CHICAGO- As the College Football Playoffs and bowl game selections were announced this past weekend it was revealed that the Chicago area will once again have a presence this holiday season. Last season Northwestern was the only local team to play in a bowl game. This year Northwestern will be accompanied by Notre Dame (who has a major Chicago following) and Northern Illinois (also has a foot in the Chicago market). All three teams have significantly improved since 2016. NU increased it’s win total, while UND and NIU rebounded from losing campaigns to become bowl-eligible again.
Here’s a look at where each team will be playing and when…
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-3, Ind.)-
We all knew that the Irish would be kept out of the playoffs after losing to Miami (FL) and Stanford along with a narrow win over Navy in their final three regular season games. It turns out that it will also keep them out of a New Years Six bowl as well. Notre Dame will still play on New Year’s Day but they’ll have to settle for the Citrus Bowl against 17th ranked Louisiana State. The Irish finished with ranking of No. 14 by the CFP committee and the AP Top 25, and finished 15th in the coaches poll.
They’ll be taking on a streaking LSU Tigers squad that finished the season winning six of their final seven games and like Notre Dame also boasts a strong running game and a stout defense. These two teams last met in the memorable 2014 Music City Bowl where the Irish won a grinder with a last second field goal. Overall the Irish are 1-2 in bowl games against the Tigers as they lost their first two bowl meetings to LSU in the 1997 Independence Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl at the conclusion of the 2006 season.
This is the first-ever Citrus Bowl appearance for the Irish while LSU is playing in this game for the second straight year. Last year the Tigers ran all over Louisville who were led by the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Notre Dame will need another big game from both their defense and ground attack if they hope to reach 10 wins for the first time since 2015. Brian Kelly is 3-3 in bowl games at UND’s head coach. Kickoff on January 1st is scheduled for Noon Central Time.
Northwestern Wildcats (9-3, 7-2 Big Ten)-
Speaking of the Music City Bowl, that’s where the Wildcats (No. 21 in the CFP and No. 20 in the both the AP and coaches polls) find themselves on December 29th. After a 2-3 start Northwestern finished the season on a seven-game winning streak, one of the best streaks in program history. They face the Kentucky Wildcats who had to stretch themselves in order to finish with a 7-5 record. Northwestern is pushing for not only their fourth 10-win season in program history, but they’re also looking for their fourth bowl game victory. Two of wins came on Fitzgerald’s watch.
Kentucky has struggled on the defensive side of the ball as they surrender an average of 27 points per game, which will be music to the years of running back Justin Jackson and quarterback Clayton Thorson. What improves NU’s odds of winning even more is that Fitzgerald is 3-2 against the Southeastern Conference. The Wildcats continued pursuit of history will kickoff at roughly 3:30pm Central.
Northern Illinois Huskies (8-4, 6-2 Mid-American)-
While unranked NIU did not succeed in their attempt to claim another MAC Championship, they are bowl-eligible for the fourth season under Rod Carey. This year they’ll still get to play at Detroit’s Ford Field, albeit this time it’s in the Quick Lane Bowl on the day after Christmas. They face a Duke Blue Devils team that lost six of their final eight games and barely finished bowl-eligible. The Huskies however have never won a bowl game in the Carey era, so they’ll have a tough task ahead of them with a 4:15pm (Central) kickoff time.
It’s time go to bowling.