Five possible, intriguing matchups for Hawkeyes as bowl fate nears

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Sometime Sunday afternoon, it’ll all be official. Iowa will know which bowl it’s playing in, and who it’s playing against.

No matter the verdict — Holiday in San Diego, Music City in Nashville, Pinstripe in New York — a bowl win is high on the list of season goals for a Hawkeye football program, administration and fan base that is tired of ending the season on a sour note.

In the past six seasons — five of them bowl games — a loss has sent the Hawkeyes into the offseason. The last three years, they've lost in a mismatched blowout.

Hawkeye supporters (including the mascot) can book definitive travel plans sometime Sunday afternoon.

So, this is a year in which the opponent is of significant interest.

What’s the possible competition and likelihood for a win for Iowa in late December?

Let’s look at five of the possible most intriguing matchups, which also happen to be some of the most likely. But this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list.

Holiday Bowl (Dec. 28)

Iowa vs. Stanford: Well, this would be interesting, wouldn’t it? A two-years-later rematch of the Rose Bowl, again in Southern California. No, David Shaw’s Cardinal (9-4) aren’t playing at the level they were when Christian McCaffrey ran circles around the Hawkeyes in Pasadena. But Stanford has another Heisman candidate in running back Bryce Love (237 carries, 1,973 yards despite missing two games). The Cardinal lost three times by three points, including Friday night’s Pac-12 title game against USC, and also won four times by single digits.

Other Pac-12 teams in play: Washington (10-2), Washington State (9-3).

Music City Bowl (Dec. 29)

Iowa vs. Kentucky: Regardless of which Big Ten team ends up in Nashville, most prognostications put Kentucky here from the SEC. The 7-5 Wildcats have the nation’s No. 92 defense and No. 103 offense. So, sure, they’re beatable. But this is a program with some hunger, not having won a bowl game since 2009. The most interesting story line: Kentucky is coached by Mark Stoops, a former Hawkeye player from 1986-89, when Kirk Ferentz was Iowa’s offensive line coach.

Iowa vs. Texas A&M: The Aggies (7-5) just made a splash in reportedly hiring Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State on a 10-year, $75 million deal. There was no immediate word on whether Fisher would coach A&M in a bowl game, but certainly this would be a program with some national intrigue either way. A&M didn’t have any great wins or an exceptional offense or defense, which is why Kevin Sumlin was fired.

Other SEC teams in play: South Carolina (8-4), Mississippi State (8-4), Missouri (7-5).

Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 27)

Iowa vs. Louisville: A matchup against the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in Yankee Stadium, perhaps? Despite NFL talk, quarterback Lamar Jackson has said he would “absolutely” play in a bowl game. His numbers for the season almost replicated that of his Heisman-winning year: 3,489 yards passing, 1,443 rushing and 42 total touchdowns. Louisville (8-4) is hot, coming in with three straight wins, and with the nation's third-ranked offense would be one of the steepest challenges the Hawkeyes could face.

Iowa vs. Boston College: The obvious story line here would be that the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, Jim Reid, was Iowa’s linebackers coach during its 12-2 season in 2015. Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann and Bo Bower all learned their craft under Reid. Boston College (7-5) struggled early, but its Reid-led defense (which ranks only 70th nationally) finished strong, allowing point totals of 10, 3, 17, 16 and 14 in its final five games.

Other ACC teams in play: Virginia Tech (9-3), North Carolina State (8-4), Wake Forest (7-5), Florida State (5-6, entering Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Monroe).