Mapping Iowa's Bowl Picture

The Iowa Hawkeyes are one win away from being bowl eligible, and unlike last season, that should be a pretty significant thing in the Big Ten. Things are shaping up to where a 6-6 Big Ten team might be looking at a fate no worse than the Insight Bowl, which is a very soft landing. Jon explains in this item...

Two weeks ago, the thought of trying to prognosticate Iowa's bowl chances would have gotten me laughed right off of my own website.


The Hawks were 3-3, on a three game losing streak and their second straight season at home for the holidays seemed likely to a great number of people. 


Since then, Iowa has been very impressive, outscoring Indiana and Wisconsin 83-25.  The offense is back on track for the first time in three years, the offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage have been bullying opponents all season long and with four games to play, the Hawks are 5-3.


As they sit on their bye week, it's time to look into our crystal ball into Iowa's bowl future.


We have a pretty decent track record on this front, while admitting right up front that it's a slippery slope.  But we can put in the foundation for future discussions in this article that will serve us well in coming weeks.


The first order of business is to determine how many Big Ten teams are likely to earn BCS bowl bids.


In my opinion, Ohio State and Penn State have a very good chance of earning BCS bids this year.  That would give the Big Ten two teams, and two other conferences are likely to get two teams in as well, which is the maximum allowed:  The Big 12 and the SEC.


Last year, there were more deserving Big 12 teams than there were slots available, as a 9-3 Illinois team went to the Rose Bowl and an 11-1 Missouri team had to settle for the Cotton Bowl. 


This year, the Big 12 and SEC are locks for two bids each. 


The Pac 10?  USC will get in, but not a second.

The Big East?  Pitt or South Florida will get in as the champion, but not a second.

The ACC?  Nope, they are a one-bid BCS league, too. 

*Note:  I say these things based on it being highly unlikely that the BCS bowls would pass on the enormous fan and alumni bases that Penn State and Ohio State have, compared to possible available teams from the Pac 10, Big East and ACC.


There are eight at large BCS slots.  Six will go to the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC, with the other two going to the likes of Utah, Boise State and a very, very outside shot of Notre Dame.  Read, very long shot there, as they have to finish in the Top Eight of the final BCS poll to get a guaranteed bid.  Being that they have two losses already and have a scheduled game yet to play against USC, that is not going to happen.  Also, rooting for BYU to beat UtahUtah to beat TCU and San Jose State to beat Boise State aren't bad things for a Big Ten fan to want to happen.


Of course, this has ramifications for Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan State and Northwestern.  It means those teams would not be sentenced to the Motor City Bowl. 


Before I go further, I know that Iowa and Illinois have not yet gained bowl eligibility, but they will.  This article assumes they at least have six wins.  And this year, the way things look right now with Wisconsin teetering on the abyss, 6-6 will be good enough to get you a ticket to the Insight Bowl in a worst case scenario.  That's a very, very attractive worse case scenario as far as I am concerned.


Michigan State is 6-2, Minnesota 6-1 and Northwestern 6-1.  I think the Spartans fare no better than 8-4, same for Northwestern.  Minnesota has the best shot of getting to the Capital One Bowl due to the following schedule:


@Purdue, Northwestern, Michigan, @Wisconsin and Iowa.


Right now, I see at least three wins in there for the Gophers, but then again, they could lose them all.  It's that kind of year.


Here is what I see as Iowa's bowl chances based on the following records:


9-3:  This would mean Iowa wins out with triumphs at Illinois and Minnesota, and home against Penn State and Purdue.  It's far fetched, but not impossible.  A 9-3 Iowa team would be ranked somewhere between 15th and 20th in the nation.  I doubt they would sneak into the Top 12 of the BCS pool, which means they couldn't be considered for a BCS bowl.  If Minnesota or Northwestern gets to 11-1, that would eliminate Iowa from Capital One Bowl consideration, because there would be a two-game win differential.  That is not allowed for the Cap One Bowl.  If one of those teams is 10-2, then the Capital One Bowl could take Iowa over those teams, and throw Michigan State into the mix.  Iowa would have a win head to head against the Gophers, but head to head losses against the Wildcats and Spartans.  I am not one of those people that thinks the Big Ten tells the bowls who to take, and the Hawkeyes would be very attractive over the fan bases of those teams.  CAP ONE OR OUTBACK


8-4:  That means 3-1 the rest of the way, which is possible.  Illinois and Purdue are not ranked and Minnesota #25, but they may not be ranked by the time Iowa plays them.  If Iowa is 8-4, as long as two other teams are not 10-2, the Hawkeyes would be a near mortal lock to go to Tampa, regardless of head to head situations during the year.  Tampa knows how well Iowa travels.  Iowa brought over 20,000 fans to the city in 2005 in a season where Iowa went 7-5 prior to that bowl game.  That's pretty remarkable, and things like that go a long way in the minds of bowl committees and Chamber of Commerce members.  OUTBACK


7-5:  That means 2-2 the rest of the way, which is quite plausible.  I believe the Outback still might be in play here, but there are a lot of ‘what if's' that need to happen with two of the three teams from the pool of Minnesota, Michigan State and Northwestern.  But at 7-5, it's more likely that Iowa would go to the Alamo, Champs or Insight Bowls. 


6-6:  As long as the Big Ten gets two teams in the BCS, I really believe the furthest Iowa can ‘fall' in the Big Ten bowl picture is the Insight.  Last year, Iowa finished 6-6 and was left out of the bowls, because there were enough teams from the league that had at least seven wins that filled all of the league's bowl slots.  Wisconsin and Purdue would each need to go 4-1 the rest of the way for them to get to seven wins.  I don't see that happening.  If Wisconsin and Iowa each finished at 6-6, and the rest of the teams ahead of them had at least seven wins, that could set up a decision by the Insight as to which school they would take.  Both fan bases travel well, but the Phoenix/Tempe area has a large Iowa snowbird population.  Add into that picture that the Hawks already had their ‘off year' last year from the bowl scene, and this is Wisconsin's first taste of bitter disappointment in some time, and I believe the Insight would take Iowa.


So there is a look at the bowl picture with four more games left on Iowa's schedule.  Getting to seven wins guarantees that the Hawks will fall no further than the Insight, and that's a fairly soft landing.  Run the table the rest of the way, and it's back to the Magic Kingdom.  One loss the rest of the way and the Hawks will be headed for the Outback. 


If the Hawkeyes find their way to a bowl game in Orlando, Tampa, San Antonio or Tempe, will once again be teaming up with Premiere Sports Travel to take you there.  Information will come on that front once it's appropriate.

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