Iowa CITY, Iowa - A wild two days of college football could have cleared up the Iowa Hawkeyes' bowl picture. It didn't.
Going into Friday's game at Nebraska, the Hawkeyes looked like an option for four bowls - Outback, Buffalo Wild Wings (formerly Insight), Gator and Texas. Even with Iowa's 38-17 win in Lincoln, that quartet remained in play.
The Hawkeyes controlled what they could, which was getting to 8-4 and establishing themselves as the clear No. 4 team in the Big Ten. That would put them in the Outback if two conference teams get into BCS games and the postseason was based strictly on merit.
While the Outback appears a strong possibility for Iowa at this point, it's not a certainty. Next weekend's conference championship games still could play a role in its ultimate destination. Here's how:
According to the projected BCS Standings by CBS' Jerry Palm, Ohio State and Michigan State are positioned to make earn berths on that series of bowls. The updated BCS standings are to be released at 7:30 p.m. CT Sunday night and here are the procedures for selecting the 10 teams to play in those games.
Going off of Palm's projections and the procedures, as of Sunday afternoon, Florida State and Ohio State would play for the national championship, leaving eight spots open. This assumes that the Buckeyes defeat Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship and FSU takes out Duke in the ACC title game.
Automatic qualifiers from conference titles games in the Southeastern Conference (Auburn versus Missouri) and PAC-12 (Arizona State v. Stanford) will, at worst, snatch up two other BCS slots, leaving six available. Two more spots will go to the Big 12 (Oklahoma State, Baylor or Texas) and American Conference (Central Florida or Cincinnati) champs, leaving four openings.
Northern Illinois can scoop up a berth by finishing in the Top 12 of the final BCS standings. Palm has the Huskies at No. 14. They could jump Michigan State and Arizona State if they in their conference championships, where they will be underdogs. For the sake of argument, let's call for it and award the MAC school an assignment.
That leads us to potential at-large schools for the remaining three BCS bids. Remember, a maximum of two teams per conference can be selected for BCS games.
The SEC will snag an at-large space. If Missouri wins the conference championship, it would come down to two-loss Auburn and 11-1 Alabama, which would be interesting. The Tide grabs the spot if Auburn downs Mizzou.
The Big 12 likely will get an at-large position. If Oklahoma State and Baylor win next week, and both are double-digit favorites, they'll probably be in. Even if Texas and/or Oklahoma pulls off the upset, a second team from the league stands a strong chance to get in based on the current BCS standings, which has the Sooners at 16.
At this point, you might be asking why we've analyzed this process when Iowa is not involved in the BCS discussion. It's because its fortunes are tied to what happens ahead of it.
The Hawkeyes really need Michigan State to advance to a BCS bowl. The Hawkeyes likely get pushed out of Outback contention If the Spartans fail to claim the one remaining BCS place we've projected to be left. MSU and Wisconsin would suck up the Outback and Capital One in some order.
The Spartans sit 10th in Palm's standings. They need to stay in the Top 14 to be considered for a BCS game. And even if they remain eligible for it, a loss against Ohio State could drop them behind Oregon and Clemson, currently 12 and 13, respectively.
MSU still could be selected ahead of the Ducks and Tigers if all three are in the Top 14. All would be 10-2 and it could come down to bowl preference of at-large teams.
If our above scenarios play out, the Orange Bowl would be awarded the first at-large pick. The event has a contract with the ACC, whose champion, Florida State, would be the first team placed into the BCS title game. You'd have to think that if Clemson were eligible, it would be the pick there, thus leaving MSU out.
As discussed, the Spartans fall to the Capital One or Outback with Wisconsin snaring the other. Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska, all 8-4, and 7-5 Michigan remain as Big Ten bowl eligible teams. The selection order for conference affiliated games is Buffalo Wild Wings, Gator, Texas and Heart of Dallas.
Again, these choices are not based on merit. The games can pick whichever teams they want at their event.
While never discussed publicly the Big Ten, and in particular commissioner Jim Delany, are believed to have a say in which teams these bowls select. The league would like for merit, and not just money, to play into these decisions.
That said, the Wild Wings Bowl likely will do what best fits it financially without much influence from the Big Ten, who cuts the event from its lineup after this season. The concern here for Iowa is that officials there grab Nebraska to play against a team from its former conference, the Big 12. The Huskers versus Texas or former rival, Oklahoma, could be the direction in which they go, especially with the Hawkeyes having been in Tempe two of the last three years.
That brings us to the Gator, which three years ago picked Michigan ahead of the Hawkeyes despite the schools each being 7-5 and Iowa winning the head-to-head match-up.
The Wolverines helped their image by pushing Ohio State to the brink Saturday before falling, 42-41. They're also a national brand.
I can see Delany getting involved here if need be but I'm not sure he'll have to. The Gator is a "New Year's Day Bowl" only because of the date it's played. There will be three other games going on at the same time and it's on ESPN2.
It's speculative, but Iowa would be OK with Michigan going to Jacksonville and it to the Texas Bowl. The Hawkeyes recruit very little in Florida while the Lone Star State is a key area for them. On top of that, the Houston event airs on ESPN the night of Dec. 27 with no competition from other postseason contests.
Minnesota lost to Iowa and Michigan this season. The Gophers fan following is not on par with those programs and likely would not jump either of them in the selection process.
Big Ten Bowl Picks
Ohio State: National Championship
Michigan State: Capital One
Nebraska: Buffalo Wild Wings
Minnesota: Heart of Dallas