Wisconsin_Illinois_Football_47

Wisconsin players walk off the field as Illinois celebrates their 24-21 win in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct.19, 2019, in Champaign, Ill.

Listen to this article

I assume the celebration Saturday went late into the night. Or early morning Sunday.

And that’s all good. When you knock off the No. 6 team in the country, like Illinois did at Memorial Stadium, you deserve a party.

After its win against Wisconsin, Illinois was the talk of college football. It was featured prominently on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”

Revelry is acceptable. As long as it doesn’t distract from the bigger prize: A bowl bid.

The shocking upset of the Badgers leaves Illinois just three victories short of a postseason berth. Or maybe two.

There are 39 bowls looking for two teams each in 2019-20. That means 78 schools are on their way somewhere.

Might be an exotic spot like Hawaii or the Bahamas. Could be a big city like New York, Dallas or Houston. Some stops are underrated tourist destinations like Detroit and Boise, Idaho.

It has been five years since Illinois last went to a bowl. It won’t be picky. If you are wearing a bright-colored blazer and want to extend an invite, the school will say “Yes.” Immediately.

The Big Ten has ties to nine bowls. It will gain an additional spot if a conference team lands a College Football Playoff berth. Currently, undefeated Ohio State is in the best playoff position. The Buckeyes are a lock if they win their final five regular-season games followed by the Big Ten championship game.

With 14 schools and the likelihood of 10 openings, every eligible team will have a bowl home.

Filling up

Four Big Ten teams are already bowl eligible: Ohio State, Penn State, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Three others need one more win: Indiana, Iowa and Michigan. Michigan State and Nebraska are two short. Maryland joins Illinois in the “we need three wins” club.

Or do they?

Earlier this decade, facing a shortage of eligible teams, the NCAA relaxed the rules to allow bowl teams with 5-7 records.

In 2015, 5-7 Minnesota, Nebraska and San Jose State earned bowl invites. All three won their bonus games.

It happened again with Mississippi State and North Texas in 2016.

Will any 5-7 teams be needed this time? Maybe. There are 23 schools already bowl eligible. Another 22 have five wins.

So, that makes 45 schools at or near the requirement. Leaving 33 more open invitations. Hmmmm.

Road map

On Saturday, I laid out what it would take for Illinois to shock Wisconsin. Of course, I had no idea what was about to happen.

In our staff picks, I went with Wisconsin. Like everyone else.

If we had included the points spread (good idea), I would have taken Illinois. Thirty-one points is way too many to give a home team.

Despite the win against Wisconsin, Illinois is an eight-point underdog at Purdue. That makes sense. The Boilermakers are playing better in recent weeks.

Their last game at home on Oct. 12, the Boilermakers drilled Maryland 40-14. Jeff Brohm will have his guys ready Saturday. They won’t be impressed by Illinois’ updated status.

The game in West Lafayette is one of the five left for the Illini. After that, they host Rutgers, travel to Michigan State and Iowa and host Northwestern.

The Illini likely need to win three of their last five to extend their season. It’s a goal the players talked about openly during the summer.

It would mean another step in Lovie Smith’s rebuild. The project is a bit behind schedule. Maybe the Wisconsin win put it back on track.

My hunch, Illinois will be favored — perhaps by a big number — when it hosts Rutgers. It will also be favored at home in the finale against Northwestern, which is having a rare down year under Pat Fitzgerald.

Wins at either Michigan State or Iowa will require a performance similar to one against Wisconsin. Force a few turnovers. Take care of the ball. Stay close and make a big play or two at the end.

Three wins in five games will not be easy. But it is possible. Didn’t think I would be writing that this season. Until about 2:30 p.m. Saturday when the party started.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is asmussen@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).

College Football Reporter/Columnist

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is asmussen@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).