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Iowa's not playing and we've got to root for someone...but who?

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With the Hawkeyes off this week, it’s the perfect time to camp out on the couch all day Saturday and take in a full day of football without any worries. And while it is easy to root for Nebraska to lose again in some new excruciating fashion and for Baylor to put up 100 points on Iowa State, who else should Iowa fans root for tomorrow?

Iowa controls its own destiny. Win out and they are in the B1G Championship Game. Win that, and they’re in the playoff, probably, or at least the Rose Bowl. But if they stumble along the way, what needs to happen to first, get to Indianapolis and second, impress the CFP selection committee to get in the best bowl possible?

To Win the West

Iowa is in the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat in the West Division right now. They have a two game lead on every other team so they can afford a loss down the final stretch. But what about two losses? There are a lot of scenarios in which Iowa would still head to the title game at 6-2.

Wisconsin at Illinois - These are the two teams that threaten to beat Iowa outright if the Hawks lose twice. The winner of this game will still have 7-1 on the table. Illinois has the much harder schedule in the final five weeks with games at Penn State, vs. Purdue, vs. Ohio State, at Minnesota, and vs. Northwestern. Even with a win over Wisconsin, there is no way the Illini are finishing 7-1 in the conference. Wisconsin however is probably playing it’s toughest remaining game tomorrow. The next hardest is at home against Northwestern. They do have a realistic shot at 7-1.

Rooting interest: Illinois

Northwestern at Nebraska - Not only is it always fun seeing Northwestern beat Nebraska, it’ll be helpful for Iowa as well. Iowa holds the tie-break against Northwestern should they both finish 6-2. Nebraska however, could run the table, also finish 6-2 with a win over Iowa and win the division. While they’d need to beat Michigan State, the other games on their schedule they should win (Rutgers and Purdue). So getting Nebraska another conference loss would take them out of the picture.

Rooting interest: Northwestern

To Impress the Committee

It’s too early to talk about this, but I’m going to anyway. The narrative last year was that the Big 12 didn’t have its "one true champion" and thus got passed by Ohio State who did win their conference outright. However, while Ohio State was destroying Wisconsin and TCU was slaughtering Iowa State, the biggest game the final week of the year with Oklahoma State’s win over Oklahoma. That win knocked Oklahoma out of the CFP Top 25 rankings and let Minnesota sneak into the number 25 spot. That gave OSU another top 25 win and removed one from Baylor. (TCU also lost one and gained one, but with Baylor’s head-to-head win TCU moved down.) So the precedent is set. The number of wins over teams in the CFP’s Top 25 is big factor.

It’s safe to say that not too many teams Iowa has played are going to end up in the Top 25 at the end of the year, but ideally Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Pitt can get in there (plus whoever Iowa plays in the B1G title game if they get there). So while we probably want to root against Wisconsin this week for division purposes, we want them to finish at least 8-4 and ranked.

Pitt at Syracuse - Pitt’s only loss this year is to Iowa. They’ve looked impressive since with wins over Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Georgia Tech. They've got some tough games coming up against Notre Dame and at Duke. If they win tomorrow and next week, they should be ranked in the first CFP rankings when they come out the first week of November.

Rooting interest: Pitt

In additional to Iowa’s past foes winning, Iowa also wants other highly ranked teams to lose. It starts in the B1G in the fight for the Rose Bowl. The winner of the B1G title game likely goes to the playoffs, but the loser isn’t necessarily a shoe-in for the Rose Bowl, which gets to pick whichever B1G team they want. While they take a lot of things into consideration, best case is that Iowa looks like the clear best team to take if they do make it to the B1G title game and lose.

Indiana at Michigan State - Michigan State escaped with a crazy, crazy win over Michigan last week. Assuming they lose to Ohio State in a few weeks, it would be really nice if they had another loss in there. An 11-1 MSU vs. a 12-1 or 11-2 Iowa for a Rose Bowl berth, might result in Iowa left out. A 10-2 MSU, though, isn’t getting there.

Rooting interest: Indiana

Outside of the conference there are still a large number of undefeated teams this year. A few of them don’t really have any chance of losing tomorrow (like Baylor vs. Iowa State or Oklahoma State vs. Kansas), but there are a few other games that could swing Iowa’s way. Obviously for any shot at the playoff this is important, but even a 1 or 2-loss Iowa could be ranked high enough to get into another one of the CFP bowls.

Clemson at Miami - Miami is having a decent year, but stumbled against Cincinnati a few weeks ago failing to finish drives and missing field goals, and then hung with Florida State last week and even had the lead in the 4th quarter before giving up a late touchdown. So they have the potential to beat Clemson, especially at home. Clemson on the other hand is looking poised to be in a winner takes all (and potentially a playoff spot) game against Florida State. This game looks like the biggest chance to get tripped up before then.

Rooting interest: Miami

Georgia Tech at Florida State - Speaking of Florida State, they get a bad Georgia Tech team this weekend. It seems like teams have finally figured out the triple option. But you never know…they could be dangerous enough to surprise the Seminoles. Florida State does still have Clemson and Florida left on their schedule too, so they will have a challenge to go undefeated.

Rooting interest: Georgia Tech

Utah at USC - Utah doesn’t play a ranked team from here on out until the Pac 12 title game. USC just fired their coach, has lost 3 games already, but somehow is a 3.5 favorite in this game. The parity is strong this year in the Pac 12 and with Oregon and USC down, I’m not sure a 1-loss team from the conference will have a strong enough resume for the playoff.

Rooting interest: USC

Some more games that aren’t worth writing about and probably don’t feature upsets….

  • Texas Tech at Oklahoma - Texas Tech
  • Tennessee at Alabama - Tennessee
  • Texas A&M at Ole Miss - Ole Miss
  • Washington at Stanford - Washington (though Stanford’s continued success also makes Iowa’s win over Northwestern look better)
  • Duke at Virginia Tech - Duke (a Duke win makes Northwestern look better, which makes Iowa look better)