Iowa is likely out. There is still a very realistic chance Purdue finishes ahead of both Minnesota and Iowa, or at least tied. Is 8-4 Purdue more attractive than 7-5 Penn State? Right now it looks like Purdue, Iowa, Penn State, and Minnesota are the leaders for this one, and if Purdue gets to 8-4 I think it has a very good shot here. Wisconsin is also in the mix if they stumble and don’t reach Indy (where the West winner is likely headed to Orlando). Purdue has not gone since the 1999-2000 season.
6. SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl vs. Pac-12 – December 30 – Played in the new Raiders stadium, this is the first year the Vegas bowl as a Big Ten tie-in. The conference will alternate with the Duke’s Mayo Bowl over six seasons, with Vegas being an option in 2021-23-25 and the Mayo being 20-22-24. With no prior Big Ten affiliation it is a crap shoot to see who gets picked, but it will likely be Penn State, Purdue, Iowa, or Minnesota, with one of those four going to Tampa above.
7. TransPerfect Music City Bowl vs. SEC – December 30 – Yes, we could go here, but they are still cleaning our blood out of the stadium from three years ago. That recency factor likely knocks us out of this one. Iowa was supposed to go here last year, but it was cancelled. If we’re not picked for Vegas or Tampa it means we’re probably going to…
8. New Era Pinstripe Bowl vs. ACC – December 29 – Who doesn’t want to play in another, far less famous baseball stadium in late December? A lot of the projections currently have Purdue going here right now, and potentially against Boston College. You may remember we were supposed to go to Boston College last season before the game was cancelled. It is not the return game they were looking for, but it would be neat.
9. Guaranteed Rate Bowl vs. Big 12 – December 28 – Another baseball stadium? This one is played at Chase Field in Phoenix, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. I also don’t see Purdue falling this far unless it loses to Northwestern and Indiana. There are only 14 teams in the conference. Northwestern, Nebraska, and Indiana being ineligible already moves that number down to 11 potentially bowl eligible. Eight of those teams are already bowl eligible, but Illinois, one of the three in limbo, must beat Iowa this weekend, plus Northwestern next weekend, to get to eligibility. Maryland and Rutgers are both 5-5, but both are big underdogs this weekend to Michigan and Penn State, respectively. That leaves their season finale against each other as a “loser leaves bowl town” game. If the big three of Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State go to the big bowls that means this is probably the bottom Big Ten slot, as only three additional teams can get to a sixth win. It seems most likely this is the last bowl on the list barring some upsets this weekend. If Rutgers gets to 6-6, however, the nearby Pinstripe might look to take them even over an 8-4 Purdue just to sell tickets.
10. QuickLane Bowl vs. MAC – December 27 – A fate worse than death: being sent to Detroit to play a MAC team two days after Christmas. Originally the RedBox Bowl (formerly Foster Fames Bowl) had this slot, but it was cancelled again this year because of organizational issues. This slot likely won’t get a Big Ten team unless the loser of the Maryland-Rutgers game or Illinois can win this weekend. Even then, I don’t see Purdue falling this far. The only saving grace would be the potential to win three Detroit Bowls under three different sponsors over all three Directionals Michigan. We would only need to meet Eastern Michigan there as a revenge for 2018, and they are bowl eligible.
So there you go. I think most likely we’re headed to New York or Vegas, but there is a good chance at Tampa. The Guaranteed Rate seems unlikely unless we finish 6-6 and the Pinstripe picks Rutgers.
And yes, there still could be Pasadena in the future. When was the last time we could say that on November 18th?