With a mere three weeks remaining in the regular season for NCAA football, the picture of which teams are going to play in a bowl game–and which games they’re headed for–is becoming much clearer. Some teams still have some work to do to reach the necessary six wins–or five, if a team’s players went to class–but their dreams are still very much alive.
In the state of Indiana, three of the four FBS-affiliated colleges are either already bowl eligible (Notre Dame) or can still make it there (Indiana and Purdue). Here’s a look at where they might be headed to play in the postseason.
Sitting at 8-2 overall, the Fighting Irish still have a better-than-average chance of qualifying for the College Football Playoff. At present, they’re eighth overall in the CFP rankings, but those two losses are against quality opponents; namely, Georgia and Miami. So if a few of the teams currently ranked ahead of them–two out of three amongst the ACC, Big Ten, and Big 12 leaders, just to venture a guess–suffer unexpected losses before the Selection Committee meets for the last time, Notre Dame could still be playing for a National Championship this year. Of course, they still have to defeat their two remaining opponents: an always-perplexing Navy squad, and a Stanford team that’s taken down CFP contenders some weeks while getting dropped by basement dwellers other weeks.
If the Irish don’t make the Playoff, then they’ll be slotted according to a tie-in system uniquely designed for them. They can be chosen for an appearance in the Capital One Orange Bowl, which seems like a near-lock if they manage to win 10 games but don’t wind up in the CFP. From there on, they’d be eligible for any ACC bowl slot–due to their partial affiliation with the conference–provided they’re within a game of another team that’s eligible for the same slot.
The worst the Irish can finish this year is 8-4. Looking at the current ACC standings, Clemson and Miami–the only teams with better records than Notre Dame–are on track to face each other in the ACC Championship Game. If that happens, one of them will likely end up in the Playoff, with the other getting the ACC’s direct tie-in to the Orange Bowl. That would mean that, at worst, Notre Dame would be within one game of North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, who are the only teams that could finish with more wins than Golden Domers.
That would make Notre Dame eligible for any ACC bowl slot, which, under these circumstances, likely sends them to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando to face an upper-tier SEC opponent. Although there’s no official tier for bowl games outside of the CFP and their affiliated games, the Citrus Bowl is played on New Year’s Day, so they’ll be eager to bring in teams that will maximize TV viewership and ticket sales; with ND’s large, nationwide fanbase, they’re always a popular option in that regard.
INDIANA VS PURDUE
When it comes to the state’s two Big Ten programs, there can be only one bowl bid this season. Both teams come into this weekend with four wins each, meaning that both are two wins away from being bowl-eligible, with the two squaring off against each other in the Old Oaken Bucket Game to close out the regular season. So if the winner of that game takes care of business this weekend–the Hoosiers are at home for Senior Day against Rutgers, and the Boilermakers head to Kinnick Stadium for a battle with Iowa–they’ll be sitting pretty at exactly six wins.
The Big Ten’s postseason situation is helped out by the sheer volume of potential tie-ins the conference has. At present, seven B1G teams are already bowl eligible. One other, Minnesota, is only one win away from the magic number, with a very winnable matchup against Northwestern scheduled for this week. And apart from IU and Purdue, there’s still a chance that Maryland, Nebraska, and Rutgers–if they emerge victorious this weekend–could all go bowling if they win out. That means that the conference as a whole could be sending as many as 11 representatives to the postseason.
There are eight non-CFP affiliated bowls with direct ties to the B1G, and although the Rose and Sugar Bowls–both of which have a tradition of inviting teams from the conference–are serving as this year’s Playoff Semifinals, one of the so-called New Year’s Six games will almost certainly invite the first or second-place B1G team for an at-large bid; possibly the Peach Bowl, due to proximity and the appeal of what seems likely to be Big Ten runner-up versus the SEC runner-up. Assuming that the conference champion–which almost seems destined to be Wisconsin at this point–gets a Playoff invite, the team they face in the Big Ten Championship Game–the Ohio State/Michigan winner or Penn State, depending on tiebreakers–goes to a New Year’s Six game. From there, where the IU/Purdue winner ends up depends on how many teams are eligible, and where the teams at the top of the conference get slotted.
The New Year’s Six games, despite their historical conference affiliations, are technically at-large games. So it’s very possible that two B1G squads could get invited to play in those games; for example, if Stanford makes an NY6 bowl–likely the Fiesta Bowl, given that it’s in Arizona and the Cardinal are a West Coast school–they might get matched up with Michigan just for the possibility of watching Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh face off against the program he’s credited with reviving. That would free up all of the non-CFP/NY6 spots for the other Big Ten schools, in the event that Purdue, Rutgers, Maryland, and Nebraska all win out.
That leaves the earlier, less prestigious matchups with B1G ties to select from among anywhere from three to five six-win teams. The Heart of Dallas, Foster Farms, Pinstripe, and Quick Lane Bowl games are the first four on the schedule; although it’s unlikely, the latter two also have ACC ties, leaving open the possibility of Notre Dame squaring off with an in-state opponent on neutral turf.
Indiana played in the Foster Farms Bowl last year, and the Pinstripe the year before that, so a bowl-eligible Hoosier squad probably goes to one of the other two games; more often than not, only powerhouse programs that sell a ton of tickets get invited to the same bowl in consecutive years. With Bloomington being much closer to Detroit than Dallas, a six-win IU team seems bound for the Quick Lane Bowl against an ACC opponent. This opens up a wide variety of appealing potential matchups; a chance for revenge against Duke–who defeated the Hoosiers in the 2015 Pinstripe Bowl–a local rivalry game against Louisville and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, and the opportunity to pay back Syracuse for the 2013 Sweet Sixteen matchup between the two schools are all on the table here.
Odd as the notion may seem, the fact that the Boilermakers haven’t been to a bowl since 2012 could be an asset this season. Although they would likely be favored by the Quick Lane Bowl for the same reason as IU–shorter driving distance–all four of these games would be on the table if Purdue becomes bowl-eligible, since there’s no concern over whether or not they’ve been invited recently. That could give them the chance to play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, which is the very same bowl game they lost back in 2012; if first-year head coach Jeff Brohm gets to exorcise those demons, not only would it be a kind of poetic justice, but it would certainly buy him an extra year or two from the fanbase to get the program on track.
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