Would a 12-1 Iowa be a slam dunk for Rose Bowl? Definitely not

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. – It’s time to pay attention to the College Football Playoff rankings. Iowa’s chances at going to its first Rose Bowl in 25 years could very well depend upon them.

That was the message from Scott Jenkins, chairman of the Rose Bowl Management Committee, in an interview with the Des Moines Register in advance of ESPN’s Tuesday night release (6 p.m. CT) of the first 2015 CFP rankings.

A Big Ten Conference West Division championship, a ready-to-travel fan base and a 2½-decade absence from Pasadena won’t mean much of anything to Iowa (currently 8-0) if Jenkins’ group is tasked to make a decision – which it would be if a Big Ten team is invited to the four-team College Football Playoff.

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Let’s look at one plausible scenario.

Suppose 12-0 Ohio State beats 12-0 Iowa in the Big Ten title game Dec. 5. The 13-0 and probably top-ranked Buckeyes would be selected into the playoff. But for 12-1 Iowa to make the best case for Pasadena, it would have to be ranked ahead of every other Big Ten team by the 12-member College Football Playoff committee.

That’s no slam dunk, especially if – for example – Michigan State was 11-1 with its only loss also to the Buckeyes (those two currently unbeaten teams meet Nov. 21). Then Iowa’s Pasadena fate would come down to which Big Ten team the CFP committee rates as second-best. The Rose Bowl is contracted to pit a Big Ten team vs. one from the Pacific-12 Conference.

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“I really want to emphasize that the strong presumption is we’re going with the next-highest-ranked team. OK? Because I don’t want to mislead people,” Jenkins said. “And I really mean that. We’ve had a lot of discussions with (athletic directors) from both conferences. It’s really important. They’re putting a lot of weight in these rankings systems, and we will, too. It would truly have to be an extraordinary situation.”

The only “extraordinary situation" that Jenkins could think of that would apply for one team to jump another was if a team had already gone to the Rose Bowl for three consecutive years, as Wisconsin did from 2011-13. He said both conferences agreed three years in a row was too many, but two in a row wasn't.

If the Big Ten champion heads to the playoff, the Rose Bowl (according to the Big Ten) “has sole discretion on a replacement team, and will generally select the highest‐rated available team, but will take into consideration final College Football Playoff rankings, head‐to‐head competition, division champions and most recent Rose Bowl Game appearances.”

Back to the earlier scenario. Jenkins was asked directly: Suppose Michigan State finishes eighth in the final CFP rankings and Iowa is ninth (Iowa doesn't face Michigan State this season). What then?

Even though Iowa travels better and hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl as recently (1991 vs. 2014), Jenkins said his group would have a hard time jumping the Hawkeyes over the Spartans.

“I’d have to think about it. That’s a tough one,” Jenkins told the Register. “Again, I’d go with the strong presumption I’m taking the next-highest-ranked team.

“I’d have to have something else going to want to jump somebody. Imagine the political repercussions to us. You’re going to make someone unhappy, and I’m going to take a lot of the heat. So it’s a heck of a lot easier to justify it (with), ‘Folks, I’m looking at these rankings and I went with the next highest-ranked-team.’

“I understand, you want to say the special circumstances (are that) Iowa hasn’t been here in a long time. My response is, that’s not good enough.”

So, pay attention Tuesday night, Hawkeye fans. How the playoff committee views Iowa matters during the next month. The final rankings come out at 11 a.m. on Dec. 6.

Another possible factor in the mix is television. ESPN can offer its input to the Rose Bowl Management Committee should the Big Ten champion go to the playoff, Jenkins said. That could also work against Iowa in a scenario if, say, it comes down to 10-2 Michigan (with a win over Ohio State) vs. 11-2 Iowa (with a 3-1 regular-season finish and a Big Ten title-game defeat to the Buckeyes). The Jim Harbaugh factor at Michigan could draw more TV eyeballs and get ESPN's recommendation over two-loss Iowa.

What if the Rose Bowl doesn't happen for 11-2 or 12-1 Iowa? Well, there's still a good chance for the Hawkeyes to be chosen as one of four at-large teams to fill two "New Year's Six" bowls by the committee: the Peach (Dec. 31 in Atlanta) or Fiesta (Jan. 1 in Glendale, Ariz.). The Sugar (Jan. 1) is contracted for a Big 12 vs. SEC matchup, and the Cotton and Orange (both Dec. 31) are slated as national semifinals.

The next-best prize after the New Year's Six with Big Ten tie-ins would be is the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (formerly the Capital One Bowl, which Iowa won in 2005 on the final play and hasn't been to since) in Orlando, Fla.

But as far as Iowa's Pasadena hopes go, the CFP rankings appear to be almost gospel. Jenkins compared the verdict his committee would make to that of an instant-replay official during games.

“There’s a presumption that they got it right on the field,” he said, “and I’ve got to have clear and convincing evidence that they got it wrong.”


Jeff Long (chairman), Arkansas athletics director

Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin athletics director

Mike Gould, retired Air Force superintendent

Kirby Hocutt, Texas Tech athletics director

Tom Jernstedt, former NCAA executive

Bobby Johnson, former Vanderbilt coach

Tom Osborne, former Nebraska coach and U.S. congressman

Dan Radakovich, Clemson athletics director

Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State (2005-09)

Mike Tranghese, former Big East commissioner

Steve Wieberg, former USA TODAY sportswriter

Tyrone Willingham, former Notre Dame/Stanford/Washington coach