Hawkeye football mailbag: On Iowa's bowl-game possibilities, Noah Fant's NFL Draft stock

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

The three-game losing streak hasn’t been much fun for anyone involved with Iowa football, and that includes the fans.

We churned ahead anyway to field your questions on Wednesday's Hawk Central Facebook Live session.

One topic besides Noah Fant's snap count that can stir a conversation is bowl scenarios. So we looked into where the Hawkeyes might go this postseason?

In 2017, Iowa picked up its first postseason win under Kirk Ferentz in seven years with a 27-20 verdict against Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl at (frozen) Yankee Stadium.

We won’t know until Dec. 2. And the results of Iowa’s upcoming games against Illinois (2:30 p.m. Saturday, BTN) and Nebraska (11 a.m. Nov. 23, Fox) will obviously play a key factor.

But as it stands now, here are the options in order of selection process of Big Ten Conference-affiliated bowls:

Citrus (Jan. 1, Orlando, Fla.) — While a long shot, a return to the site of Tate-to-Holloway can’t be ruled out. If Iowa finishes 8-4 with two strong wins and Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State make the New Year’s Six, it’s possible (but not likely) the Hawkeyes get the nod over Northwestern, Michigan State and Wisconsin (who could all be 7-5 or worse). I’ll predict: Penn State.

Outback (Jan. 1, Tampa, Fla.) — The Big Ten wants five different teams in six years of this partnership, and this is Year 5, with Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan having been here. I’ll predict: Michigan State.

Holiday (Dec. 31, San Diego) — Iowa’s best chance to return to San Diego for the first time since 1991 is to finish 8-4 and see three Big Ten teams crack the New Year’s Six. I’ll predict: Northwestern.

Music City (Dec. 28, Nashville, Tenn.) or TaxSlayer (Dec. 31, Jacksonville, Fla.) — One of these lower-level bowls would love to snap up a Midwest power it normally wouldn’t get. I’ll predict: Wisconsin, in the TaxSlayer.

Pinstripe (Dec. 27, New York) — There’s a zero percent chance Iowa returns here, as the Big Ten wants eight teams in the Bronx in eight years. I’ll predict: Purdue.

Redbox (Dec. 31, Santa Clara, Calif.) — I’ve seen projections of Stanford here in a de facto home game … and a possible rematch of the 2016 Rose Bowl. I’ll predict: Iowa.

The possibilities will continue to evolve as more games are played. Stay tuned.

TOPIC: Did Iowa show Northwestern too much respect?

It was a mistake to try to get into the fistfight that Saturday’s 14-10 loss became. A too-bland approach on offense limited the home crowd's involvement in the game, which played right into Northwestern’s hands.

Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats have gone 6-1 against Big Ten competition by winning close, ugly games. Iowa’s victory formula needs to be avoiding close, ugly games. Illinois (4-6 overall, 2-5 Big Ten) and Nebraska (3-7, 2-5) offer two good chances for that.

TOPIC: What's the real story with Noah Fant?

There hasn’t been a straight answer given, leaving us only to speculate why he isn't playing more in key situations.

How about we all move on and see what happens at Illinois?

Deal? Deal

The hubbub so far hasn’t crushed Fant’s NFL Draft profile. According to Mel Kiper Jr.’s latest big board at ESPN.com, Fant is the No. 1 eligible tight end for the 2019 draft. Hawkeye teammate T.J. Hockenson is Kiper’s No. 5 tight end. (Nate Stanley, by the way, is his No. 9 quarterback.)

Add that to the evidence that Fant and Hockenson should be on the field together as much as humanly possible in Iowa’s final two November games.

TOPIC: Where is Julius Brents?

A good question, one that has been overshadowed by the issue of Fant’s playing time.

Asked after the Northwestern loss why Brents didn’t play, Kirk Ferentz contended that his freshman cornerback did play. “He was out there. No. 20? Yeah,” the head coach said.

But Brents hadn’t actually played. Matt Hankins and Michael Ojemudia started at cornerback, with Riley Moss playing in nickel situations.

Hankins deserves another start at left cornerback. Brents has played well, too, and might be Iowa’s second-best corner. But he’s also accustomed to playing the left side, where he started five straight games after Hankins was hurt.

Short-term, Iowa felt comfortable with more experienced guys against Northwestern. Long-term, coaches have competitions ahead as their top four corners plus redshirting freshman D.J. Johnson return in 2019.

TOPIC: How many years must Iowa fans accept mediocrity?

That decision (and your definition of mediocrity) is up to you.

It’s possible that a third straight 8-5 season is staring Iowa in the face. Unless the Hawkeyes win out impressively, they’ll finished outside the final top 25 for the eighth time in nine seasons.

What I’m looking for in the next three games: to see a program that looks more like the 2008 season ended (9-4) than 2014 (7-6).