Keep an eye on the Cotton Bowl to decipher Iowa's postseason fate

Chad Leistikow,

IOWA CITY, Ia. — As it pertains to Iowa’s bowl-game fate, speculation is about to turn into solidification.

The Hawkeyes should find out by mid-afternoon Sunday whether they’re going to Tampa, San Diego or Nashville for their 13th game of the season.

The chain reaction of phone calls and decisions will begin with the 11 a.m. ESPN telecast to unveil the College Football Playoff rankings and the assignment of the New Year’s Six.

Iowa's Kirk Ferentz is shown during Iowa's 21-14 loss to LSU in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2014. His Hawkeye teams have played in Tampa four times, but never in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

“One little adjustment in the ranking for some of these teams will create a domino effect for a lot of bowls,” Outback Bowl President Jim McVay said. “You don’t know who you’re looking at (until then).”

McVay’s bowl committee will have a key hand in determining Iowa’s fate. Will his Jan. 2 Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., take the 8-4 Hawkeyes or 9-3 Nebraska? Or will another option be on the table?

A key indicator for curious Iowa fans to watch is the Cotton Bowl.

The Hawkeyes' 2017 Bowl prospects, through the season:

If Saturday night’s Big Ten Conference championship game loser (Penn State or Wisconsin) gets selected for that New Year’s Six game, then it’ll almost certainly be an Iowa-Nebraska choice for the Outback against a Southeastern Conference opponent.

If the Hawkeyes are chosen — and it’s entirely possible, given their momentum and the 40-10 drubbing they gave Nebraska on Black Friday — it’ll likely mean either an Outback rematch with LSU (after the 2013 season) or Florida (2003, 2005).

If it’s not the Outback, it’ll almost certainly be a happy Holiday for the Hawkeyes — with the Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

That committee has expressed a lot of love for the Hawkeyes to return to a long-ago destination for Hayden Fry teams. Iowa hasn’t been to the Holiday since 1991, eight years before Kirk Ferentz became the head coach.

If it’s the Holiday, who would Iowa play?

Washington’s 41-10 trouncing of Colorado in Friday night’s Pacific-12 Conference title game brought a little clarity to the picture: Washington is likely to participate in the College Football Playoff, meaning the Rose Bowl will take the highest-ranked remaining Pac-12 team — either 9-3 Southern California or 10-3 Colorado.

It'll probably be USC, which beat Colorado in their head-to-head. What’ll be interesting, then, is whether the Cotton Bowl picks up Colorado, the Big Ten title-game loser or someone else.

In the Pac-12 pecking order, the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl goes next — and its organizers would be choosing between Colorado and 8-4 Washington State (it can’t take 9-3 Stanford, because the Cardinal had two more Pac-12 losses). Which leaves the Holiday Bowl with either Stanford or Washington State.

Look for Iowa to land in Tampa or San Diego. If not, the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl in Nashville is the fallback — against an SEC opponent in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky or Tennessee.