Later today, we'll get the official word on which bowl game Iowa is headed to this year and who they'll be playing in that game. Unofficially, though, it sure looks like it's going to be the Outback Bowl.
A lot of the steps that needed to fall into place for that to be a viable option for Iowa have indeed fallen into place this weekend. Northern Illinois lost Friday night in the MAC Championship Game and Arizona State lost Saturday night in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Both teams were close enough to Michigan State in the BCS rankings that, had they won and Sparty lost, they might have moved past our green-and-white-clad friends. That said, both NIU and ASU were also already in the top-14, so if the end result had just been some musical chairs between them and MSU, then it wouldn't have done any harm.
The bigger threat in that scenario would have been from a team outside the top-14 jumping into the mix. LSU, UCF, and Oklahoma were the teams ranked just outside the top-14 and all three had pretty good weekends. LSU didn't play, but their win over Auburn gained a little more luster with Auburn's SEC Championship Game victory. Oklahoma recorded a win over Oklahoma State, previously ranked #6 in the BCS. UCF didn't pick up any style points, but they did beat SMU to lock up the American Athletic Conference title. Could those teams have jumped Michigan State if Sparty had lost Saturday night? Maybe.
Of course, it was also a moot point because Michigan State didn't lose to the mighty 24-games unbeaten Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game. That win locked guaranteed the Spartans a trip to the Rose Bowl -- and made Ohio State a no-brainer at-large selection for one of the BCS bowls. Locking in two Big Ten teams in the BCS bowls means everyone else in the league gets to move up a slot and that's how the Outback Bowl officially becomes an option for Iowa. Will the Outback Bowl select Iowa? Definitely maybe. What's standing in the way of Iowa heading back to Tampa for the first time in five years?
- The Capital One Bowl might want Iowa. On Twitter, Marc Morehouse was still floating this idea as an option for Iowa on Saturday night. I'm still not entirely sold on the CapOne Bowl passing on Wisconsin, a team with a solid travel reputation of their own, as well as a better record and a head-to-head win over Iowa (for as much or as little as those things matter to the bowl committees), in favor of Iowa -- but it's a possibility.
- The Outback Bowl opts for a bigger brand name like Nebraska or Michigan. Yes, Iowa beat Nebraska and Michigan. We also all know how little details like that can matter when it comes to the bowl selection process -- Iowa fans should refer to 2005, when an Iowa team that lost to Michigan in the regular season went to the Outback Bowl, while Michigan went to the Alamo Bowl, or 2008, when an Iowa team that lost to Northwestern in the regular season went to the Outback Bowl, while Northwestern went to the Alamo Bowl. Nebraska and Michigan have large fanbases (and, in Nebraska's case, a fanbase with a reputation for traveling exceptionally well) and big brand names. If that sort of thing matters to the Outback Bowl this year, then Iowa might not be their pick.