Sports columnist Chad Leistikow talks with Danny Lawhon as they look ahead at the Iowa Hawkeyes' match up against the Purdue Boilermakers. Michael Zamora/The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa’s football bowl-game forecast remains cloudy with a strong chance of something new.
The 6-4 Hawkeyes are practically certain to land in one of four bowls — three they’ve never played in and one they last visited in 1991 — an analysis by the Des Moines Register shows.
Where Iowa ends up, of course, depends not only on how it fares against its final two Big Ten Conference opponents (Saturday vs. 4-6 Purdue, Nov. 24 at 4-6 Nebraska) but also what happens with dozens of other games over the next three weekends. An announcement will come Dec. 2.
First things first.
It’s important to understand a key principle in the Big Ten bowl determination procedure that enters its fourth year with fresh partners and guidelines: The goal is to provide variety for not only the programs but the bowls themselves. So the TaxSlayer Bowl (2014 season) and Outback Bowl (2016) are off the table for Iowa.
It’s also notable that there are seven Big Ten bowl-eligible teams — and Iowa has the fewest wins of the bunch. Wisconsin (10-0), Ohio State (8-2), Penn State (8-2), Michigan (8-2), Michigan State (7-3) and Northwestern (7-3) are ahead of the Hawkeyes. And both 7-3 teams beat Iowa in head-to-head matchups.
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A few other wrinkles: The Big Ten is guaranteed one spot in the Orange or Citrus bowls (not both), and the Orange cannot take the league champion — important because the Rose Bowl hosts a national semifinal this year and, thus, may not feature a Big Ten team. The league also is in an either/or relationship with the Music City and TaxSlayer bowls.
The Orange/Citrus note is key, because if the Orange (a New Year’s Six bowl) takes a Big Ten team such as Penn State, then perhaps Michigan State — which should win out against a remaining schedule of Maryland and Rutgers to finish 9-3 — or Michigan (with a win vs. Wisconsin or Ohio State) could get bumped back to the Outback Bowl at 9-3.
With all that in mind, here’s a look at the four most likely Hawkeye destinations, sorted by their pecking order as listed by the Big Ten (all times central time):
Holiday Bowl (San Diego)
Matchup: Dec. 28 vs. Pac-12 opponent (8 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Recent B1G representatives: Nebraska (2014), Wisconsin (2015), Minnesota (2016)
Why it makes sense for Iowa: Holiday Bowl officials badly wanted the 8-4 Hawkeyes last year, but the Outback stepped up to pluck them ahead of 9-3 Nebraska. A portion of Iowa’s fan base has yearned for a return to the site of bowl trips in 1987 and 1991. The San Diego weather is unbeatable.
Why it wouldn’t: The Hawkeyes probably need to finish 8-4 to bring the Holiday into play. Even then, they would be butting heads with Michigan or Northwestern or both. It’s hard to imagine the Holiday passing on Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan brand.
Chance Iowa plays here: 25 percent.
Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tenn.)
Matchup: Dec. 29 vs. SEC opponent (3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Recent B1G representatives: Nebraska (2016); none in 2014, 2015
Why it makes sense for Iowa: Nashville can be reached by car from Iowa City (about an 8½-hour drive) and bowl officials would make their pitch to take an 8-4 Hawkeye team over perhaps 9-3 Northwestern. If the Big Ten gets three New Year's Six teams and a Citrus bid, then it's almost definitely Holiday or Music City for the Hawkeyes.
Why it wouldn’t: Northwestern went to last year’s Pinstripe Bowl, so there’s only so far the Big Ten would be willing to knock down the Wildcats, especially considering their 17-10 win vs. Iowa. A key guideline: The bowl requests a Big Ten school, but it is “subject to conference approval.” It's also possible the TaxSlayer ends up with Northwestern, leaving the Music City without a Big Ten team.
Chance Iowa plays here: 25 percent.
Pinstripe Bowl (Bronx, N.Y.)
Matchup: Dec. 27 vs. ACC opponent (4:15 p.m., ESPN)
Recent B1G representatives: Penn State (2014), Indiana (2015), Northwestern (2016)
Why it makes sense for Iowa: Since Northwestern isn’t a Pinstripe option, there are a lot of scenarios that send the Hawkeyes to Yankee Stadium, no matter their final record. A unique Pinstripe guideline notes that the Big Ten “goal” is to get eight different Big Ten participants in eight years. (And, hey, at least it would feel like Big Ten football weather — Iowa needs every advantage it can get to break a five-game bowl losing streak.)
Why it wouldn’t: From a practicality standpoint, this probably isn't the year well-traveled Iowa fans are craving a trip to New York City. The Big Ten basketball tournament is there in two months, and a lot of fans followed the Hawkeyes into the Big Apple in March 2016 for either NCAA basketball (in Brooklyn) or NCAA wrestling (at Madison Square Garden).
Chance Iowa plays here: 40 percent.
Foster Farms Bowl (Santa Clara, Calif.)
Matchup: Dec. 27 vs. Pac-12 opponent (7 p.m., Fox)
Who’s been there recently: Maryland (2014), Nebraska (2015), Indiana (2016)
Why it makes sense for Iowa: If Iowa stumbles to 6-6, a team like Purdue could get the nudge from the Big Ten to visit the Bronx. A Bay Area road trip might gain some appeal for Hawkeye fans who want to see the 49ers — with C.J. Beathard, George Kittle and Greg Mabin — play a Dec. 24 home game.
Why it wouldn’t: Bowl games rarely pass on the Hawkeyes’ traveling fans. Some unlikely stuff — like the Big Ten getting just two New Year’s Six berths, one of them being the Orange Bowl — would have to happen for Foster Farms to come into play.
Chance Iowa plays here: 10 percent.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.