We've known Iowa was headed to a bowl game for a while (since they picked up their sixth win against Maryland way back on October 20... we just haven't known where that bowl would be. And we still don't. Iowa's bowl destination will be announced on Sunday, after the regular season draws to a close on Friday and Saturday. The good news is that Iowa improved their bowl destination by beating Illinois and Nebraska to end the season at 8-4; that finish gave them ye olde "momentum" (which bowl folks like) and made it so Iowa fans don't react with trepidation and/or outright hostility to the idea of watching one more Iowa football game this year (which bowl folks really like). And at least it will be somewhere warm this year, unlike the ice bowl that was last year's Pinstripe Bowl.
So where will it be? Well, according to Hawk Central's Chad Leistikow and The Athletic's Scott Dochterman, it's been narrowed down to three options: the Citrus Bowl, the Outback Bowl, or the Holiday Bowl.
This bowl has been mentioned as an option for Iowa... but it doesn't seem like a very realistic one. Put simply, Iowa is either fourth or fifth in the Big Ten's bowl pecking order this year, behind Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and maybe Northwestern. The Citrus Bowl has top pick of Big Ten teams after the New Year's Six Bowls are set, which means that the teams ahead of Iowa would need to make the New Year's Six and/or Iowa would need to get picked ahead of them.
Iowa's not getting picked ahead of Ohio State, Michigan, or Penn State this year, so that means all three need to get into New Year's Six bowl games. That's plausible -- Ohio State and Michigan are ranked 6th and 7th in the most recent CFP rankings, making them shoo-ins to be in NY6 bowls. Penn State is ranked 12th in those rankings, which means they have a chance to make a NY6 bowl.
The Cotton Bowl and the Orange Bowl are hosting CFP semifinals this year, so they'll host the Top 4 teams in the rankings. The Rose Bowl is contractually obligated to take a Big Ten team (either Ohio State, Northwestern, or Michigan) and a Pac-12 team (the winner of the Pac 12 Championship Game between Utah and Washington). The Sugar Bowl is contractually obligated to take an SEC team (probably Georgia, assuming they lose to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game) and a Big 12 team (either Oklahoma or Texas). The highest-ranked Group of 5 team (currently UCF) is also guaranteed a spot in a NY6 bowl (either the Fiesta or the Peach Bowl this year). That leaves three spots to fill.
Does the Peach Bowl want to run Florida-UCF? If so, that would likely put Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl and leave one spot remaining. It would also effectively eliminate Penn State from consideration because there's no chance the Fiesta would stage a Michigan-Penn State rematch.
And even if everything breaks right with the CFP and the Big Ten gets Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State into New Year's Six bowls, there's also the matter of Iowa still needing to jump Northwestern to make the Citrus Bowl. That's happened in the past with the bowl selection process, but it seems like it's going to be hard to justify picking Iowa over a team that finished ahead of them in the division and beat them head-to-head.
tl;dr: the Ctirus Bowl seems like a pipe dream this year.
There was this report from Doc, though:
Citrus/Camping World Bowl officials have discussed an Iowa State/Iowa doubleheader in Orlando https://t.co/aec1aWU3QG
— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) November 26, 2018
I'm inclined to agree with our old pal PSD about that idea, though:
Imagine how terrible Iowa/ISU going to the same bowl destination would be. Little brother's insecure media turning everything into a contest. Most people in line at Disney. Most terrible light beer consumed. Most people at the airport gate. And on and on
— PlannedSickDays (@PlannedSickDays) November 26, 2018
This is the bowl that seems to be emerging as the favorite for Iowa this year. If they're selected by the Outback folks, this would be Iowa's fifth trip to Tampa since the 2003 season; they're 2-2 in those games so far. Maybe Iowa fans should just buy time-shares in Tampa already. The more important note as far as the Outback Bowl is concerned is that Iowa has only been once since the Big Ten's current contract with the Outback Bowl began with the 2014 season. That contract stipulates that the Outback Bowl is required to take five different teams in six years; they took Iowa in 2016, but they could use their one allowed repeat pick on Iowa this year.
The Outback Bowl is also looking like a very possible destination because it's the best Big Ten bowl tie-in that doesn't require Iowa to jump someone with a similar or better resume this year. If Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State all get into New Year's Six bowls, that frees the Citrus to select Northwestern and leaves Iowa waiting for the Outback. Northwestern has been there almost as recently as Iowa (after the 2015 season), so choosing between them would likely come down to which team's fans the bowl thinks would travel better, despite having been in this bowl 2 or 3 years ago.
As if a return trip to the Outback Bowl wouldn't be deja vu enough, they could also face a rather familiar foe waiting for the Hawkeyes: LSU. If LSU gets aced out of the New Year's Six bowls (an outcome that seems likely right now, since the Tigers are behind Alabama, Georgia, and Florida in the CFP rankings), they'll also get passed on by the Citrus Bowl, since LSU was in that bowl after the 2016 and 2017 seasons. It's hard to imagine them dropping beyond the Outback Bowl in the selection process.
The good news about possibly playing LSU? It would be an opportunity for Iowa to record another win over a Top 10 opponent; a win would also get them ranked in the final polls and send them into the offseason with some solid momentum. If Iowa is in the Outback Bowl, they could also Mississippi State, Texas A&M, or Missouri, any of whom would be fresher opponents than the Tigers. Iowa has never played Mississippi State and they last played Texas A&M way way waaaay back in 1931 (the Aggies won, 29-0). Iowa last played Missouri in 2010, but eight years is still a fairly long time and a border battle always gets the juices flowing.
There's nothing wrong, per se, with another Outback Bowl trip, but it is the least exciting option of the three, given Iowa's intense familiarity with the bowl and their familiarity with their most likely opponent, LSU. So it goes.
This is my sentimental pick and the one that's favored by a lot of Iowa fans. Iowa hasn't been out to San Diego around the holidays since 1991, when they drew BYU in this bowl. (The Holiday Bowl had no affiliation with the Big Ten between 1995 and 2013, though.) Iowa also has two pretty memorable Hayden Fry-era wins in the Holiday Bowl, 39-38 over San Diego State and 20-19 over Wyoming. So there are a lot of fond memories associated with the Holiday Bowl for Iowa fans. Plus, it's a novel trip -- Iowa has been to Florida a lot under Kirk Ferentz (nine times since the 2002 season), but hasn't made many trips out west. Also, as someone who was in San Diego a few weeks ago, I can personally attest that this is a magnificent time to visit and escape the harsh midwestern winter for a few days.
The Holiday Bowl loves Iowa too and has indicated that they would select Iowa in a heartbeat if they're an option when it's their turn to select a Big Ten team. The problem is that Iowa has to be available when they pick, and that's not a sure thing with the Outback Bowl selecting right before the Holiday. The local San Diego paper is projecting Northwestern to the Holiday Bowl, for what it's worth. Northwestern already beat Iowa head-to-head this year and in the race for the Big Ten West division; they might as well make it a hat trick and beat Iowa for the fans' preferred bowl game as well (even though technically Iowa would be "beating" them and getting selected before Northwestern).
So what should you root for in the championship games this weekend? I'm not sure it really matters, frankly. The key decision is going to come down to the Outback Bowl, who's either going to be choosing between Iowa and Northwestern (if Penn State is in the Citrus Bowl) or Iowa and Wisconsin/Michigan State (if Northwestern is in the Citrus Bowl). The argument for the Outback Bowl not selecting Iowa basically boils down to them thinking Iowa fans are too bored of Tampa to visit, and that doesn't seem like the most compelling argument.
One outside consideration is whether or not the Big Ten main office would push a bowl (the Outback, in this case) to select Northwestern over Iowa. How far down the pecking order do they want a division champion to fall? Do they want Iowa to be picked ahead of a team that beat them head-to-head and won the division over them? The Big Ten generally defers to the bowls when it comes to selections, but it's not entirely implausible to think that they might exert some influence here, either.
At this point, it seems like the tea leaves are pointing to Tampa (again). Personally I'm holding out hope that Iowa can find their way to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl, but that may just be wishful thinking at this point. What about you, dear readers? Do you have a preferred destination? Go ahead and vote in our poll or let us know in the comments.