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Iowa Football: Projecting the Hawkeyes, Big Ten Bowl Games

It’s Championship Week and college football fans want to know where they’ll be bowling.

Iowa v Nebraska
Where will Nate Stanley throw his last college football pass?
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

With the college football regular season behind us for the vast majority of teams around the country, bowl season is nearly upon us. With that comes the anticipation and speculation on potential bowl destinations for teams and fans alike.

For the Iowa Hawkeyes, the potential landing spots are dictated by the various bowl tie-ins for the Big Ten Conference and where Iowa landed in the final conference standings. At 9-3, the Hawkeyes are third in the Big Ten West, but are one of six teams in the conference with at least 9 wins. The strength of the conference likely means someone is going to end up unhappy.

Here’s an updated look at the conference standings, and more importantly the rankings (we’ll get to that in a bit), heading into Championship Week.

Image via

So, where can the Hawkeyes end up this post-season? Let’s begin by taking a look at the bowl selection process for the Big Ten. In total, there are nine Big Ten teams bowl eligible (sorry, not sorry Nebraska!). The conference has the potential for ten bowl games and has tie-ins with a few more.

The process follows a sort of waterfall, wherein the various bowls are ranked with the highest ranked bowl having first dibs on the team they want. The caveat here is many bowls are required to take the highest ranked team available. That’s important for Iowa fans as we note the Hawkeyes are now ranked two spots ahead of Minnesota.

First dibs, obviously, is the College Football Playoff. There are six bowls deemed as the New Year’s Six (though they aren’t all on New Year’s Day) with a rotating set of two bowls being playoff semi-final sites. For 2019-2020, those two semi-finals are the Peach Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, each of which will take place on December 28th.

Iowa will not be featured there, but Ohio State likely will. Even if they manage to lose to Wisconsin this weekend, they have a pretty strong resume to make the playoff. Wisconsin, on the other hand, likely won’t make the playoff, even with a win.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (College Football Playoff National Semifinal?)
Glendale, Ariz. (State Farm Stadium)
Dec. 29, 2019 - 3 or 7 p.m. CT

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (College Football Playoff National Semifinal?)
Atlanta, Ga. (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
Dec. 29, 2019 - 3 or 7 p.m. CT

After the CFP bowls, the Rose Bowl has top priority for the Big Ten. They are not constrained by anything other than choosing a Big Ten team not in the playoff. This too, will not be Iowa. And assuming Ohio State wins this weekend, it probably won’t be Wisconsin either, though it could be. Penn State seems more likely.

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual
Pasadena, Calif. (Rose Bowl Stadium)
Jan. 1, 2020 - 4:10 p.m. CT

Next up is the Orange Bowl. However, the Orange Bowl doesn’t have a tie-in exclusively with the Big Ten. They will take the highest ranked available team among the Big Ten, SEC and Notre Dame to face off with an ACC opponent. Unless Wisconsin beat Ohio State, it’s likely the Orange will take someone from the SEC here.

Capital One Orange Bowl
Miami Gardens, Fla. (Hard Rock Stadium)
Dec. 30, 2019 - 7 p.m. CT

That puts the Citrus Bowl in play. This is where things get interesting. The Citrus has a rule stating they will “ feature at least five different Big Ten schools over six-year agreement”. So, who has played in the Citrus from the Big Ten over the last 6 years? Penn State (2018), Michigan (2015), Minnesota (2014) and Wisconsin (2013). Go ahead and scroll back up to those Big Ten rankings, I’ll wait here.

Yeah, you’re right, that really only leaves Iowa. So this seems a pretty likely spot. BUT, it’s possible we see Wisconsin land here as 2013 would technically be seven seasons ago following this year. It’s also possible the bowl asks for an exemption to take a team like Minnesota or Michigan.

Citrus Bowl
Orlando, Fla. (Camping World Stadium)
Jan. 1, 2020 - 12 p.m. CT

After the Citrus comes the Outback Bowl. Similar to the Citrus, the Outback Bowl will “feature at least five different Big Ten schools during the six-year agreement”. Not only did Iowa play here last season, they’ve been to the Outback three times in the six-year window from 2013-2018. In other words, the rules can be bent, but don’t expect the Hawkeyes in the Outback.

Outback Bowl
Tampa, Fla. (Raymond James Stadium)
Jan. 1, 2020 - 12 p.m. CT

Following the Outback, it’s the Holiday Bowl’s turn. If you’re counting at home, this is fifth in the Big Ten pecking order. As you’ll recall, Iowa is sixth overall in the Big Ten standings, but fifth in terms of national rankings (I will never pass up an opportunity to get a dig in at Minnesota).

Same as with the Outback and Citrus, the Holiday is required to take 5 different teams in 6 years. Last year, the game featured Northwestern so no worries of duplication there. Others in that 6-year window include Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Iowa, for their part, hasn’t been to the Holiday Bowl since 1991. If the Citrus doesn’t take the Hawkeyes, this seems highly likely.

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl
San Diego, Calif. (SDCCU Stadium)
Dec. 27, 2019 - 7 p.m. CT

This is where thing start to get messy. After the Holiday Bowl, the Music City Bowl and Gator Bowl are on equal footing with each getting a Big Ten team three out of six years. However, the Gator Bowl hasn’t featured a Big Ten team since Penn State was there in 2016 so they likely get the nod.

The verbiage on the Music City and Gator Bowls is a bit different, but has a similar outcome. There’s states “No Big Ten school will play in more than one Music City Bowl and one TaxSlayer Gator Bowl during the six-year agreement.” Guess who was in the Gator Bowl in 2015? Why yes, that was Iowa getting pummeled by Tennessee. Sigh. So this one is unlikely for the Hawkeyes.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Nashville, Tenn. (Nissan Stadium)
Dec. 30, 2019 - 3 p.m. CT

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl
Jacksonville, Fla. (TIAA Bank Field)
Jan. 2, 2020 - 6 p.m. CT

Next up is the Pinstripe Bowl. They have a stated goal of 8 different schools in 8 years with at least 6 different Big Ten teams during that window. Iowa was there in 2017. This one’s out.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Bronx, N.Y. (Yankee Stadium)
Dec. 27, 2019 - 2:20 p.m. CT

That takes us to the Redbox Bowl, which will again “feature at least five different Big Ten schools during the six-year agreement”. Guess who’s never been there? The Hawkeyes. If Iowa somehow slips beyond the Citrus and Holiday Bowls, this is almost certainly where they land.

Redbox Bowl
Santa Clara, Calif. (Levi’s Stadium)
Dec. 30, 2019 - 3 p.m. CT

If not, it gets ugly in a hurry (nothing against Detroit or Dallas, but...). After the Redbox Bowl, it’s the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. They have no restrictions on teams within windows, they just have to take a bowl-eligible Big Ten team.

Quick Lane Bowl
Detroit, Mich. (Ford Field)
Dec. 26, 2019 - 7 p.m. CT

Then last but not least, it’s the First Responder Bowl in Dallas. Similar to the Quick Lane. No restrictions here. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.

SERVPRO First Responder Bowl
Dallas, Texas (Cotton Bowl Stadium)
Dec. 30, 2019 - 12:30 p.m. CT

Here’s a look at the full bowl selection process and the associated selection parameters:

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Projecting the Big Ten

So, where does that leave everyone? Aside from being confused, it leaves some pretty limited options. For Iowa, it really comes down to the Citrus, Holiday and Redbox Bowls. The key determinants will be who ends up in Pasadena for the Rose Bowl and how much wiggle room the bowls truly have on their agreements to take a set number of teams in the contract window.

Assuming Ohio State beats Wisconsin for the second time this season, here’s my prediction for the Big Ten’s full slate of bowls.

College Football Playoff - Ohio State

This one seems pretty obvious. Ohio State is the top team in the country and assuming they take care of business against Wisconsin, that isn’t changing.

Rose Bowl - Penn State

In this scenario, Wisconsin will have three losses and will likely be ranked behind a top-10 Penn State. I would expect the Nittany Lions to get the nod here.

Citrus Bowl - Wisconsin

If Wisconsin gets nudged out of the Rose, they make sense in the Citrus. They haven’t been since 2013, which would put them on the outside of that 6-year window including the 2019 bowl.

Outback Bowl - Minnesota

This is where things get interesting. Iowa and Michigan have each been to the Outback in the last two years so don’t expect them here. Unless the Citrus takes Iowa or Michigan (and remember Michigan was there in 2015), that really only leaves Minnesota for the Outback.

Holiday Bowl - Michigan

Sigh. If Wisconsin ends up in the Citrus, the Holiday comes down to Iowa and Michigan. The Hawkeyes travel well and haven’t been here since ‘91, but Michigan is Michigan. They beat Iowa head-to-head and will be ranked higher. Tough to see them dropping here.

Gator Bowl - Indiana

With Iowa not able to play here, they slide. Indiana’s options are wide open.

Pinstripe Bowl - Michigan State

I think the Pinstripe would probably like to take Illinois here, but given what’s left behind them, I could see Delaney leaning on them a bit to avoid Michigan State playing in Detroit.

Redbox Bowl - Iowa

This feels like a gut-punch for a team that’s going to finish near the top-15 nationally. However, Santa Clara is a beautiful place, or so I’m told. It’s a new stadium and a new destination for Iowa fans.

Quick Lane Bowl - Illinois

As I said, I think Delaney looks to avoid have Michigan State play in Detroit (although, maybe they could sell more tickets that way?). Sorry Illinois. At least you made a bowl!

First Responder Bowl - None

With no remaining bowl eligible teams, don’t expect any in this one. Sorry Nebraska.

And that’s that. I’m almost certainly wrong. Where do you disagree? Where do you think Iowa ends up? Where would you most like to go?