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2011 Bowl Projections: Illinois Aiming For Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Northwestern Makes Appearance

The Illinois Fighting Illini have greatly increased their standing in the 2011 Bowl Projections, gaining a unanimous support for the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl on December 27. SB Nation has compiled the projections of the leading bowl predictions gurus, Brad Edwards and Mark Schlabach of ESPNScout.com, and CollegeFootballBowlProjections.com -- and here's what Illinois fans really wanted to see:

Bowl Edwards Scout Schlabach CFBP
Little Caesars, 12/27 Illinois-Northern
Illinois
Toledo-Illinois Illinois-Ohio Ohio-Illinois

Yes, indeed, the Illini have pressed their way into the college bowl scene despite losing three straight. Of course, their most recent loss, a 10-7 heart-breaker to the now 12th ranked Penn St. Nittany Lions, only made them look better as they stifled the Nittany Lions through almost three and a half quarters of wintry football.

The Little Caesars Bowl, which takes place in Detroit's Ford Field this year, pits a contender from the Big Ten against a MAC opponent. The Fighting Illini can really help their chances this coming weekend, facing off against the No. 24 Michigan Wolverines at 2:30 PM CST.

Meanwhile, the Northwestern Wildcats have vaulted themselves onto the bowl scene for the first time this year, after their stunning win against then 10th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. Making their first appearance of the 2011 season, the Wildcats have earned Schlabach's blessing for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

They are still very much a long shot at a bowl game, but if the 4-5 Wildcats can win out against Rice, Minnesota, and (17) Michigan St. -- a tall order to say the least -- then a bowl game should be no problem.

For more college football rankings discussion and news from all around college football, visit SB Nation's NCAA Football hub.