Hawkeye Insider Bowl Outlook Week 12

Hawkeye Insider's Rob Howe takes a look at how Iowa, the BCS and Big Ten bowls might shake out after Week 12.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Reporters moved out of the way and allowed Kirk Ferentz to climb on the soap box. Each question about making his case for his Iowa team being in a BCS was an invitation to promote his Hawkeyes.

In classic Ferentz style, the coach subtly made his point without degrading any of the other competitors.

"That's for the system to decide, and then obviously the bowls will have to make those decisions," he said. "But I just know this: To win 10 games in any conference is significant. To play the way we played this year, and we're seven points and three points away from having a perfect year."

Iowa posted a 10-2, regular-season mark after a 9-0 start. The Hawkeyes lost at conference champion Ohio State, 27-24, in overtime and 17-10 against Northwestern after losing starting quarterback Rick Stanzi at the beginning of the second quarter.

Last season, Iowa's four losses were by a combined 12 points. So, Iowa has recorded a 19-6 mark in two years with the six defeats by a total of 22 points or less than four points a contest.

"Over the last two years, this team has really played competitively week in and week out," Ferentz said. "We've had some close wins and we've had some close losses. So again, it's just a real tribute to our team."

The next two weeks could be anxious ones for the Hawkeyes and their fans. They must wait until Dec. 6 when the BCS match-ups are announced. Iowa sits in the thick of the conversation for an at-large bid.

Ohio State earned the conference's automatic BCS berth and Rose Bowl spot by winning the conference outright at 7-1. Iowa and Penn State tied for second place at 6-2 with both teams losing to the Buckeyes.

It seems almost certain that the Hawkeyes and Penn State will be vying for one BCS at-large spot. Rules state that only two teams from a conference can be selected for one of the big games and Ohio State already has one spot locked up.

On merit, Iowa should be selected ahead of the Nittany Lions. The Hawkeyes won the head-to-head matchup, 21-10, Sept. 26 in State College. Fairness has not always prevailed in the bowl selection process, however.

Another fly in Iowa's BCS ointment could be Oklahoma State. The Cowboys stand at 9-2 with a game remaining at rival Oklahoma.

Iowa, Oklahoma State and Penn State are bunched up in the most recent BCS Standings released Sunday afternoon. They're rated 11, 12 and 13, respectively. A team need only finish in the Top 14 to be BCS Bowl eligible.

Iowa and Penn State will remain in that Top 14 at selection time and Oklahoma State will stay in there with a win at Oklahoma. At that point, BCS member bowls are able to choose an at-large team regardless of merit or achievement.

If you think that's complicated, the formula also is manipulated by which teams go to the BCS Championship game. If a member bowl loses its tie-in to the title contest, it moves up in the at-large selection process.

Confused yet? Let's push forward.

The Sugar is scheduled to get the No. 1 pick after the National Championship participants are chosen. There's a caveat to that. If another bowl loses a team from its conference tie-in, it moves up, and the game that loses the No. 1 team chooses first from at-large teams.

It's pretty safe to say that the Sugar Bowl will lose the No. 1-ranked team. That will be the winner of the Florida-Alabama SEC title game. Those teams are ranked 1-2, respectively, in the current BCS standings. The Sugar then will choose the loser of that contest with the top pick.

Next up likely would be the Fiesta, whose tie-in is the Big 12. Texas is currently ranked No. 3 in the BCS and would be in the national title game if it beats Nebraska in the conference championship game on Dec. 5 and takes out lowly Texas A&M on Friday.

The Fiesta could play a huge role in all of the BCS selections with this pick. Some prognosticators feel like it chooses a 10-2 Oklahoma State team not wanting to upset its relationship with the Big 12. Others see it coming down to Iowa and Penn State.

The non-BCS bowls long have operated from a financial standpoint about what's the best for their game and town in which it's located. If achievement happens to jive with that pick, fine, but it's about the mighty dollar first and foremost.

There's a belief that this approach will be followed by BCS bowls this season. The economy is hurting. Filling the stadium and boosting local business might be ahead of TV ratings (for advertising) and name recognition. Those are things we may never know for sure and certainly won't know until Dec. 6.

So, during the next two weeks, schools like Iowa, Penn State, Oklahoma State, Boise State, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and others lobby for their cause. They show the bowl reps numbers about travel, TV ratings, alumni in a given state, etc., in hopes of winning the beauty pageant.

The Hawkeyes have history on their side in terms of travel. That likely would give them the edge in that category against other at-large contenders outside of maybe Penn State. Iowa leads the Lions for alums in Arizona (home to the Fiesta) by about 1,300 people, according to the schools' respective alumni associations.

With the Sugar and Fiesta having their picks as a result of losing teams to the title game, the Orange Bowl steps up next. It will already have its tie-in (Atlantic Coast Conference) positioned and will be looking for an opponent. As mentioned earlier, if the Fiesta takes Iowa or Penn State, the other would come off of the selection table for the Orange because the Big Ten would have the maximum reps it could put in the BCS.

Let's say for argument's sake, the Fiesta stays true to its Big 12 tie-in and selects Oklahoma State. That would leave Iowa and Penn State (and others; keep an eye on the Oregon-Oregon State game and root for the Ducks) for the Orange. Again, we go back to the unknown of what factor(s) will be most important to the selection committee. They're familiar with both schools as each has played in their game this decade.

You're going to hear a lot of predictions and speculation on where Iowa will end up over the next two weeks. If you realize that they are just that, you will save yourself a lot of headaches and worry.

The bowl reps will tell everyone that they like every school and would love to have them, including the Hawkeyes. Those guys that are speaking represent only one vote on a selection committee.

Also remember that "fairness" is a factor way down the list for bowl committees. Unless made to select a given school, they're going to do what's best for their game and the city's economy. And that's OK because Iowa does a lot in that regard.

For a third week in a row, I do not have Iowa in a BCS Bowl. I just feel like the odds are against that right now based on how things stack up this week.

I think Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma and goes to the Fiesta. I then think it's too hard for the Orange to pass on Penn State because I think their research will show that the numbers the two schools can pull in will be comparable. At that point, they take the bigger national name.

If that happens, you can bet you'll hear another push for a playoff from the Iowa faithful. The Hawkeye coach will not be involved in that campaign.

"I'm happy with where we're at and if we don't go we don't go," Ferentz said. "That's the way it goes. I'm just happy we got 10 wins. There are a lot of good bowls out there, too."

HAWKEYE INSIDER BOWL PROFECTIONS

BCS

-National Championship: Alabama vs. Texas

-Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Oregon

-Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Texas Christian

-Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Cincinnati

-Orange Bowl: Penn State vs. Georgia Tech

Big Ten

-Rose: Ohio State

-Orange: Penn State

-Cap 1: Iowa

-Outback: Wisconsin

-Champs: Northwestern

-Alamo: Michigan State

-Insight: Minnesota

-Motor City: Vacant.


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