Iowa bowl analysis: Laying out the Hawkeyes’ path to the Holiday Bowl

    Advocates of the whole “rules are made to be broken” theory might be watching in fascination as this year’s Big Ten Conference Bowls proceed.

    The glut of good but not elite teams at the top of the league is setting up for a potentially tricky exercise when it comes to finding postseason slots for their bowl-eligible teams.

    Reading: Iowa football bowl projections 2019

    as I mentioned last week, iowa needed to beat minnesota to have a real shot at top level bowling. and, with his proverbial back against the wall, the hawk-eyed complied.

    They are up 7-3 overall and 4-3 in the big ten, with two winnable games against Illinois (6-4, 4-3) and Nebraska (4-6, 2-5) remaining.

    so… what is feasible now? there’s a potentially easy answer, and then a (much more) complicated one. let’s spell it all.

    the hierarchical order of the big ten

    As a refresher, this is the hierarchy that the conference has in the last year of its current affiliation agreement. this order follows any big ten school selected for the college football playoff or new year’s six-bowl game and includes which teams they shouldn’t get to pick if everyone is playing well.

    • Citrus: There are no set rules, because things depend on whether a big ten school is also selected for the orange bowl. if that’s the case, then there won’t be another placed here. I’d look beyond minnesota, michigan, or penn state to avoid a repeat selection if you can, but you’ll probably have reason to make whatever decision you need.
    • interior: cannot choose wisconsin, northwest, iowa, or michigan.
    • vacation: no limitations. notably, the bowl chose minnesota in 2016 and wisconsin in 2017.
    • music city/gator: should be an alligator year, and the alligator cannot repeat selections. that means no iowa or penn state.
    • striped: no limitations, but you must select six schools in eight years, with a “target” of eight schools in eight years. penn state, indiana, northwest, iowa, and wisconsin have already participated.
    • redbox: no limitations. notably, the bowl chose indiana in 2016 and the state of michigan in 2018.
    • fast lane and lifeguard: no limitations.

    where is everyone now

    With Season 10 games underway, let’s consider the top ten big teams based on their most recent college football playoff standings.

    • 2. ohio state (10-0)
    • 8. penn state (9-1)
    • 10. Minnesota (9-1)
    • 12. Wisconsin (8-2)
    • 13. Michigan (8-2)
    • 17. iowa (7-3)

    Most of these teams will soon be facing each other. there will almost certainly be a minimum of four losses among this group between now and bowling “pickup Sunday” on Dec. 10. 8.

    • penn state and ohio state meet on saturday.
    • ohio state and michigan meet nov. 30.
    • Wisconsin and Minnesota meet Nov. 30.
    • The winner of the Big Ten West (almost certainly Wisconsin/Minnesota) and the winner of the Big Ten East (Penn State/Ohio State) meet on December 1st. 7.

    In other words, some of these teams are likely to fall into the same conversation level as iowa, as long as they win the hawkeyes and things will get messy.

    … see you later, alligator?

    First, though, there’s an Iowa-centric scenario to discuss: a loss to illinois or nebraska virtually eliminates hawkeyes from the top-level discussion ( citrus, interior, holiday), regardless of the current rules.

    then what? I’ve speculated on a drop to the red box bowl in the past, which would be the next logical landing point if the rules are followed. However, other reporters and fans have commented on the Taxslayer Crocodile Bowl‘s affinity for the Hawkeyes, including representatives who visited the Iowa games on multiple occasions this season.

    no, the alligator shouldn’t be able to choose iowa. But the two ESPN reporters who are projection experts currently have the hawk eyes assigned to that January. 2…against Tennessee, bringing back all sorts of 2015 horrors most fans would rather forget.

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    in the final year of this bowl deal, would the gators try to convince the conference to drop the rules and bring iowa back to jacksonville? It still seems unlikely to me, but the perspective is not unknown.

    The road to the Holiday

    Let’s say, though, that iowa wins as expected and goes to 9-3. They’re probably in the top 15 of the final college football playoff standings and in a position of desirable location in the bowl. the trick is that so will that other swamp from the big ten squads.

    It’s long been a wish that the hawkeye program head west to san diego for the holiday bowl, where the school hasn’t played since 1991. given the number of teams currently facing the hawkeyes, they won’t make it citrus bowl level. And, stop if you’ve read this sentence before, because of the rules, the outback bowl is also out.

    so the only high-level hope left is this california dream. To make the hawk-eyes the main selection, let’s start playing the placement game.

    state of ohio

    one has to assume that there will be at least two top ten teams in the new year’s group of six/cfp. Ohio State is a lock in that category, unless the Buckeyes lose to Penn State and Michigan to close out the season. even then, the six new year bunks can still be yours.

    penn state

    A 10-win penn state (yes, he’ll beat rutgers on november 30) would be doubtful to make that elite cut, unless the nittany lions are eliminated this saturday. If they beat the Buckeyes, they’re a sure thing, as they’ll likely be the East’s representatives in the conference title game in Indianapolis. The lowest I can see this team fall is the citrus bowl.


    if the golden gophers win their last two games to go 11-1 and take the west, they will be fighting directly or indirectly with penn state for the rose bowl spot, pending ohio state’s playoff spot and the result of the finals of the big ten. The Gophers’ regular-season head-to-head win over the Nittany Lions would carry weight if it’s Ohio State on the opposite side come December. 7.

    Either way, this scenario pushes the loser of this overall fight into the fray of the six of the new year. The Orange Bowl matches an ACC team against the highest ranked Big Ten or SEC team that does not make the playoffs and is not yet ranked in the Rose or Sugar Bowl. in the N. 5, alabama would currently be that option. Georgia, currently in fourth place, would also be in that discussion if the Bulldogs lose to LSU, presumably in the second-place title game.

    start to meet the remaining playoff requirements, and there is a spot open in the cotton bowl for a group that includes these two teams, baylor (9-1) and florida (9-2). good luck solving that.

    if minnesota loses another regular season game and doesn’t win the west, there’s a much smaller chance of a new year’s game six, and a lot of scheduling headaches would go away if the golden gophers fell in the outback bowl .

    … have you already confused? either way, there’s more.


    the badgers control their own destiny towards indianapolis. they win, and they are the representatives. their new year’s six route is also pretty clear because they’re already a two-loss team. They won’t be in the discussion unless they win the conference title game, thus going to the Rose Bowl and creating chaos. Getting to the title game should secure Wisconsin a spot in the Citrus Bowl at worst and potentially have them in the same fringe New Year’s Six discussion as Minnesota and Penn State.

    michigan and the iowa conflict

    The 8-2 Wolverines are out of contention for the title. They take on a gritty Indiana team this weekend before their big rivalry game with Ohio State to close out the season. Jim Harbaugh has never beaten Ohio State so why would he change that now?

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    one should safely take at least a third loss here, putting it on equal footing with iowa. if the wolverines lose both, they will fall short of everyone in this scenario and be left with alligator or redbox scraps, because the hoosiers (currently 7-3) could apparently outmatch them as well.

    but assuming the most likely scenario of a split to finish 9-3, then you have to make a really complicated head-to-head measurement. Consider the 10-3 head-to-head victory over the Hawkeyes in October, though neither team was impressive in that slog. Otherwise, Michigan and Iowa are in similar boats. wolverines haven’t been to the holiday in a quarter century (since 1994) either. and its fan base and brand is more “national” than iowa’s.

    However, would a fan base that has been protesting Harbaugh’s job security support and travel to an upper-middle level bowl in a season that began with conference title aspirations? It’s a fair question and a potentially riskier proposition than a rising Iowa team that will have won three straight to finish the year.

    so what should I support?

    priority 1: michigan loses. that’s the easiest scenario to put iowa in the holiday event, no matter what happens above the hawk eyes.

    priority 2: the big ten have three playoff picks/six new year’s picks. that will probably only happen if minnesota wins the west. It could also require Penn State to beat Ohio State, though the Nittany Lions will be in the mix at 10-2. At that point, Wisconsin and Michigan could split the Inland and Citrus Bowl selections, even if the rules are broken, and Iowa would go to San Diego. Or, if the rules are ignored, maybe Iowa will go inland for the third time in four seasons, although I personally think that scenario would be avoided at all costs.

    Priority 3: If the Big Ten only get two spots in that group, second can be anyone but Minnesota. For example, Wisconsin beats the Gophers, loses to Ohio in the title game, and penn state goes to the rose bowl. Badgers would take the place of the citrus bowl, Minnesota easily slots into the indoor bowl, and then the holidays turn into an Iowa/Michigan discussion. Iowa and Michigan would be nearly identical teams at 9-3 with that unconvincing head-to-head battle. the festive and alligator bowls are the next two in the pecking order of the Big Ten. Michigan hasn’t been in the Cayman since 2011. If there’s no clear distinguishing factor, Iowa could be left on the holiday, Michigan in the Cayman, and there’s no blood to break the rules.

    and finally, if chaos reigns…

    just throw away the rule book. we’ll all be on this messy boat together and we’ll have a lot to talk about that first week of December.

    what the experts say

    jerry palm, cbs sports: vacation, vs usc

    erick smith, usa. uu. today: red box, in front of washington state

    mark schlabach, espn: gator, vs. tennessee

    kyle bonagura, espn: gator, against tennessee

    brett mcmurphy, stadium: redbox, vs. washington state

    this week’s games to watch

    penn state in the state of ohio; michigan in indiana: I’ve explained the scenarios endlessly, so suffice it to say that the picture will start to solidify by now next week.

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