Ah, it's that most wonderful time of the year when bowl projections abound, and we wonder which school will be the next victim of mockery from the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band!
(That is, if the Band successfully appeals its travel ban for the bowl game.)
To think, it was just one year ago that the state of Iowa collectively complained, and one Iowan even decried the Band's "racism" against farmers. (Relatedly, I still wonder to this day if farmers are now a race...)
But that was then and this is now. Mocking farmers was so last year. Now it's time to unveil my projection for this year. Last year it was Iowa, and this year it is...
Wait. What? Again?! How could this possibly be?
First, let me assure you that this is a very realistic possibility. In fact, I'd view it as the most feasible of all the Stanford bowl scenarios out there.
Why? Well, first thing's first. Stanford is likely heading to either the Holiday Bowl or the Foster Farms Bowl. Earlier this week, my esteemed colleague Tony Fernandes concluded (and I agree) that the slight edge goes to the Holiday Bowl (although I'll also discuss a separate scenario for the Foster Farms Bowl below). Tony already did a fantastic job explaining why Stanford's likely to end up in either the Holiday or Foster Farms Bowl, so I won't rehash his reasons.
But it begs the question: who will Stanford's Big Ten opponent be?
The Holiday Bowl Scenario: Stanford vs. Iowa
First, it's pretty clear who Stanford's opponent won't be. The Big Ten is absolutely dominating the top of the CFP Rankings right now with four teams ranked in the top seven. With Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State all likely off to New Year's Six Bowls, none of them can possibly play Stanford.Once the New Year's Six bowls are settled, the Outback Bowl gets the first crack at a Big Ten team, and will have a choice of 9-3 Nebraska, 8-4 Iowa, or 8-4 Minnesota. Seems like a pretty straight-forward choice for Nebraska; not only do they own the best record, but they also have a very loyal fan base who will travel with them.
Following that, the Holiday Bowl gets its pick between 8-4 Iowa and 8-4 Minnesota. And with both Stanford and Iowa available, I think there's a very real chance that they will create a rematch of last year's Rose Bowl...
...not to mention the opportunity for Christian McCaffrey to run all over Iowa once again.
The Foster Farms Bowl Scenario: Stanford vs. Northwestern
Last year, Stanford lost its season opener to Northwestern in an uncharacteristic offensive performance that saw Stanford scoring only 6 points all game long (after that game, Stanford never scored fewer than 31 points). Many of us dreamed of what might happen if Stanford got a second crack at Northwestern...
...well, we may not have to dream much longer as Northwestern just might be Stanford's Foster Farms Bowl opponent.
Let's face it: Stanford isn't a guarantee to get to the Holiday Bowl. The Holiday Bowl will have a choice of Stanford, or WSU, and even though Stanford seems the likeliest choice, it's also possible that the Holiday Bowl will prefer a WSU team that defeated Stanford decisively.
Should the Holiday Bowl pass, Stanford is likely off to the Foster Farms Bowl. Who's the opponent, though?
Well, it almost certainly will be a 6-6 team. As discussed above, the cream of the crop in the Big Ten are off to New Year's Six bowls, while Nebraska/Iowa/Minnesota will each be assigned to one of the Outback/Holiday/Music City Bowls. After that, only three 6-6 teams remain: Northwestern, Indiana, and Maryland.Unfortunately, there is one thing that could stand in the way of a Stanford-Northwestern rematch: the Pinstripe Bowl will get to choose one of the three 6-6 teams before the Foster Farms Bowl even gets a crack. That said, if Pinstripe favors geography, the New York-based bowl may end up with a Maryland team that's only a three-hour drive away, which would open the door for a Stanford vs. Northwestern rematch in the Foster Farms Bowl.
Incidentally, if the Pinstripe Bowl spoils the party by selecting Northwestern, expect the Foster Farms Bowl to take Indiana instead. Although Maryland is also technically available, the Foster Farms Bowl agreed to take five different Big Ten teams in six years, so they'll have to pass on a Stanford vs. Maryland rematch of the 2014 Foster Farms Bowl.
Who would you prefer that the Stanford Band make fun of? Iowa farmers? The Second City? Or whatever-the-heck a Hoosier is?