IT'S 5 VS. 6. The Rose Bowl, a match-up of the two runners-up to this second College Football Playoff. You couldn't ask for a better matchup of non-playoff teams. There's a lot at stake for both schools, but what does this game mean for 2016 and the weekly ESPN discussion that truly is the College Football Playoff?
THE WINNER HAS A LEGIT SHOT AT #1 IN 2016. With the games yet to play, ESPN is already talking about 2016. ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg discussed the Rose Bowl and the possibility of both teams again being in next year's playoffs. Let's take a closer look.
Iowa returns some big components, starting with quarterback C.J. Beathard and running backs Akrum Wadley, LeShun Daniels and Derrick Mitchell. Tevaun Smith and Jacob Hillyer depart, but leading receiver Matt Vandeberg, Riley McCarron, and Jermanic Smith, a true freshman that got his feet wet this season when Tevaun Smith sat to heal a sore leg, return to catch passes.
The offensive line loses two great starters in Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh. Ike Boetgger, Boone Myers, and Cole Croston return at tackle, however, and James Daniels should step into Blythe's role at center. Super sophomore Sean Welsh, who improved dramatically this season, should be a leader up front, leaving only one opening on the interior line to fill. The O-Line should be fine.
The Hawkeye defense loses Jordan Lomax, Cole Fisher and Nate Meier. Drew Ott is still waiting on the NCAA decision on his 5th year, and Desmond King is awaiting an NFL grade. Still, Iowa returns two solid defensive tackles, two solid linebackers and two, if not three, in the secondary. Also, Iowa's depth on defense has been a strength all season, and experienced replacements should be available at almost every open position. Should the Hawkeyes improbably retain King, the reigning Thorpe Award winner, the defense could be among the nation's best.
As solid as Iowa could be in 2016, Stanford may be even better. The Cardinal lose quarterback Kevin Hogan and four offensive linemen, including Outland Trophy winner Joshua Garnett, but much-hyped junior Keller Chryst should inherit the quarterback spot and Stanford's recruiting on the offensive line has never been an issue. Most importantly, Christian McCaffrey will be back (he's a true sophomore and can't go pro after this season).
Last season, the Rose Bowl hosted a semi-final game of the inaugural playoffs and the winner, Oregon, would lose in the final to Ohio State. Oregon began the 2015 preseason ranked 15th due to the loss of Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. Florida State, the loser in last year's game, lost Jameis Winston, but had enough returning talent to enter the 2015 preseason poll at #9. A better comparison to Iowa and Stanford: last year's Cotton Bowl between #8 Michigan State and #5 Baylor. Sparty came back to beat Baylor in that game, returned Connor Cook, Shilique Calhoun and Jack Allen, and began 2015 as #5 in the AP and #6 in the Coaches Poll.
Clemson returns enough to be preseason #1, barring a first round collapse. They'll bring back Deshaun Watson (like McCaffrey, he's a true sophomore) and possibly 15 or 16 other starters (NFL Draft be damned). Alabama loses seven starters on defense and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. Michigan State loses all of the players mentioned in the previous paragraph, plus Aaron Burbridge. Iowa could be the cream of the Big Ten, win or lose. The winner of the Rose Bowl will likely be in the final Top 5, if not higher, which sets the stage for a preseason Top 5 ranking to start next season. Number one in week one of 2016 may depend on Clemson, but Iowa and Stanford will be in the discussion.