IOWA CITY, Iowa - They travel around the country in sport coats that make Wimp Sanderson look like Ralph Lauren. They're politicians that ride into your town, eat at the finest restaurants and rub elbows with locals at their favorite watering holes.
They are bowl representatives. They love everyone, or at least every school with the ability to be their cash cow. Iowa fans will hear and read about folks gushing over the Hawkeyes - the team and its followers - all week.
Buckle up. It's going to be a wild ride.
Iowa, like other programs in contention for a Bowl Championship Series game, must wait until the match-ups are announced next Sunday. Selection committees will debate their merits and games must be played on Saturday that can impact decisions.
The Hawkeyes sit in the thick of the hunt. To say it's a done deal for the them being in the BCS is premature, however.
The Fiesta Bowl is being thrown out by prognosticators as the most likely destination for Iowa should it reach the BCS. That's certainly a strong possibility. But again, to say that's a foregone conclusion is setting the Hawkeye faithful up for potential disappointment.
Iowa and other at-large teams caught a break this weekend when Oklahoma trounced Oklahoma State, knocking the Cowboys out of the BCS picture. They were in the mix for the Fiesta, which has a tie-in with the Big 12.
It could open up the Fiesta to select a Big Ten team from the at-large pool. That would be Iowa or Penn State provided Texas defeats Nebraska in Saturday's Big 12 title game. The Longhorns will be heavily favored in that contest.
You can bet this week will be one where the two Big Ten schools campaign hard to Fiesta Bowl officials. They'll estimate how taking their program will be the best thing for their game and economy.
And don't fool yourselves, Iowa fans, it all matters. And that includes the TV rating. While this might be the last season for Fox broadcasting this game, those numbers are important for ABC, who takes over coverage next year, and the Fiesta Bowl for advertising purposes going forward.
As we reported last week, according to the Iowa and Penn State alumni associations, there are about 5,000 Iowa graduates in Arizona, while Penn State has around 3,700 there. I'm not sure that tilts the scales a whole lot to the Hawkeye side.
We also are hearing that Iowa holds a big advantage over the Nittany Lions because a lot of Iowans winter in the Valley of the Sun. That makes sense. Arizona is a lot closer to the Hawkeye State than is Pennsylvania, from where people often head to Florida when it gets cold.
It's hard to say how much the snowbird factor helps Iowa, but it has to be a tally in its favorable column. It's a bird in the hand, so to speak.
But how much will having people that live there in the winter anyway boost the local economy? Penn State fans coming into Arizona from a large alumni base in California and traveling in from the East might not be that far off, if at all, from what Iowa can offer. And the Nittany Lions and legendary Coach Joe Paterno will be a bigger bump for the TV ratings.
There's a reason that the Iowa and Penn State fan bases feel like they're going to the Fiesta. Nobody knows.
Remember, you're going to hear a lot of rhetoric this week, but only the people in the funny sport coats know for sure. What they say in public will be a fraction of what they talk about when they're behind closed doors debating the merits of each school.
It's the bottom line for the bowls. That's money. And while the schools plead their cases, the committees will conduct their own research in order to bring the most green.
This has nothing to do with merit. Iowa won convincingly in State College this season. The Hawkeyes "should" go to the BCS ahead of Penn State if you're looking at on-field accomplishments.
If the bowls had their way, they'd like to take Iowa and Penn State. Unfortunately for them, only two teams from a conference can go to the BCS, and Ohio State already has locked up the Rose Bowl as conference champions.
Iowa has benefited in the past from its reputation to travel well to bowls. The Hawkeyes lost to Northwestern last season and in 2005 and still ended up higher on the postseason food chain than did the Wildcats. Iowa also was close to hopping Michigan State last year for the Cap 1 despite losing to the Spartans during the season.
Unfortunately for Iowa, it's not going up against the folks from Evanston or East Lansing for this bid. Penn State ranks among the most storied programs in college football history, has a history with the Fiesta and Paterno has more wins than any other coach in the history of I-A. That's a serious threat.
To me, it's too close to call between Iowa and Penn State. I can't put odds on it because we don't know what's most important to the Fiesta bowl and what kind of numbers they'll generate to make its decision. And then, there's those folks in the Old Monday Night Football coats voting.
Another factor that could affect the Fiesta Bowl selection would be Nebraska upsetting Texas for the Big 12's automatic bid. If that happens, the Fiesta must take the Cornhuskers because of the conference tie-in and the Longhorns would end up in the at-large BCS pool with Iowa and Penn State, among others.
If Texas loses, does that mean Florida and Alabama will meet in the national championship game should they play close in Saturday's SEC title game? Does Texas Christian jump over the loser of that game? The Horned Frogs sit pretty far behind the SEC teams and Texas in the BCS standings.
While it's much less likely that Iowa would lose out to a PAC-10 team for an at-large bid, Oregon State could gain a Rose Bowl berth with a win against Oregon. Even with a loss, the Ducks probably would remain in the Top 14 of the BCS final standings, which would keep them in the at-large pool.
Let's say upsets happen in the Big 12 and PAC-10 on Saturday. That makes the at-large BCS pool look something like this: Iowa, Penn State, Texas, Oregon, Boise State, Virginia Tech. The automatic berths could go to Nebraska, Oregon State, TCU, Cincinnati/Pittsburgh winner, Georgia Tech/Clemson winner. If there was a Florida-'Bama rematch in the title game, three teams would come from the at-large group with the Sugar Bowl getting two of them.
It's an unlikely scenario, but it's not out of the question. And there are various scenarios that can occur depending on what happens this Saturday. Again, Iowa to the BCS is not a done deal.
As I've done the last few weeks, I will predict (guess) what might happen for the Hawkeyes based on what we KNOW today. It might not be much more than we KNEW last week at this time.
The good news is that we'll all KNOW next week. And for that, I'm thankful.
BCS BOWL PREDICTIONS
National Championship Game: Florida vs. Texas
Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Oregon State
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Cincinnati
Fiesta Bowl: Penn State vs. Boise State
Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Texas Christian
BIG TEN BOWL PREDICTIONS
Cap 1: Iowa
Alamo: Michigan State