Since Iowa’s regular season ended with the 12-0 white washing of Minnesota, all kinds of attention has been put towards the bowl destination. Justifiably so, given that there are no other opponents currently on the schedule.
Every pundit, talking head, newspaper journalist, Internet geek, and even the average fan have their own two cents to add. Everyone has their reasons that seem rock solid as to where Iowa will spend the New Year.
Outside of the matchups for the BCS National Championship game, I contend that the bowl selection “process” (if you can call it that) is as clouded as ever. Ultimately, the bowls will invite whoever they think is in their best interests—oftentimes regardless of merit. Anyone outside of the bowl inner circle is taking a pure stab in the dark.
So, rather than offer my stone cold lead pipe lock as to where Iowa will spend the New Year, I am going to focus on who would make the best opponent for the Hawkeyes. For, I think that the bowl opponent is more important than the destination.
The bowl game is usually the springboard to the following season. Exhibit A being the big Outback Bowl victory back on New Year’s Day in Tampa over South Carolina.
This year, Iowa should hope for the highest quality bowl opponent, no matter where that happens to take them. A victory against the best team out there will put the biggest exclamation mark on this season and serve as the building block for next season.
The list of bowls possible for Iowa range from the Fiesta and Orange (both BCS bowls) to the Capital One, or the worst-case scenario is the Outback.
Here is the list of teams that could provide Iowa’s bowl opposition, including the possible bowl game. The teams are ranked in order from best possible opponent to weakest.
I define the "best possible opponent" as the team that would provide the most impressive victory, not necessarily the team that Iowa would have the easiest time beating.
No. 1 TCU (Fiesta or Orange Bowl)
This is the best possible opponent for Iowa. The Horned Frogs are unbeaten and ranked No. 4 in the BCS. They have run rough shot over their entire schedule, which has included decisive victories over ranked conference rivals BYU and Utah.
They also won at Clemson, who will be playing for the ACC championship against Georgia Tech.
It would be a tremendous opportunity for Iowa to get the chance to hand TCU its only loss of the season in a BCS bowl game. You could argue that Iowa would be representing all of the power conferences, in this battle with a non-BCS school.
Of course, the knock on TCU is the strength of the Mountain West Conference. How would TCU fair playing in a conference like the Big Ten, Big East, SEC, or ACC? Well, they probably will get a taste of that in the bowl game, as it appears they are in line for an automatic BCS bid.
No. 2 Boise State (Fiesta Bowl)
The Broncos have been perennial “BCS Busters” over the years. Once again, in 2009, it looks like they will probably run the table. Astutely, Boise scheduled Pac 10 powerhouse Oregon out of conference this year…and they won that one.
While Boise currently boasts a No. 6 BCS ranking, they still have a game against Nevada, who is also unbeaten in the Western Athletic Conference. However, if Boise finishes their regular season undefeated, they certainly will receive serious BCS consideration.
The memorable Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma a few years ago, combined with the win over Oregon this year make the Broncos a factor against any power conference opponent.
Just as would be the case with TCU, the opportunity Iowa would have to knock off an unbeaten would provide tremendous recognition for the program, regardless of whether that team was from a BCS conference or not.
No. 3 Georgia Tech (Orange Bowl)
Assuming that Georgia Tech defeats Clemson in the ACC championship, they will be on their way to the Orange Bowl. Tech is ranked No. 7 in the BCS and their only loss was early in the year at Miami.
Georgia Tech’s nonconference schedule is a bit suspect. While they will have played three SEC teams, they have included Mississippi St., Vanderbilt, and Georgia, who have a 6-17 combined record in the SEC.
No. 4 Mississippi (Capital One or Outback Bowl)
The Rebels are coming on strong, posting a big win over LSU last weekend. Their three losses have come at South Carolina, vs. Alabama, and at Auburn. Still have rivalry game vs. Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to contend with.
Chance for Iowa to get another bowl win vs. quality SEC opponent.
No. 5 LSU (Capital One or Outback Bowl)
Matchup with LSU would no doubt bring back memories of probably the greatest play in the history of Iowa football—the 56-yard touchdown pass from Drew Tate to Warren Holloway as time expired in the 2005 Capital One Bowl.
This year’s version of the Tigers is reeling a bit here towards the end of the season, dropping a tough one at Mississippi last weekend. Les Miles and crew could be looking at an uncharacteristic 8-4 season if they can’t get past Arkansas this weekend.
However, just as with Mississippi, a matchup with LSU would give both Iowa and the Big Ten an opportunity to improve a historic poor bowl record vs. the SEC Conference.
No. 6 Oklahoma St. (Fiesta)
I think this is the worst possible foe for Iowa. Okay fine, assuming they defeat Oklahoma, they will finish with the same record as Iowa. But who have they beaten? At this point, their only win against a Big 12 opponent with a winning conference record is against Texas Tech, who is 4-3.
Nonconference competition has included Georgia (big name, but only 6-5 overall record), Rice, Grambling, and Houston.
They weren’t competitive on their home field against Texas and also couldn’t beat Houston on their home field.
Iowa has proved that they can compete against anyone in the country, in the most hostile environments. Although I don’t think it is all that important to them, the Hawks continue to struggle to get national respect. My guess would be that Iowa probably would be underdogs against each of the above possible bowl opponents (perhaps with the exception of Mississippi or LSU, if those teams happen to lose their last games).
The old adage often used by Kirk Ferentz is that “there are no bad bowl games.” While I do agree, there are higher quality opponents than others. So, if Iowa wants to make as big a splash in the bowl game as possible, then lets hope that the bowl opponent is one of the teams on the top half of this list.