With the win over Nebraska, here is Iowa football's bowl game landscape
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Matt Nelson said Kirk Ferentz had a message for his team after its walk-off, 31-28 win over Nebraska on Black Friday.
It dealt with where the Hawkeyes might play their bowl game ...
"Coach was like, 'Hey, we get to go to a little bit warmer place now,'" the senior defensive end said with a smile.
Ferentz is right.
With the win, Iowa did a lot to help itself earn a spot in one of several warm-weather bowl games to which the Big Ten Conference is tied: the Holiday Bowl (San Diego), the Outback Bowl (Tampa, Fla.) or the Citrus Bowl (Orlando, Fla.). Representatives from all three games were at Kinnick Stadium on Friday.
"We had a great experience last year (at the Pinstripe Bowl)," Ferentz told reporters after joking about playing in warmer conditions this bowl season. "But we're looking forward to wherever they want to send us."
Here's a look at which bowl games are most likely for Iowa, and which factors could still help determine where the 2018-19 Hawkeyes play their final football game:
Where's the most likely landing spot?
The Holiday Bowl.
Most bowl projections peg the Hawkeyes in San Diego versus Washington, Utah or Stanford. Barring the conference champion, the Holiday Bowl (6 p.m., Dec. 31, FS1) gets to pick its Big Ten representative third after the Citrus Bowl (Noon, Jan. 1, ABC) and Outback Bowl (11 a.m., Jan. 1, ESPN2).
The Citrus Bowl will likely go with Northwestern or Wisconsin. Iowa could be a logical fit for the Outback Bowl, but the Big Ten's contract with its bowls calls for five different teams over six years, if possible. The Hawkeyes played in Tampa two years ago. That stipulation also leaves Wisconsin likely out of the running for the Holiday Bowl, where it played in 2015.
The Outback Bowl is the most up in the air, as Iowa, Wisconsin and Northwestern have all played there in the past six seasons.
All three teams would be eligible for the Citrus Bowl.
What could change?
As it stands, Michigan and Ohio State are on track to play in a New Year's Six game or the College Football Playoff. If Michigan wins the Big Ten title and makes the CFP, Ohio State is a good bet for the Rose Bowl.
Penn State is the wild card. It just checked in at No. 12 in the latest CFP Top 25. If the Nittany Lions lose this weekend at home to Maryland, they'll fall out of contention for a New Year's Six bowl and probably snag the Big Ten's spot in San Diego, Tampa or Orlando.
That development would obviously affect Iowa's bowl plans.
If Penn State takes the Citrus Bowl bid, that doesn't mean that Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa would simply drop down one spot in the Big Ten's bowl bids — all thanks to that five-teams-in-six-years preference.
If Northwestern wins the Big Ten championship game next week, that also throws things off. The Wildcats would go to the Rose Bowl. No conference team would be in the CFP, leaving Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State vying for one of three open slots in the Fiesta Bowl or Peach Bowl. Chances are the Big Ten wouldn't go three-for-three, and that one or two teams would drop down to a non-New Years Six bowl and potentially affect Iowa's destination.
But that's all out of the Hawkeyes' hands now. All they can do is watch and wait.
"I think that some of those losses were games that didn't really look like us," A.J. Epenesa said of Iowa's resume. "Not finishing drives or defensive series. Almost every game that we lost was a one-possession game. I think that whoever (is deciding bowl bids) might take that into consideration. We didn't really get beat down by anybody."
Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.