It's that time of year for the Hawkeye Nation to begin serious discussions and projections on where Iowa might be bowling this year.
There are realistically five Big Ten teams, or six if you throw Purdue into the mix, that are in contention for New Year's Day bowl bids right about now.
Here are the teams, their records in Big Ten play, home/road games remaining, their opponents and the record of those opponents in league games only:
Schedule Breakdown For Top Five Teams (Team Home/Away Opponent's Record)
MICH (6-0) 1/1 5-5 (.500) (NW, @OSU)
WIS (5-0) 1/2 10-6 (.625) (MN, @MSU, @IA)
IOWA (4-1) 2/1 10-6 (.625) (PU, @MN, WIS)
MSU (3-2) 2/1 7-8 (.467) (OSU, WI, @PSU)
NU (3-2) 1/2 6-11 (.353) (@PSU, @MICH, ILL)
PU (2-3) 2/1 7-8 (.467) (@IA, OSU, IND)
For the Hawkeyes, this week's game against Purdue is HUGE. I know that might sound obvious, but the Hawkeyes can take a gigantic step towards a New Year's Day bowl with a win on Saturday.
IF they beat Purdue, that puts Iowa in a position where it can finish no worse than 5-3 in the Big Ten, the same league record it had last year. It also knocks Purdue out of the mix for a New Year's Day bowl, as they would be 2-4 with two to play.
Michigan State hosts Ohio State, and they will be without their dual-threat QB Drew Stanton, so that will be more of a challenge for them. But they close out the season with games against Wisconsin and at Penn State. So a 2-1 finish for them is possible, and that would get them to 5-3 in the Big Ten.
Northwestern is 3-2 and they finish @PSU, @Michigan and Illinois at home. So a 2-1 finish is possible, putting them at 5-3.
The Gophers play at Wisconsin this week, and the odds suggest that will be a loss for the Gophers, as they could not win at Indiana two weeks ago. Let's assume that happens, putting them at 3-4 in the league, meaning they could finish no better than 4-4. A 4-4 Minnesota team will not be selected over a 5-3 Iowa team by any bowl.
Ohio State goes to Michigan State this week, then is at Purdue next week and closes at home vs. Michigan. 1-2 seems likely, putting them at 3-5 in league, but a bowl eligible 6-5 overall. If Ohio State can finish 2-1, closing their regular season at 7-4, that is a potential problem for a hypothetical 7-4 Iowa team and a New Year's Day Bowl, but right now, I don't see that happening for Ohio State.
I don't think any bowl would take a 5-3 Northwestern over a 5-3 Iowa team, and should Minnesota pull the improbable and win this week at Wisconsin and next, and Iowa finishes in a 5-3 tie with them, I don't think one of the Florida bowls is going to take the Gophers over the Hawks, based on the traditions of how well each fan base travels, which is the ultimate ace up Iowa's sleeve.
A 5-3 Iowa does no worse than the Alamo if the other likely scenarios play out. If Iowa goes 2-1 the rest of the way, a Florida bowl is a virtual guarantee. A Saturday win, and I think we are looking at a 30 to 40-percent chance of a New Year's Day Bowl for the Hawks, regardless of their finish. When you factor in five other teams into that mix, that is a significant statistical advantage, when Wisconsin is probably 40 to 50-percent.
Win your next two games and Tampa is the worst-case scenario. Win all three, and start thinking Mickey Mouse and Orlando. Lose all three, and the Alamo is still a possibility.
We will know a lot more Saturday at 6:00pm.
One more item: HawkeyeNation.com will be taking its own chartered flight to Iowa's bowl destination for the third consecutive year. We have become your trusted travel partner, and will be using the same travel company that served us so well last year. The nearly 200 Iowa fans who traveled with us can attest to the level of service they experienced on our 2004 Charter to the Outback Bowl to Tampa.
Be sure to check out message boards and your inbox for your opportunity to reserve your spot on this year's HawkeyeNation.com bowl charter. We will likely begin taking reservations in the next 10 days, where you will be able to make a deposit, regardless of Iowa's final bowl destination.
All deposits are 100-percent transferable and refundable.