Right now, a remarkably inconsistent Northwestern has a 5-4 overall record. Three non-conference losses include lackluster against Duke and Akron (!) and a noble but doomed effort last week against Notre Dame. (NU held their ground against the Irish for most of the game but came out flat after halftime and ultimately lost 31-21). Their sole conference loss so far was a cross-divisional nail-biter vs. Michigan, when they allowed Michigan to squeak by with a 3-point win.
That puts NU at 5-1 in the conference. If they win two of their next three games (Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois) they are in the Big10 Championship game; and even if they only win 1 of 3 they still have a good shot by virtue of having already beaten Wisconsin and Purdue, the next two teams. So looking at today’s standings and schedule, there is a better than even chance the Wildcats with at least 4 losses will be facing Michigan again (or maybe Ohio State) in the Big 10 Championship game.
Winning that game would be a huge upset of course; but of course it could happen. What then? Does the Big10 winner still get an automatic berth to the Rose Bowl? Or, with the playoff system in place, would NU get bumped to a “lesser” bowl? I mean, they really have no business being in the playoffs.
Also, let’s say Michigan or OSU beat NU (the more likely scenario). That’s not a very impressive win. Does a win over a weak NU hurt their chances to play for the National Championship?