The 2017 college football regular season is in the books -- so long, farewell, au revoir, regular season football! So now we turn our attention to postseason college football -- namely, the bowls and the College Football Playoff. The regular season finished with but one undefeated team after Wisconsin lost to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game last night; unfortunately UCF isn't one of the cool kids and so they have no hope of being one of the four teams selected today for the College Football Playoff. Sorry, Knights.
Three of the Playoff teams appear locked in place: Georgia (who beat Auburn decisively in the SEC Championship Game to finish 12-1 and win the SEC), Clemson (who beat Miami even more decisively in the ACC Championship Game to finish 12-1 and win the ACC), and Oklahoma (who beat TCU also decisively in the Big 12 Championship Game to finish 12-1 and win the Big XII). The identity of that fourth Playoff team has been the source of a raging debate, though. On one side, Ohio State, who finished 11-2 and won the Big Ten. On the other side, Alabama, who finished 11-1 and did not even win their division.
The argument for Ohio State is that they have better wins (Penn State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, all likely to be Top 15 teams in the final Playoff rankings). The argument against Ohio State is that they have two losses and, more specifically, that they lost to Iowa by 31 points? Remember that? Let's take a break to bask in the memory of that day.
...aaand we're back! The argument for Alabama mainly boils down to three things: they only lost once, they're in the SEC, and for god's sake, they didn't lose to Iowa by 31 points. Can you even imagine? I mean, it's just unthinkable to suppose that a Nick Saban-coached team could ever lose to Iowa. What Bama does not have in their support is quality wins: their best win is probably LSU, who was #17 in the most recent set of Playoff rankings.
So what does the Playoff Selection Committee truly value? Do quality wins matter more than a bad loss? How much do conference championships matter? How many losses is too many? Ohio State became the first team to make the Playoff without winning their conference last year; will they become the first 2-loss team to make the Playoff this year? (And it's no small source of irony that Ohio State fans have to take the exact opposite stance that they did a year ago: "Of course winning a conference championship matters.... this year.")
All of that matters to Iowa because of the ripple effect that will ensue depending on whether Bama or Ohio State is in the Playoff. Let's break down the possibilities quickly.
IF BAMA IS #4 IN PLAYOFF RANKINGS
- Ohio State is #5 in Playoff rankings (they were #8 entering yesterday and three teams ahead of them lost -- Auburn, Wisconsin, and Miami).
- The Big Ten champion cannot go to the Rose Bowl this year since the Rose Bowl is being used for one of the Playoff semifinals.
- The highest-ranked Big Ten team or SEC team (not in the Playoff) or Notre Dame is guaranteed to go to the Orange Bowl and in this case that would be Ohio State (#5). However, per Scott Dochterman, the Big Ten champion cannot go to the Orange Bowl. So we'd go to the next highest-ranked SEC or Big Ten team (or Notre Dame). The issue here is how far Auburn and Wisconsin drop after losing yesterday. Auburn was #2 and Wisconsin was #4 entering the championship games, but Auburn now has three losses and got manhandled by Georgia, while Wisconsin only has one loss and narrowly lost to Ohio State. I think there's a decent chance Wisconsin is ranked ahead of them. (There's also a chance that Penn State jumps one or both of them; they were #8 in last week's rankings.)
- If Wisconsin is #6, then they'd go to the Orange Bowl. Ohio State would go to another New Year's Six bowl (probably the Fiesta Bowl) and Penn State would likely go to a New Year's Six bowl as well (probably either the Peach or Cotton Bowl).
- By virtue of filling that Orange Bowl slot, the Big Ten would then lose its slot in the Citrus Bowl. That knocks down Michigan and Michigan State. One of them would go to the Outback Bowl and one would likely go to the Holiday Bowl. Michigan hasn't been in the Outback Bowl since after the 2012 season, while Michigan State hasn't been there since after the 2011 season. Michigan hasn't been to the Holiday Bowl since 1994, while Michigan State has never been to that bowl. Michigan was just in Florida last year for the Orange Bowl, so they may prefer to go to California.
- That means Northwestern, Iowa, and Purdue are battling it out for spots in the Music City, Pinstripe, and Foster Farms Bowls.
IF OHIO STATE IS #4 IN THE PLAYOFF RANKINGS
- Alabama is #5 in the Playoff rankings.
- Alabama would then be the highest-ranked Big Ten or SEC team (not in the Playoff) or Notre Dame in the Playoff rankings, and so they would go to the Orange Bowl.
- Ohio State goes to one of the two Playoff semifinal games, while Wisconsin and Penn State get other New Year's Six bowls (Cotton, Peach, or Fiesta).
- The Big Ten does not lose its slot in the Citrus Bowl in this scenario, so Michigan and Michigan State likely fill the Citrus Bowl and Outback Bowl slots in some fashion.
- This adds the Holiday Bowl to the mix of bowls for Northwestern, Iowa, and Purdue.
So basically: if Ohio State is in the Playoff, Iowa may have a shot at the Holiday Bowl. If Ohio State is not in the Playoff, Iowa likely has no shot at the Holiday Bowl. If the Holiday Bowl is in play, the question becomes whether they would select Iowa over a team (Northwestern) that 1) had more wins than Iowa (9-3 vs 7-5), 2) is on a 7-game winning streak, and 3) beat them head-to-head. Northwestern also hasn't played a bowl game in California since the Rose Bowl after the 1995 season; Iowa was in southern California just two years ago. College football reporter Brett McMurphy had been beating the drum for the Holiday Bowl selecting Iowa over Northwestern for a little while, which led to some discussion about Jim Delany supposedly intervening on Northwestern's behalf. About that:
As we speculate about B1G bowls, 1 nugget of info: Delany told me he did not call the Holiday Bowl to lobby for 9-3 Northwestern over 7-5 Iowa.
F-A-L-S-E," Delany said of any contention otherwise. The bowls pick who they want w/in the (mainly) 5 teams in 6 yr framework
— Teddy Greenstein (@TeddyGreenstein) December 3, 2017
Iowa AD Gary Barta today on whether Delany called a bowl to lobby for/against another team: "My answer, Im certain its no, he doesnt do that. If he did, I wouldnt be aware of it. Im confident hes not doing that." https://t.co/kYh4RtNHg2
— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) December 3, 2017
However, McMurphy's most recent bowl projections have backed away from the Iowa-Holiday Bowl chatter; he has Northwestern there and Iowa in the Pinstripe Bowl against NC State. Dochterman's most recent bowl projections also have Northwestern in the Holiday, but Iowa in the Music City Bowl against Kentucky. Both McMurphy and Dochterman have Ohio State as the fourth team in the Playoff.
So Music City or Pinstripe or (maaaaaybe?) Holiday? We'll find out Iowa's bowl destination in a few hours. The first domino to drop will be the announcement of the four-team Playoff field, which should occur in about an hour (around 11:30 AM CT) on ESPN.