IOWA CITY, Ia. — An under-mentioned positive that emerged from Iowa’s stunning 14-13 upset of Michigan last week was that, with a sixth win, the Hawkeyes became bowl-eligible.
No matter what happens in the 6-4 Hawkeyes’ final two regular-season games — Saturday at Illinois (11 a.m., Big Ten Network) and Nov. 25 vs. Nebraska (time, TV to be determined) — they’ll appear in a postseason game for the 14th time in 16 seasons.
Some of it depends on whether the final record is 6-6, 7-5 or 8-4.
“From our perspective,” Iowa deputy athletic director Gene Taylor said, “the more wins we have, the more options we have available.”
Here’s a need-to-know look at the bowl landscape, which won’t be finalized until Dec. 4, the day after the Big Ten Conference championship game.
We're in the third year of a new lineup of Big Ten bowl partnerships, designed still to reward the best seasons with the best bowls but also provide variety for a team’s players and fan base.
The days of back-room deals between athletic officials and bowl executives are gone. Generally, so are the days of an 8-4 team jumping a 9-3 team because its fans are more willing to travel.
After the New Year’s Six bowls make their selections Dec. 4, the Big Ten makes final decisions on where its member teams go — after considering feedback from the bowls and schools, of course.
Taylor said Iowa will provide its input “a little bit more once the regular season ends. And it’s not really lobbying, because the Big Ten still has the option to slot teams in. But we can start kind of giving our preference.”
Things will become clearer after the regular season. But to identify Iowa’s most likely destinations, there is one assumption we’ll make here.
The Big Ten will get four teams into the New Year’s Six lineup.
With Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State ranked in the top eight of the latest CFP rankings (and the top 11 plus the best non-Power Five team making it), this is not a stretch. Wisconsin and Penn State, both 8-2, have clear paths to 10-2; and the Ohio State-Michigan loser won’t fall far. The CFP committee establishes matchups in these six bowl games — the Fiesta and Peach (this year’s national semifinals), Rose, Orange, Cotton and Sugar. The Big Ten champion, or the highest-ranked non-CFP team, goes to Pasadena.
A byproduct of this assumption is that the Orange takes a Big Ten team. The Miami-based bowl is contracted to do so at least three times between 2014 and 2025, and it hasn't done it once yet (seems like a logical year to make it happen). In years that the Orange gets a Big Ten team, the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus (formerly the Capital One Bowl) does not.
So, take those four teams off the board and there are six bowl-probable teams for the following six bowl games, sorted by payout.
Outback (Tampa, Fla.)
Matchup: Jan. 2 (Noon CT, ABC) vs. SEC opponent.
Why it makes sense for Iowa: This would be realistic if Nebraska loses to Maryland and Iowa wins out, making both teams 8-4. And if this 2016 season truly parallels the one in 2008, that Hawkeye team went to the Outback Bowl … and dominated it.
Why it doesn’t: Nebraska is a 13½-point favorite against Maryland and has never been to the Outback Bowl. All signs point to the Cornhuskers in Tampa.
Holiday (San Diego)
Matchup: Dec. 27 (6 p.m. CT, ESPN) vs. Pac-12 opponent.
Why it makes sense for Iowa: Iowa hasn’t been to the Holiday since the 13-13 tie with BYU in 1991. The Hawkeyes would probably need to get to 8-4 to have the inside track to San Diego.
Why it doesn’t: As Iowa puts in its bowl preferences and the Big Ten looks at variety, do all parties shy away from giving the Hawkeyes a second straight trip to Southern California against a Pac-12 team? Minnesota (currently 7-3) may have a strong Holiday case, too.
Music City (Nashville, Tenn.)
Matchup: Dec. 30 (2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN) vs. SEC opponent.
Why it makes sense for Iowa: The Music City and TaxSlayer Bowls have a partnership that each will host three Big Ten teams and three ACC teams from 2014 to 2019; so far, it's TaxSlayer 2 Big Tens, Music City 0. An Iowa-Arkansas matchup would be delicious, with ex-Hawkeye player and assistant Bret Bielema running the Razorbacks' program. Nashville is an 8½-hour drive from Iowa City and happens to be the hometown of Hawkeye quarterback C.J. Beathard.
Why it doesn’t: If Iowa is 8-4 or 6-6, the Nashville prospects lessen. Plus, there’s the TaxSlayer factor (the Jacksonville-based game has announced it’s considering Minnesota). But, frankly, Nashville seems like a perfect fit, especially if Iowa finishes 7-5.
Foster Farms (Santa Clara, Calif.)
Matchup: Dec. 28 (7:30 p.m. CT, Fox) vs. Pac-12 opponent.
Why it makes sense for Iowa: The Hawkeyes have never gone bowling in the San Francisco area. The game is staged in a prime-time network slot on a Wednesday.
Why it doesn’t: This is an ultra-expensive locale for fans, and late December in the Bay Area isn’t exactly swimsuit weather. And there's a conflict: Iowa opens its Big Ten basketball schedule at Purdue in the same time slot.
Pinstripe (Bronx, N.Y.)
Matchup: Dec. 28 (1 p.m. CT, ESPN) vs. ACC opponent.
Why it makes sense for Iowa: The chance to play football at Yankee Stadium would be a bucket-list opportunity. And the last time Iowa played an ACC opponent in a bowl game, that turned out pretty well (Kirk Ferentz’s lone BCS win, the 2010 Orange Bowl vs. Georgia Tech).
Why it doesn’t: Iowa has already been to the New York area in 2016 in basketball (NCAA Tournament), wrestling (NCAA Championships) and football (at Rutgers).
Heart of Dallas (Dallas)
Matchup: Dec. 27 (11 a.m. CT, ESPN) vs. Conference USA opponent.
Why it makes sense for Iowa: It only does if Iowa stumbles to 6-6 and gets jumped by Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana and Maryland.
Why it doesn’t: See above. The chances of Iowa to Dallas are less than 5 percent.