Remember the last time Iowa played a football game and they beat Purdue and they assured themselves of bowl eligibility? That was pretty fun, you guys. It sure as hell beats sitting home and watching other teams go to bowl games. But what bowl game will Iowa go to? And who will they play in said bowl game? It's going to be a while until we know the exact answers to those questions, but we can speculate -- and you all can indicate who you would prefer to see Iowa play in a bowl, if you got a say in the matter (Surprise! You do not).
At this point there are really just five bowls that are possibilities for Iowa: the Heart of Dallas Bowl, the Texas Bowl, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (RIP, Insight Bowl), the Gator Bowl, and the Outback Bowl. The Big Ten currently has seven bowl eligible teams (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan, and Iowa) and two other teams that still have a mathematical chance of becoming bowl eligible (Northwestern and Indiana). Except Northwestern would have to beat Michigan State this week and Indiana would have to beat Ohio State this week. Math doesn't account for Michigan State's pound-you-into-dust defense or Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde running for 400 yards on your ass, so I think we're pretty safe in assuming the Big Ten is just going to have seven bowl eligible teams.
Let's take a closer look at the bowls Iowa could be visiting this year.
HEART OF DALLAS BOWL
WHERE: Dallas, TX (surprise!)
WHEN: January 1, 2014
WHO: Big Ten 7 vs. Big 12 8
THE SKINNY: This is where Iowa would land if two things happen: 1) Iowa doesn't win another game all season and 2) the Big Ten fails to get a second team into the BCS bowls as an at-large entry. If Iowa fails to beat Nebraska or Michigan, they'll finish with a 6-6 record, at least two games worse than everyone else in the conference (wins over Iowa would give Michigan and Nebraska at least eight wins and all other bowl-eligible teams already have at least eight wins), which means they aren't cutting in front of anyone in the bowl pecking order. If the Big Ten can squeeze two teams into the BCS (more on that later) this bowl will be out of the equation for Iowa because everyone in the league will move up a slot on the bowl ladder, even 6-6 Iowa.
POTENTIAL OPPONENTS: This is a total crapshoot. Contractually, this bowl has the eighth pick of Big 12 teams to match against a Big Ten opponent. Except this year the creamy center of the Big 12 kind of fell apart and turned into a big, stinky bottom: only six of the Big 12's 10 teams are bowl eligible, and none of the remaining four can get to six wins unless they pooled their wins together to create crap team Voltron (NOTE: you are not allowed to do this, which is too bad). So the Heart of Dallas Bowl is a free agent in terms of one of their slots for this game -- they can go after any bowl-eligible team that's not contractually obligated to go to another bowl. This year, the Pac-12, MAC, and Sun Belt already have more bowl-eligible teams than they have slots for and the ACC, SEC, and Mountain West could join them. So take your pick: you could see a school like Boston College, Maryland, UNLV, San Jose State, Buffalo, Toledo, Ohio, Arizona, Washington, Oregon State, or Tennessee here. You could also see Notre Dame; they have no contractual ties except for the BCS (and they're not going to meet the criteria to be picked for a BCS bowl this year) and are available to the most-attractive bowl with an opening. Some of the teams listed here in bowl projections include North Texas (current home of Dan McCarney), Ohio, Bowling Green, Arizona, Maryland, and Oregon State.
WHERE: Houston, TX
WHEN: December 27, 2013
WHO: Big Ten 6 vs. Big 12 6
THE SKINNY: The other Big Ten bowl in Texas. It's nominally the better one (it has sixth choice from both the Big Ten and Big 12), even though it's not on New Year's Day. Iowa can get here by a few different paths. One path would be to lose out but have the Big Ten get two teams into the BCS; everyone in the league will move up a slot, regardless of what Iowa does in their final two games. They could also get here by winning one of their final two games and jumping ahead of someone (either Minnesota, Michigan, or Nebraska). While 7-5 Iowa jumping 8-4 Minnesota may seem like a minor slap in the face to our Gopher friends, it might end up being a good deal for them: Minnesota was in this exact bowl last year and their fans would probably prefer a change of venue (no one's clamoring to go back to Houston in back-to-back years) and getting bumped "down" to the Heart of Dallas Bowl would mean that they would get to play on January 1, something they haven't done since... jesus, let's just go with "a really long time," okay? For what it's worth, this is the most popular destination for Iowa among the bowl projectionists right now (although they're also slotting two B1G teams into the BCS games to reach that conclusion).
THE POTENTIAL OPPONENTS: The Texas Bowl has the 6th pick among eligible Big 12 teams; that league is probably not getting two teams into the BCS this year, either. Right now that 6th pick figures to translate into either Kansas State or Texas Tech, meaning we could see KF and Bill Snyder trade old war stories for two weeks straight or see KF concede the sexiness battle to Kliff Kingsbury.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL
WHERE: Phoenix, AZ
WHEN: December 28, 2013
WHO: Big Ten 5 v. Big 12 4
THE SKINNY: Don't let the name change fool you -- it's our old friend, the Insight Bowl! They just traded up for black and gold colors (thumbs up!) and mediocre wings (thumbs down!). Getting here would entail moving ahead of some other Big Ten team, regardless of whether or not the league gets two teams into the BCS. That's entirely possible if the team getting jumped is Minnesota; less so if the jump-ee is Michigan or Nebraska. That said, Iowa has jumped Michigan in the past (see: 2006 Outback Bowl, following the 2005 season) and Nebraska may be in full meltdown mode by the end of November, which might make them less desirable for a bowl. Iowa needs at least 7 wins for the B-Dubs Bowl to be an option and might need 8. This bowl also brings the "familiarity breeds contempt" caveat, though. A trip here would be Iowa's third in the last four seasons; would that deflate enthusiasm among Iowa fans, or would it be a non-factor given the huge Iowa alum presence in Phoenix and the fact that it would be Iowa's return trip to a bowl after going to the Queso Bowl last year? Hard to say.
THE POTENTIAL OPPONENTS: Another Big 12 opponent, this time the 4th pick from the conference. Kansas State and Texas Tech could again be in the mix, but Texas or Oklahoma is probably a more likely pick here. It's possible that could sway things in favor of Nebraska, too, if the B-Dubs organizers decide that staging a Big 8/Big 12 reunion would be the best way to juice ticket sales. The bowl projections are split on this one, with Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas State all picking up nominations.
WHERE: Jacksonville, FL
WHEN: January 1, 2014
WHO: Big Ten 4 v. SEC 6
THE SKINNY: Ah, the Gator Bowl -- the one B1G-affiliated bowl in Florida that Iowa hasn't visited during KF's tenure. Again, getting here requires jumping other Big Ten teams. The best way to do that is for Iowa to finish 8-4 while Minnesota, Michigan, and Nebraska all stumble to the finish. It's possible (but perhaps not likely) that a 7-5 Iowa team could also get selected here over an 8-4 Minnesota and 7-5 Michigan and Nebraska teams.
THE POTENTIAL OPPONENTS: The Gator has 6th choice among SEC teams (although it's really the 7th choice when you consider that the SEC essentially always sends two teams to the BCS games), which could mean a whole bunch of teams: Georgia, Vanderbilt, LSU, Ole Miss, maybe even Texas A&M or Tennessee. The most common picks among the bowl projections are Georgia and Ole Miss.
WHERE: Tampa, FL
WHEN: January 1, 2014
WHO: Big Ten 3 v. SEC 4
THE SKINNY: Let's be honest: the odds of Iowa going back to their Florida home away from home on January 1 are not great. How can Iowa get there?
1) Iowa wins out, finishes season 8-4.
2) Michigan loses out, finishes season 7-5.
3) Nebraska loses out, finishes season 7-5.
4) Minnesota loses out, finishes season 8-4.
5) The Big Ten gets two teams into the BCS (Ohio State plus either Michigan State or Wisconsin).
Whew! Step 4 is probably the least essential one there; if Iowa and Minnesota have equivalent records, Iowa is getting selected over Minnesota for a bowl game 100 times out of 100. (Hell, that's probably true if Iowa is within one game of Minnesota's record.) Michigan losing out will probably take care of itself if Iowa can beat them on Saturday; they end the season with Ohio State and you can save the cliches about The Game and how you never know with rivalries: Ohio State is going to beat them like a goddamn drum. Nebraska losing out would entail them losing to Penn State this week (entirely possible!) and, obviously, Iowa beating them in Lincoln on Black Friday. BONUS: Nebraska losing out increases the likelihood of Nebraska doing a Black Friday sale of their own on used Bo Pelinis. There aren't many circumstances where Iowa is going to jump Nebraska when it comes to bowl games, but this might be one if things play out right.
The trickiest step by far here is the last one -- getting two B1G teams into the BCS games. If that doesn't happen, Wisconsin and Michigan State are going to gobble up the Capital One and Outback Bowl slots. The easiest way for the Big Ten to get two teams into the BCS would be for Michigan State to upset Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game; that would send Sparty to Pasadena, while Ohio State would be a no-brainer selection for some bowl as an at-large team. Every other scenario involves a Big Ten team (read: Wisconsin or Michigan State) finishing in the top-14 of the BCS rankings in order to be eligible for an at-large selection. Right now Michigan State is #13 in the BCS rankings, so they hit that criteria; the problem is whether or not they'll stay within the top-14 if (when?) they lose to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. Wisconsin is lurking down at 19 because the polls and computers are not real crazy about them. Winning their own games will probably only carry them so far; they need teams ahead of them to stumble down the stretch. Getting two teams into the BCS this year is by no means a slam dunk for the Big Ten, even though several bowl projections seem to be treating it as such.
THE POTENTIAL OPPONENTS: The Outback Bowl gets to pick after the BCS grabs up their constitutionally mandated two SEC teams and the Cotton and Capital One Bowls make their selections. So, basically, they get fifth pick among SEC teams. The current projections have that being LSU or Missouri, although South Carolina, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss could be in play here, too, depending on how the last few weeks shake out.
Basically, Iowa's potential bowl game opponents boils down to a few options:
1) a good SEC team (Outback Bowl-caliber)
2) a decent SEC team (Gator Bowl-caliber)
3) a solid Big 12 team (B Dubs Bowl-caliber)
4) a so-so Big 12 team (Texas Bowl-caliber)
5) who the hell knows (Heart of Dallas Bowl-caliber)
What's your preference? Would you like to see Iowa against the best possible opposition? Or would you prefer that this Iowa team get someone a little bit easier to beat to get that 7th, 8th, or 9th win to head into the off-season? Vote in the poll and hit up the comments.