Redbox (Dec. 30) Bowls would choose their Big Ten guests before Quick Lane. First Responder (Dec. 30), like its Detroit counterpart, is an overflow home for league teams if necessary. All four games have hosted Big Ten squads with 6-6 records in the past five years.
First Responder Executive Director Brant Ringler said the decade-old event in Dallas would prefer to end its drought without a Big Ten rep at four.
Nebraska would be a "strong option," he said, considering geographic proximity and the reputation of the fan base for traveling well. But the contest is far enough down the pecking order that it likely won't happen unless the Big Ten qualifies 10 teams. The league already has eight, with the Huskers and five-win Michigan State (vs. Maryland on Saturday) on the cusp.
"There's a lot of positives there with Nebraska," Ringler said. "But we'll have to see how it plays out. They've got a tough opponent this weekend. We want to make sure as many teams (as possible) can get into the system to give us an opportunity to even have a team from the Big Ten."
The Big Ten is in the final season of various six-year agreements it made with bowls in 2014. Its stated goal has been to send teams to as many cities as possible. Here's a look at the league bowl hierarchy and where a six-win Nebraska could fit.
College Football Playoff: Ohio State is likely to end the Big Ten's two-year drought here, which would push every other league team up a slot.
Rose Bowl: "The Granddaddy of Them All" must choose a replacement Big Ten team if the league champion is in the playoff. Possibilities include Minnesota, Penn State and Wisconsin.
Orange Bowl or Citrus Bowl:The Orange pits an ACC team against the highest-ranked foe from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame. The Citrus would take a Big Ten team if the Orange doesn't. This could be Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin or Penn State.
Outback Bowl: This bowl is contractually obligated to take at least five Big Ten schools during the six year deal. It has already had Iowa twice (2018, 2016) along with Michigan (2017), Northwestern (2015) and Wisconsin (2014). So none of those schools can go to the Jan. 1 game in Tampa this year. Penn State or Minnesota is the probable choice.
Holiday Bowl: The Holiday must also take five league schools in six years but can host anyone this time since it has no repeat selections. Iowa, which hasn't played in the San Diego event since 1991, is a logical option. Wisconsin or Michigan could go, too. This bowl is no longer part of the league's postseason rotation from at least 20202025.
Music City Bowl or Gator Bowl: The Big Ten agreed to play three times in the Music City and three times in the Gator in the six-year window, with no team appearing in more than one of each. That eliminates Nebraska (Gator in 2014 and Music City in 2016) from consideration. Since this must be a Gator bid, it also precludes Iowa (Gator in 2015). Indiana is a front-runner.
Pinstripe Bowl: The league's expressed "goal" is to have eight teams participate in eight years, with a minimum of six ones going to the Dec. 27 at New York City's Yankee Stadium. The list of recent selections: Wisconsin (7-5 regular-season record in 2018), Iowa (7-5 in 2017), Northwestern (6-6 in 2016), Indiana (6-6 in 2015) and Penn State (6-6 in 2014). Illinois and Nebraska are strong possibilities.
Redbox Bowl: The game in Santa Clara, California, must have at least five teams in six years. It has welcomed Michigan State (7-5 in 2018), Purdue (6-6 in 2017), Indiana (6-6 in 2016), Nebraska (5-7 in 2015) and Maryland (7-5 in 2014). This is in the range of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan State and Nebraska.
Quick Lane Bowl: This bowl has taken a Big Ten team every time the league has had nine or more qualifiers including Minnesota (6-6 in 2018), Maryland (6-6 in 2016), Minnesota (5-7 in 2015) and Rutgers (7-5 in 2014). A six-win Michigan State, with its campus 90 miles away from Ford Field, makes lots of sense.
First Responder Bowl: The former Heart of Dallas Bowl has only taken one Big Ten team (Illinois was 6-6 in 2014) during the six-year window. Last year's game pitting Boston College and Boise State was canceled by lightning. The Big Ten likely wouldn't play here unless it reaches 10 qualifiers.
Could Nebraska still go bowling with a loss to Iowa?
The short answer is yes, though it would take something bordering on a Christmas miracle.
Of 78 bowl slots, 73 have already been filled by teams that have achieved eligibility with six-plus wins. That leaves five open spots.
Nebraska is one of 12 teams playing this weekend that can join the list with a victory. Another school, Army, could reach six wins with an upset over Hawaii but still has to beat Navy — in a game after bowl pairings are released — because it can only count one of its two FCS wins. Army qualifying is unlikely at best.
Of the 12 teams competing for a bowl bid, five are favored: Mississippi State (2 1⁄2 points vs. Ole Miss on Thursday), TCU (12 1⁄2 vs. West Virginia on Friday), Michigan State (22 vs. Maryland), North Carolina (8 1⁄2 at N.C. State) and Liberty (14 vs. New Mexico State). The others are underdogs: Friday contenders include Troy (Appalachian State by 12 1⁄2), Kent State (Eastern Michigan by 5) and Nebraska. Saturday underdogs are Boston College (Pittsburgh by 9), Oregon State (Oregon by 19), Colorado (Utah by 28 1⁄2) and Louisiana-Monroe (Louisiana by 19 1⁄2).
If at least five of those 12 teams win this weekend, it will mark a fourth straight winter in which no schools with sub-.500 records will appear during bowl season.
But if any bowl slots remain, 5-7 teams would be options based on their Academic Progress Rate, in this case measured from the 201718 school year. If Nebraska finished 5-7, it would be behind the following potential bowl teams based on APR: Duke (4-7, 8 1⁄2-point underdog at Miami), Boston College (5-6, nine-point underdog to Pittsburgh), Stanford (4-7, 16 1⁄2-point underdog to Notre Dame), Middle Tennessee (4-7, five-point underdog at Western Kentucky) and Ole Miss (4-7, three-point underdog to Mississippi State).
The bottom line: For Nebraska to reach a bowl at 5-7 would require at least one upset loss among five favored teams with 5-6 records this weekend, no upset wins by the six underdog teams at 5-6 and all four teams at 4-7 ahead of it in the APR rankings (all underdogs) to lose.
The stakes for the Huskers are clear. Win or probably stay home.