Iowa-Penn State: The Case for the Big Ten At-Large Candidates
Right now, it's pretty clear that a Big Ten team will play in a BCS bowl game, likely the Fiesta Bowl or the Orange Bowl. The only question is, will that team be Iowa or Penn State? Here's the case for Iowa in the BCS. Let's see who has the advantage in each category
While Penn State has an extremely strong fan base as well, Iowa has one of the strongest fan bases in the country and an even stronger traveling fan base.
The Fiesta Bowl knows of the massive Hawkeye alumni base in Arizona. In fact, Iowa brought 20,000 fans to a regular season game against Arizona State in 2004. Most are projecting the Hawkeyes to bring upwards of 50,000 fans if they are projected to go to Glendale.
And yes Penn State, we know you brought a lot of fans to the 2006 Orange Bowl, but the folks in Miami have seen Iowa's fan base up close and personal. Iowa set an Orange Bowl record in 2003 with 47,000 tickets sold and an estimated 10,000 fans tailgating outside the satdium.
“They have a positive track record,” Orange Bowl representative Larry Gautier said of Iowa supporters’ willingness to travel to bowls. “In the 75-year history of the Orange Bowl, I don’t think anyone’s had more fans there.”
While Penn State fans will try to convince the country they travel better because of their name, the numbers don't lie and Iowa appears to have the advantage on that front. And as any Iowan would say, "People will come. Oh people will most definitely come."
While Penn State thinks they own the TV ratings argument, they shouldn't be as cocky. The Nittany Lions are more of a national name and definitely have the edge in bowl game ratings. PSU had a TV rating of 12.3 in the 2006 Orange Bowl, ranked ninth all time, while Iowa had a rating of 9.7, at 29th all time.
But this year, Iowa has had impressive TV numbers, largely due to their exciting finishes. The Iowa-Indiana game ranked second of all ESPN 12:00 games this season. So while Penn State may have the edge, the Hawkeyes are right on their heels.
Advantage: Penn State
This is where Iowa stands out from the rest of the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes own the conference's only bowl win from 2008-2009, manhandling South Carolina 31-10 in the Outback Bowl. In fact, Iowa owns a 4-3 bowl record this decade, going 3-1 against the SEC (with wins against South Carolina, Florida, and LSU) and 3-2 overall in January.
Penn State has also had success, going 3-2 this decade, but the Lions are coming off of an embarrasing 38-24 thrashing by USC. The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, always show up to play during bowls and two of their losses came as heavy underdogs.
While this may be the smallest factor in determining where each team will go, Iowa can still use it as a bargaining chip.
The Hawkeyes beat the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley earlier this year by a score of 21-10. Of course 21-10 doesn't sell tickets are bring in TV audiences, but if the BCS wants to solidify itself as a token of fairness, it may encourage its games to choose Iowa.
The Hawkeyes have also played a much tougher schedule, with road games against Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State. They also beat Arizona handily at home. The loss against Ohio State came with Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg making his first career start in a 27-24 OT defeat that was supposed to be a blowout loss.
In fact, one could argue that Iowa would still be undefeated if quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who will be back for the bowl game, hadn't gotten hurt. Penn State dominated most of their games, while Iowa squeaked by, but the Nittany Lions lost their only two tough games. Plus, bowls like excitement.
There are a lot of proposed match-ups going around the web, but the most popular choice is Iowa vs. Boise State, which figures to be a great game and is by far the most appealing of all the possibilities. Penn State versus Boise State is far less appealing to sports fans around the country. Either Georgia Tech versus Iowa or Georgia Tech versus Penn State would be a good game. But because of the Fiesta Bowl match-up, Iowa has the advantage here.
While Iowa has the advantage in all but one of the areas of consideration, Penn State has the advantage in one of the most influential, ticket sales.
It's pretty clear that Iowa will get a Fiesta Bowl bid if Oklahoma State loses. Even if the Cowboys win, the Hawkeyes could get the spot considering the Fiesta Bowl has no obligation to the Big 12 South runner-up and Oklahoma State averages 7,000 empty seats per home game.
If the Fiesta Bowl lets a Big Ten team go, they won't get another shot, as the Orange Bowl will pick up Iowa or Penn State. That could be a financial tragedy for the Fiesta Bowl due to ticket sales and TV ratings, especially if they end up with an Oklahoma State vs. Boise State match-up. Because of this, I don't see a Big Ten team getting past the Fiesta Bowl, and Iowa will most likely be the team that's chosen.
But if both Big Ten teams slip to the Orange Bowl, there's a 50-50 chance either way. But because the overall odds favor the Hawkeyes, I project Iowa to be the Big Ten's BCS at-large representative.
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