Don't make those bowl reservations just yet, Illinois. Rutgers' cool celebration after its comeback against Maryland might not lead to a bowl reward. Maryland's second-half collapse, meanwhile, could keep the Terrapins at home for the holidays.
You're probably wondering, what is this joker talking about?
The Big Ten could have a bowl-eligible team not end up in a bowl game this season. The league outlined the scenario -- and other postseason probables -- in a memo sent to its athletic directors Wednesday and obtained by ESPN.com.
Here's the deal: If Michigan State ends up in the Orange Bowl, a strong possibility, and only one other Big Ten team makes the New Year's six bowls, the Big Ten will be left with eight eligible teams for seven contracted spots. Remember, when the Big Ten sends a team to the Orange Bowl -- the bowl pairs an ACC team with the highest-ranked non-playoff participant from the SEC or Big Ten, or Notre Dame -- it does not fill its spot in the Citrus Bowl.
There are already 80 bowl-eligible teams for 76 available spots, all of which are contracted to certain leagues. So there will be no at-large selections this season.
Michigan State is No. 8 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings, two spots ahead of Mississippi State, the other likely candidate for the Orange Bowl. If No. 1 Alabama loses to No. 16 Missouri in the SEC championship game, the Tide almost certainly would go to the Orange Bowl ahead of Michigan State. But if Alabama wins, Michigan State is a virtual lock for the Orange unless the selection committee somehow flip-flops the two MSUs on a weekend when neither plays.
If No. 5 Ohio State beats No. 13 Wisconsin, the Big Ten would be limited to two teams in New Year's Six games. If that's the case and Michigan State makes the Orange Bowl, the league would have an eligible team miss out on a bowl. The likely candidates would be Illinois (6-6), Rutgers (7-5) or Maryland (7-5).
Penn State also is 6-6, it's hard to imagine bowls not clamoring for the Nittany Lions, who haven't gone bowling since 2011 because of NCAA sanctions. Iowa is 7-5 and ended the season on a down note, but bowls absolutely love the Hawkeyes and their massive traveling fan base.
Although the Big Ten has more say in preventing repeat matchups, the bowls still have a decent amount of pull.
"The Conference will not interfere or influence our contract bowls' selection rights, nor does it have any control over the CFP," Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner for television administration, wrote to the athletic directors Wednesday. "Unless a contract bowl selects a team that is over-exposed because of recent trips to the same bowl or same region, we will not interfere with the bowl’s selection."
Rudner goes on to write: "Our bowls have the choice, other than the repeat criteria, to select the team that fits their bowl need on an annual basis. In other words, the number of wins, number of losses, head to head, and schedule strength are advisory only. These factors guide the bowl's selection, but do not direct it. The selection process is intended to move teams and fan bases around the country over the life of these contracts."
The Big Ten memo encourages its schools to "advocate and communicate on behalf of your institution with the bowls in light of this set of circumstances." Put on those sales caps, Mike Thomas, Kevin Andersen and Julie Hermann. You might need them.
Or just root for Wisconsin to beat Ohio State on Saturday night. Although it would eliminate the Big Ten from the playoff picture, it likely would ensure the Big Ten has three teams in New Year's Six games and all eligible teams in bowls.
The Big Ten has contracts with 12 bowls but shares spots in the Orange-Citrus, Gator-Music City and Heart of Dallas-Armed Forces bowls. If a Big Ten team goes to the Orange Bowl, the remaining non-New Year's Six tie-ins would be: Outback, Holiday, Gator or Music City (not both), San Francisco, Pinstripe, Quick Lane and Heart of Dallas.
This situation is far from ideal, especially for a program like Illinois that hasn't gone bowling since 2011. Imagine if Michigan had become bowl eligible, too. The league would have been guaranteed to have one eligible team staying home for the holidays.
"Given this year's circumstances, and the new processes and procedures in place for the college football playoff, the Orange bowl and our other contract bowl arrangements, the Conference office felt it was necessary to reiterate the operational impact so that any hypothetical outcomes could be planned for and covered in advance so the broadest community of people were alerted," the memo reads.
Consider this your alert.