IOWA HAWKEYES BOWL GAME PROJECTIONS AND ROOTING INTERESTS

By Adam Jacobi on December 1, 2021 at 9:00 am
Kirk Ferentz carries a suitcase into Kinnick Stadium
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
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Thanks to Iowa's 28-21 victory over Nebraska on Black Friday, plus a delightful set of circumstances landing the Hawkeyes' way the next day, the Hawkeyes are set to face Michigan in the Big Ten Championship on December 4 in Indianapolis. That's the team's exclusive focus for this week, and we are eagerly anticipating their continuation of Jim Harbaugh's misery against the Hawkeyes, especially away from Ann Arbor.

Ultimately, Iowa needs Michigan State to make the New Year's Six — and we think they will.

But while the team is zeroed in on planning for the Wolverines, we as fans are allowed to consider what comes next, especially if we're planning on attending Iowa's bowl game. And good news on that front: with so few games left to be played and even fewer of them projected to affect the bowl picture in any meaningful way, the list of contingencies Iowa fans need to account for are refreshingly few.

It's basically as simple as this: win and it's the Rose Bowl, lose and it's (almost certainly) the Citrus Bowl.

IOWA BOWL PROJECTIONS

CBS Sports: Citrus Bowl vs. Texas A&M

247 Sports: Citrus Bowl vs. Kentucky

PFN: Citrus Bowl vs. Texas A&M

Sporting News: Citrus Bowl vs. Kentucky

USA Today: Citrus Bowl vs. Arkansas

Nobody projecting Pasadena? The nonbelievers will be dealt with in due time.

Also, worth noting that all three potential matchups here are very much rarities; Iowa has never faced Kentucky in football, and only once for the other two: 1925 for Arkansas and 1931 for Texas A&M. A collision 90+ years in the making!

But how is everybody so dang sure about the Citrus Bowl? How likely is it that things go sideways? Who should we be cheering for this weekend other than Iowa? If you're putting on cowboy clothes are you ranch dressing?

Your answers, below.


RANKED BIG TEN BOWL TEAMS

  1. Michigan* (11-1, 8-1) (CFP No. 3)
  2. Ohio State (10-2, 8-1) (CFP No. 7)
  3. Michigan State (10-2, 7-2) (CFP No. 11)
  4. Iowa* (10-2, 7-2) (CFP No. 13)

    *Playing for the Big Ten Championship and an invite to the Rose Bowl or College Football Playoff

With no Big Ten teams even cracking the Top 25 after Iowa, and OSU and MSU ranked ahead of the Hawkeyes, it's clear that the Big Ten Championship will determine whether the Hawkeyes will be first or fourth in the Big Ten's bowl pecking order. A trio of unranked division mates, each at 8-4 (6-3), comprise Nos. 5-7 in the Big Ten pecking order, in some order, but the Big Ten is so opaque about its bowl assignment process down the card that there's no telling who would have "deserved" one bowl over another. And most importantly, none of them are passing 10-win Iowa in bowl consideration.  

BIG TEN BOWL AGREEMENTS

  • 1a. College Football Playoff (if applicable)
  • 1. Rose Bowl vs. Pac-12 
  • 2a. New Year's Six Bowl (if applicable)
  • 2. Citrus Bowl vs. SEC
  • 3. Outback Bowl vs. SEC
  • 4. Las Vegas Bowl vs. Pac-12
  • 5. Music City Bowl vs. SEC
  • 6. Pinstripe Bowl vs. ACC
  • 7. Guaranteed Rate Bowl vs. Big 12
  • 8. Redbox Bowl vs. Pac-12
  • 9. Ol' Roy Dog Food Bowl vs. Sun Belt 
  • 10. Quick Lane Bowl vs. MAC
  • I made up the one about dog food 

(via Big Ten)

The simplest and most important part of this whole situation is this: if Iowa wins, they're in the 2022 Rose Bowl to face the Pac-12 winner, either Oregon or Utah. Rose Bowl by-laws dictate that champions from both conferences are invited to the game, and if the winner ends up in the Playoff, the replacement comes from that conference too.

There are likely some serious bowl ramifications for the rest of the Big Ten if Iowa wins the B1G Championship, but that gets complicated and from our perspective, it doesn't matter. Let the non-champions sort that out for themselves.

This also means that the Rose Bowl is off the table if Iowa loses. Even with Michigan assuredly being invited to the Playoff, teams like Ohio State and Michigan State will be coming into Saturday with higher CFP rankings than Iowa, which the Rose Bowl uses to select its playoff replacement candidate.

Ultimately, in scenarios where Iowa somehow does not win the Big Ten Championship, Iowa needs the Michigan State Spartans to make the New Year's Six — and we think they will.

With Michigan in the playoff (a virtual lock with a win over Iowa), Ohio State sliding into the Rose Bowl slot as the highest-ranked Big Ten team available and Michigan State in its own at-large NY6 berth, the path is clear for Iowa to visit the Citrus Bowl (formerly Capital One) for the first time since the 2004 season. That one was fun. Not only is the Citrus Bowl the long-reigning highest-profile Big Ten bowl outside of Pasadena, it's a refreshing step up for a team that has visited the Outback Bowl six times in the last 20 years. There's only so much Tampa that one fan base can take, y'know? 

NEW YEAR'S SIX BOWL AGREEMENTS

  • Cotton: CFP semifinal
  • Orange: CFP semifinal
  • Rose: Big Ten champion vs. Pac-12 champion
  • Sugar: Big 12 champion vs. SEC champion
  • Peach: At-large vs. at-large
  • Fiesta: At-large vs. at-large 

NOTES: One of the four at-large bids is reserved for the ACC Champion, and another must go to the highest-ranked Group of Five champion, if that team is not already invited to the College Football Playoff. The rest of the at-large bids are given to the highest-ranked available teams.

In an ideal world, these 12 most prestigious bowl slots would go to the top 12 teams in the nation. In this reality, we're... actually pretty close! As you'll see below, the only Power 5 championship game slated to put a team outside the top 12 into a NY6 bowl is the ACC, where No. 15 Pitt and No. 16 Wake Forest will be slapping it out. That means that the top 11 teams should account for the remaining spots in the six bowls; i.e., 11 is your (current) ranking cutoff for at-large nomination. 

And sitting right there at No. 11, are YOUR Michigan State Spartans. So as long as they stay there in the NY6, Iowa's not going below the Citrus Bowl.

THE MOVING PARTS

There's plenty of teams ranked close to MSU, on both sides of the poll, who have a conference title game still yet to play — and thus more movement in the polling. And yet, you'll notice that these games don't really shake a whole lot up in terms of whether Michigan State could get bumped out of the top 11 (and thus bump all of the Big Ten's bowl teams down a rung on the bid list).

Pac-12 Championship: No. 10 Oregon vs. No. 14 Utah

This game potentially matters to Iowa's postseason hopes, insofar as it will determine one of the two Rose Bowl participants, but neither team has a conceivable shot at a top-11 finish in defeat, so this game won't affect anything but said Rose Bowl.

YOU SHOULD CHEER FOR: Oregon winning keeps this situation as chalk as possible and eliminates any shenaniganry, but the notion that the No. 10 team might lose and not fall below the No. 11 team seems out of the reach of even this committee. But as for more realistic concerns, Kayvon Thibodeaux vs. Iowa's OL in Pasadena? No thank you.

WORRY LEVEL: 1/10. It really should be 0/10, but I sadly cannot guarantee that Oregon losing would slide the Ducks below an idle Michigan State. At least we're getting it out of the way on Friday night.

SEC Championship: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Alabama

This game has enormous College Football Playoff implications, and fans rooting for a Cincinnati playoff bid would do wise to pray to their nearest bulldogs for good luck. But again, the effect this will have on the Big Ten is decidedly limited; there's no real effect outside of the top 5 or 6 teams in the nation, so nobody's New Year's Six bid is hanging in the balance.

YOU SHOULD CHEER FOR: ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

WORRY LEVEL: 0/10

ACC Championship: No. 15 Pitt vs. No. 16 Wake Forest

Utterly immaterial, and utterly hilarious that one of these teams will win a Power 5 conference. Whoever wins it is either in the Peach or Fiesta Bowl, so, okay.

YOU SHOULD CHEER FOR: Having something else to do.

WORRY LEVEL: 0/10

Big 12 Championship: No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 9 Baylor

Here's the first game where we've got anything approaching a rooting interest, even though it doesn't involve the prospect of either team passing Michigan State. Baylor is only two spots ahead of Michigan State in the CFP rankings this week, and a Baylor loss might move the Bears beneath Sparty in the rankings. Or it might not—Power 5 conference championship losers generally aren't punished much for taking Ls in these essential Playoff preliminary games. 

Either way, getting to move up just the one spot in the CFP rankings would give Michigan State the second-to-last at-large spot, which would remove any concern about any potential weirdness in the AAC Championship.

YOU SHOULD CHEER FOR: Oklahoma State. Not because Mike Gundy is a sympathetic character by any stretch of the imagination, but because a decisive Cowboys victory makes it more likely that the aforementioned slide beneath Michigan State happens.

WORRY LEVEL: 1/10. It's not help that Iowa needs, just some nice insurance — plus we wouldn't even know if it mattered until the final rankings are announced.

AAC Championship: No. 4 Cincinnati vs. No. 21 Houston

The longest odds of any of the conference championships, and deservedly so, with Cincy favored to win by double digits. One bid from the AAC is assured; the CFP rewards the top-ranked Group of Five champion with one of the at-large bids (or a Playoff bid, but, lol).

Unlike the Rose Bowl arrangement, though, the New Year's Six bowls are not obligated to take the next-highest ranked Group of Five team if the Playoff selects the highest-ranked G5 champion. In other words, whether Cincinnati makes the Playoff at 13-0 or still gets snubbed, it doesn't create a New Year's Six bid for someone who wasn't going to get one anyway.

YOU SHOULD CHEER FOR: Cincinnati. Setting aside the sheer novelty and interest of a "mid-major" making the College Football Playoff, Cincy taking care of business also keeps the rankings as predictable as possible. Predictable keeps the Hawkeyes out of the Outback Bowl.

WORRY LEVEL: 2/10. An upset is very unlikely, and there's no guarantee that the committee will still rank Cincy high enough for an at-large bid without the sheen of an undefeated record. In other words, there might not even be a result possible here that snipes a bid.

WHAT ABOUT IOWA TO THE NY6?

Sadly, the Citrus Bowl is almost certainly the highest of Iowa's aspirations in defeat. Iowa is ranked No. 13, two spots below Michigan State at the presumptive cutoff of No. 11 mentioned earlier. If the Hawkeyes win on Saturday, the rankings bump is immaterial; they're automatically in the Rose Bowl. On the other side, there's simply no plausible scenario in which the No. 13 team loses its conference championship game and still moves two spots up in the poll.

Also, don't get suckered into the hand-wringing about Brian Kelly. Notre Dame is ranked No. 6 in this week's CFP rankings, and unless half the team robs a bank, in uniform, the Irish will accept one of the at-large bids as well.


That's a LOT of words to say this: it's time to believe it's the Rose or the Citrus, baby. Either way it'll be Iowa's highest-profile bowl game since the 2016 Rose Bowl and the first time we've been to Orlando in 17 years. 

Simple, isn't it?

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