As one would expect after a 14-point comeback in the fourth quarter, the University of Wisconsin football team’s triple-overtime victory at Purdue on Nov. 17 sent its locker room into a rambunctious celebration.
While the season had fallen well short of preseason expectations, when the Badgers were ranked fourth, the thriller in West Lafayette served as a much-needed high point and, perhaps more importantly, put them in position for a bid to a much more prestigious bowl game.
“Hopefully this gets us into a better one,” offensive lineman Michael Deiter said. “I don’t want to go anywhere cold.”
No one saw the next week’s 37-15 flop against rival Minnesota coming, and now the Badgers must wait until Sunday to find out if they’re heading to a warm-weather city for their last game of a disappointing season. The College Football Playoff committee’s final rankings and bowl game selections are set to be announced on ESPN from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Much remains up in the air for UW. The most probable destinations appear to be Nashville, Tenn., for the Music City Bowl (Dec. 28, 12:30 p.m.), Jacksonville, Fla., for the Gator Bowl (Dec. 31, 6:30 p.m.) or New York for the Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 27, 4:15 p.m.).
Michigan’s loss to Ohio State last week likely ensured that the Big Ten will place at least two teams into New Year’s Six bowl games. The Wolverines are ranked seventh in the College Football Playoff rankings, while the winner of the Big Ten Championship between the Buckeyes and Northwestern is guaranteed a spot.
That could leave the title game’s loser, Penn State and Iowa to take up spots in the Citrus Bowl, Outback Bowl and Holiday Bowl.
While bowl-game officials can take many factors into account, selections often don’t stray too far from taking the team with the best overall record. Next up after the aforementioned teams could be a decision between the Badgers and Michigan State, which both ended the regular season at 7-5.
The Music City and Gator bowls share a deal where one gets a Big Ten team and the other an ACC team each year. UW or Michigan State could end up in one of those two games, with the other dropping to the Pinstripe Bowl against an ACC team.
There’s also a chance, however, that the Big Ten could place three teams in the New Year’s Six bowls, rather than two. A Northwestern upset of Ohio State on Saturday would likely lead to the Wildcats, Buckeyes and Wolverines earning spots in one of those games. Even if Ohio State wins, Penn State could squeak in if Oklahoma and Clemson both win their respective conference title games.
If three Big Ten teams land New Year’s Six bids, that could open the possibly of the Badgers bumping up to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego (Dec. 31, 6 p.m.), where they defeated USC three years ago. UW played in the Music City Bowl in 2003, losing to Auburn, and the Badgers have never appeared in the Gator Bowl or Pinstripe Bowl.
No destination can make up for the Badgers’ underwhelming season, but the addition of one more game presents the opportunity for UW to win its fifth consecutive bowl game and avoid ending the year with that puzzling loss to Minnesota.
“The next chance we get to play, we’ve got to play better football,” UW coach Paul Chryst said after the loss to the Gophers. “And we all can have a hand in that and own that.
“We don’t know who we’re playing, but it’ll be a good football team. … You’ve got to play the game and you’ve got to play it the right way. To give yourself the best chance, you’ve got to do all the things that good football teams do.”