Could Nebraska Steal a Decent Bowl Bid With 6 Wins?
The sky is falling crowd might have you believing that Nebraska will not win another game this season. Since that is mathematically possible, it can't be ruled out entirely (but then the same could be said for a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl victory on the way to a 12-2 season). The worst case scenario that includes a bowl would have a 6-6 Nebraska team playing in its weakest bowl since Bo Pelini arrived. But exactly how far would that NU team fall?
A six-win Nebraska team would surely be shut out of the Rose Bowl. The Capital One and Outback bowls are not allowed to select teams with two fewer wins than another bowl eligible Big Ten team. Thus any two 8-win Big Ten teams besides Penn State (who is banned from the post-season) would claim that spot ahead of a 6-6 NU team.
But beyond that, the bowls are allowed to choose whichever team they like. You might think that a bowl would automatically choose the team with the best resume for that season. History says otherwise. For example, the 2002 season saw Nebraska finish 7-6 yet claim a bowl spot with a better payout than three other Big 12 teams with better resumes. In 1998, 9-3 NU slid ahead of an 11-1 Kansas State team in the pecking order. Bowls don't have to choose the most deserving team, they seek the team with fans who will buy the most tickets and that will draw the most viewers on television. Nebraska's fan base and name brand can advance it in the pecking order substantially.
The Gator Bowl is said to be getting the top pick after the Rose, Capital One and Outback Bowls. The Buffalo Wild Wings bowl (which oddly appears to have the better payout than the Gator) is next. It's easy to imagine a scenario where NU lands in one of those bowls despite having fewer wins than the other possible selections.
Ohio State seems likely to head to the Rose Bowl or national championship game. You could even see Michigan, Michigan State, or Wisconsin grab an at-large berth to a BCS bowl. Mathematically, you might even see Minnesota, but let's not get carried away. You'd imagine Michigan and Wisconsin slide into the Capital One and Outback bowl spots, that is unless those bowls were obliged to take Michigan State.
After that, NU would likely be competing with Iowa and Minnesota. Right now, Northwestern, Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue all appear like they'd be lucky to get to six wins. If those teams are sitting right at 6 victories, it's a fair bet that they won't slide ahead of Nebraska in the bowl pecking order.
Even if Iowa or Minnesota are sitting with 7 or more wins, you'd give the Huskers a decent chance of stealing the better bowl bid from under those schools. That would have the Huskers either playing on New Years Day in Florida at the Gator Bowl against an SEC team or else getting the Fiesta Bowl experience against a Big 12 team at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. That's way more attractive than Houston, Dallas or Detroit. The payday would be on par with what the top non-BCS Pac-12 school receives.
Nobody said that life was fair. You could consider it a modest reward for an otherwise painful season.