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Big Ten Bowl Projections: Is Iowa bound for the Holiday Bowl?

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Explaining how bowls pick their teams, and trying to project where they might end up.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

So another football season is in the books, and the first football season for the new regime here at The Pants. We’re all so grateful for those of of y’all who have come along for the ride as we’ve tried to figure out (and let’s be real, are still trying to figure out) how to do this bloggin’ thing. It’s been a rollercoaster, hitting some low points (hey, we lost to NDSU) and we hit some high points (WE BEAT MICHIGAN AND GOT TO STORM A FIELD!!!). It was fun.

There’s still one more game to be played, though, but the question is WHO WILL WE PLAY AGAINST? Where will it be?! Well, let’s take a look to see how things in the Big Ten might end up shaking up and where Iowa fits into that bowl picture.

(DISCLAIMER: if you'd rather skip the meat of this article, the TL;DR version is at the end)

College Football Playoff

The amount of Big Ten teams that are chosen to be a part of the CFP is actually pretty important as to where Iowa will land! Alabama isn’t going to lose in the SEC Championship game, so let’s say that’s a lock. Ohio State seems to be a lock, as they were #2 before playing #3 Michigan and won, so there’s a really good chance that they’ll stay put. With the aforementioned loss, Michigan is almost certainly knocked out of contention (barring a loss by both Washington and Clemson).

It’ll be interesting to see what the committee decides here. Washington and Clemson could easily slide into those last two spots and stay there if they win their respective championship games, but you could also point out that neither Clemson nor Washington has an overwhelming resume. I think Clemson will be #4 after the committee releases their polls on Tuesday, but because they’re playing a pretty weak Virginia Tech team in the ACC Championship (VT just showed up in the rankings this week, for cryin’ out loud), I think that a case could be made that the winner of Penn State/Wisconsin next weekend could determine the #4 spot. It’s also important to note that Washington plays Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship, and since Colorado is currently #9, I don’t see them jumping the B1G champ even if the Buffs win.

Man, would it be pure CHAOS if the B1G champion was held out of the playoff...

Picks: Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Washington, or PSU/UW winner

Rose Bowl

Here’s where things get interesting. If the Big Ten only gets one team in the playoff (and we’ll assume that’s Ohio State), then the Rose Bowl is going to take the winner of the Big Ten Championship. That’s pretty simple. We’ll assume that if the B1G champ doesn’t get into the playoff, Washington won the Pac-12 title game, so congrats to them!! That likely means that the B1G champ will get Colorado, who will have lost the Pac-12 championship, or maybe even USC.

If the Big Ten gets two teams into the playoff, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. Michigan hasn’t been to a Rose Bowl since 2007 (and hasn’t won one since 1998), so I’d expect them to get the nod over Wisconsin, who went to three consecutive Rose Bowls in their Bret Bielema heyday, or Penn State. Wisconsin was also just in San Diego last year, so the Big Ten might not want to send them all the way back out there so soon. Penn State hasn’t been since 2009 (haven’t won it since ‘94), but since they’re currently the lowest ranked Big Ten team in the CFP rankings, they’ll probably drop a level.

Pick: Michigan (if two CFP teams), PSU/UW winner (if one)

Orange Bowl

The Orange Bowl is contractually obligated to pick the highest ranked non-champion/playoff team out of the SEC, B1G, or Notre Dame in years that it is not a CFP game. The Orange Bowl gets to pick after the Rose Bowl (who obviously takes a B1G team), and Sugar Bowl (who gets to pick the top SEC team).

As we discussed, Alabama is essentially as locked into the CFP as you can get. Ohio State, too. Notre Dame can’t be picked by any bowl because they were really bad at football this season and the highest ranked SEC team (that wasn’t Alabama) was Auburn at #13 before EVERY SEC TEAM LOST IN WEEK 13. It’s pretty safe to say that there won’t be an SEC team in contention for this bowl slot, so let’s go through the two possibilities:

  • If we’re assuming that the Big Ten will get two teams into the CFP and that Michigan will subsequently get the nod to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl, that would leave us with the loser of Penn State/Wisconsin. Easy enough.
  • If we assume that the Big Ten will only get one team in the CFP, and that the Big Ten champion would therefore go to the Rose Bowl, then Michigan is the likely choice.

It is worth noting that if a Big Ten team is in the Orange Bowl, the conference cedes its Citrus Bowl tie-in.

Cotton Bowl

This bowl will only have a Big Ten team in it if the conference has just one team in the playoff. It’s hard to see a scenario where a Big Ten team doesn’t fill this spot if they only get one team in the playoff, as the Cotton Bowl has two at-large bids (and one of those is 100% going to Western Michigan). If Michigan gets picked to play in the Orange Bowl, it’ll likely be the loser of the Penn State/Wisconsin game. The only way in which this isn’t likely to happen is if one of the two teams gets blown out and takes a long, long tumble in the rankings to the point where USC or Colorado would jump them. It would likely take Colorado beating UW for the Buffaloes to rise, and that would then open the door for two B1G teams in the CFP, making this bowl irrelevant to the Big Ten anyway. If Colorado loses, then it’d be up to USC, and USC shouldn’t really rise in the rankings after not playing during championship week. It’s looking pretty good.


Alright, now that we’ve talked about the Big Ten likely getting four teams in the New Year’s Six bowls (B-1-G! B-1-G!), we get to talk about some of these less important bowls. Our Hawkeyes will likely fall to one of these second tier bowls, so let’s figure out which one.

Outback Bowl

Iowa has played in the Outback Bowl three times in the past 11 seasons. That might not seem like a lot, but the Big Ten is trying to arrange their bowls in a way where teams go to different bowls just about every season (this particular bowl must pick five different teams over a six-year period), as to not continuously send teams like Iowa to the same bowl over and over. Nebraska has never been to the Outback Bowl!! Pencil in Nebraska, y’all.

Holiday Bowl

IOWA! After finishing the season with three straight wins and finding themselves ranked again, the Hawkeyes find themselves in a position to go to one of the better non-NY6 bowls that they can go to. That pretty much meant that they’d find themselves in Tampa Bay or San Diego, and since they were just in Tampa for the Outback Bowl a couple years ago, the Holiday Bowl seems like the most likely landing spot for Iowa, who hasn’t played in this bowl since 1991. Nebraska isn’t likely to land here, as they’ve played in this bowl three times since 2009 and most recently in 2014.

Iowa would likely play the third best team in the Pac-12 in this one, which would mean a date with USC or Washington State. I’m not sure about you, but I’d prefer to see Wazzu, and if Washington makes the playoff, that’s the likely choice here.


Lastly, let’s talk about the third tier of bowls. These could go any which way, honestly, and are a lot less set in stone than the second tier. There is a chance that Iowa could drop to this tier of bowls if the Big Ten only gets three teams in the NY6 bowls, but I’m of the belief that it won’t happen that way.

Foster Farms Bowl

The Foster Farms Bowl is the game that will likely feature the best competition the Big Ten will face in this lower tier of bowls, as the Pac-12 has a plethora of ranked teams. The Foster Farms Bowl will likely take the next best Pac-12 team that does not play in the Holiday Bowl, so that could mean Wazzu or USC (or, if the Pac-12 has a team in the playoff, maybe even Stanford). The Music City Bowl gets first choice out of this tier of bowls, but I think the Big Ten will step in and work to get the best possible match-up in the Foster Farms Bowl, which would be in its best interest. Maryland cannot play in the Foster Farms Bowl this season, so out of the teams still left, Minnesota should be the pick here. They’re 8-4 and, well, the rest of the possible choices aren’t.

Music City Bowl

This year, the Music City Bowl will likely take a Big Ten team because of their partnership with the TaxSlayer Bowl, and the TaxSlayer Bowl would then take an ACC team, which is pretty cool for mixing up the teams a bit. For the record, if Iowa does drop to this third tier of bowls, this is where I think they’ll go. Is it likely? Once again, not really. But I doubt the folks in Nashville would want to pass up on a well-traveling fanbase like Iowa’s.

The guys over at Crimson Quarry have been working pretty hard to convince everyone that they should go to this bowl, and I’m not sure I’d disagree with them. Indiana is close to Tennessee so their fans would likely travel pretty well to go there, and it would present the opportunity to create the compelling basketball matchup of Kentucky/Indiana on a football field. These two fanbases already don’t like each other. What’s not to love about this possibility? They also can’t go to the Pinstripe Bowl again, as noted in the linked article above, so this bowl makes perfect sense for them.

So, in the words of CQ Twitter, #IUFB2NASHVILLE. Help our friends out!

Pinstripe Bowl

There are two options left, and either one could end up playing in Yankee Stadium, but I’m giving one a particular edge solely based on geography. Maryland will play in the Pinstripe Bowl. I think that because Maryland wasn’t great at football, and they aren’t really known for traveling for bowls, the Big Ten will work with the bowls to get Maryland as close to home as possible. Bowls are, after all, all about the Benjamins, and what better way to get people in seats than matching up Maryland with a former ACC rival on the East Coast?

Quick Lane Bowl

And then there was one. This is the least prestigious of the Big Ten bowls and gets the last pick. Northwestern fans barely go to their home games and I have a hard time believing any bowl would want to depend on their fanbase to travel to their team’s bowl game, which is why they’re not likely to be chosen by the Pinstripe Bowl. Sorry, Northwestern. I guess you’re going to Detroit?

In Conclusion (TL;DR)

Alright, after going through all the possibilities, here’s how I predict things to shake out.

CFP: Ohio State, vs. Clemson

Rose Bowl: Penn State, vs. Colorado

Orange Bowl: Michigan, vs. Louisville

Cotton Bowl: Wisconsin, vs. Western Michigan

Outback Bowl: Nebraska, vs. Florida

Holiday Bowl: Iowa, vs. Washington State

Foster Farms Bowl: Minnesota, vs. Stanford

Music City Bowl: Indiana, vs. Kentucky

Pinstripe Bowl: Maryland, vs. Georgia Tech

Quick Lane Bowl: Northwestern, vs. Boston College

Heart of Dallas Bowl: Vacant/Not enough bowl-eligible B1G teams