Nebraska football fans were certainly excited to see Jordan Westerkamp come down with Ron Kellogg’s Hail Mary as time expired to beat Northwestern 27-24 on Saturday. With the win, Nebraska moves to 6-2 and becomes officially bowl-eligible.
So now that a postseason berth is possible for Nebraska, it’s time to look at the plausible scenarios. Based on the bowl selection process used by the Big Ten, we have to guess a bit as to where Nebraska will finish the season to determine who the bowl opponent might be.
To start with, I am going to assume that Michigan State runs the table and wins the Legends Division (beating Nebraska in the process) and matches up with an undefeated Ohio State in the B1G title game. This scenario also assumes Nebraska either wins its remaining three games or loses just one other, finishing the season at no worse than 8-4. The resulting pecking order results are as follows:
This scenario would come about if the B1G champion did not make the BCS title game, and the runner-up did not get an at-large BCS berth. The only way I can see that happening is if Ohio State beats Michigan State but gets frozen out of the title game—not at all implausible, as the Buckeyes are currently well behind Oregon, Alabama and Florida State in the BCS rankings.
That would mean Ohio State would go to the Rose, Michigan State would likely go to the Captial One, and the Outback would be left with a choice between Nebraska and Wisconsin. Although Nebraska does travel well, given NU’s performances against SEC competition in previous matchups, I could see the Badgers being a better draw.
That would leave Nebraska to the Gator Bowl to face the No. 4 SEC team, Auburn.
For Nebraska to make the Outback Bowl, the same scenario would apply as the Gator Bowl selection. In this case, however, the Outback Bowl committee would look at how Nebraska travels as the primary calling card as opposed to NU’s last two trips to Orlando.
If Michigan State got an at-large BCS berth after losing to Ohio State in the B1G title game, or if Michigan State upset Ohio State (leaving the Buckeyes a near-certain at-large berth) then the Capital One Bowl could take Wisconsin and leave Nebraska for the Outback Bowl to face the No. 6 SEC team, which could end up being Texas A&M.
For Nebraska to drop to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, you’d likely need to see Nebraska end the season at 7-5, winning only one of its remaining four games. If that happened, and Minnesota kept up its strong run, then you could see a scenario where the Gator Bowl committee could be faced with a choice between an 8-3 or 9-2 Minnesota and a 7-5 Nebraska.
With the added drama of Jerry Kill possibly making a return, or at least being a part of the team traveling to the bowl, the extra attention from that kind of a story might be enough for the Gator Bowl committee to pick the Gophers over Nebraska. That would relegate Nebraska to the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl to face the No. 4 team from the Big 12, potentially an attractive historic rivalry with Oklahoma.
If Michigan State loses to Ohio State in the B1G title game, the Spartans would go to the Rose Bowl and the Buckeyes would almost certainly get an at-large BCS Bowl berth. The next bowl to get a selection would be the Capital One Bowl, who would likely be choosing between Wisconsin and Nebraska.
Given the Orlando fatigue that most Nebraska fans would have after the Cornhuskers have made two straight trips to the Capital One Bowl, it seems almost inconceivable that Wisconsin would not get the nod in that scenario.
But inconceivable is not impossible, and the Capital One Bowl may go to the well one more time with Nebraska fans, giving Nebraska fans an old-school Big Eight reunion by matching it up with the SEC's No. 2 team in Missouri.
Yes, a trip to Pasadena for Nebraska seems the longest of long shots after Nebraska lost to Minnesota for the first time since the Eisenhower administration and then needed a Hail Mary miracle to beat a 4-4 Northwestern squad with only one healthy running back.
But the amazing fact remains that Nebraska controls its own destiny on the road to the Rose Bowl. The trip to Michigan next week looks far less daunting than it did at the start of the season. The Spartans look the part of a champion, but Nebraska does get the game in Memorial Stadium. Penn State had to huff and puff to beat an improving, but still pretty average Illinois team in Happy Valley. And Iowa looks so offensively challenged that even a meager offensive output could be enough to win Nebraska’s third straight Heroes Game trophy.
That would mean Ohio State and, curiously enough, Nebraska could get a trip to Pasadena regardless of the outcome. Obviously, if Nebraska wins the Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy in Indianapolis, a Rose Bowl berth is assured. But a loss could put Ohio State in the BCS title game. That could leave a 10-3 Nebraska team in position for an at-large BCS berth. A strong finish, including a win over red-hot Michigan State, coupled with a close game in the B1G title game could be enough for Nebraska to get that at-large berth and set up a classic Rose Bowl matchup against Stanford.
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