Bob Stoops's Oklahoma Sooners didn't have much to play for Saturday, except for a bowl "upgrade" to the Alamo Bowl. But he came through for his old team, the Iowa Hawkeyes, who had much more riding on this game.
Playing in the annual Bedlam game, the Sooners faced in-state rival Oklahoma State, who had much more to play for, likely a BCS bowl birth. But the Cowboys weren't up to the challenge, as they were shut out 27-0 in Norman.
And while Oklahoma celebrated on the field, the state of Iowa was celebrating at home. The Hawkeyes were more benefited by the win than any other team, possibly outside of Boise State. An Oklahoma win puts Iowa in very good position for a BCS birth, one that Oklahoma State could have snatched up with a win in Norman.
While Iowa still had hopes for a BCS bowl birth with an Oklahoma State win, those chances would have dropped tremendously. It seems clear that the Fiesta Bowl will take a Big Ten team with its first at-large pick and that team is likely to be Iowa. But if Oklahoma State had won, the Fiesta may have felt obligated to stick with their league tie-in and take a Big 12 team. That means the Big Ten's at-large representative would likely slip to the Orange Bowl, and Penn State looks like it would have been chosen if the Big Ten candidate had slipped that far.
And while Penn State fans will argue that the Oklahoma State loss does nothing for Iowa's chances, it has to be a big blow to Nittany Lion nation. It was a given that two Big Ten teams would reach the BCS, with Ohio State the automatic pick for the Rose Bowl and either Iowa going to the Fiesta Bowl or Penn State going to the Orange Bowl. Since the Fiesta has the first pick, Iowa seems to be in much better position than Penn State for a BCS bid.
But why Iowa to Glendale and Penn State to Miami? Iowa seems to be the better fit for the Fiesta Bowl because of attendance. Both teams travel very well, but Iowa has a huge alumni base in Arizona and the Hawkeyes' fan attendance would likely exceed 50,000. Iowa brought 50,000 fans to Miami in their last BCS appearance, an Orange Bowl record, and could exceed that number because of the huge alumni base in the Valley of the Sun. It also helps that Iowa hasn't played in the Fiesta Bowl, and while TV ratings favor Penn State's past bowl games, Iowa has had good ratings this season because their games are, to say the least, very exciting to watch.
While Penn State lost to Iowa head-to-head in Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions may be more attractive to the Orange Bowl. That seems odd, considering Iowa sold more tickets than any other team in Orange Bowl history, but a statement by Orange Bowl CEO Eric Poms tells the story.
"We examine a myriad of factors when making our decision for the opponent of the ACC champion, including in no particular order: ticket sales, tourism, local economic impact, television appeal, maintaining our brand tradition, [and] appeal for our local and national fan base," Poms told CBS.
While Iowa and Penn State are equal in many of those categories, Penn State looks to have the "maintaining our brand tradition" factor nailed down. The Orange Bowl loves the Nittany Lions, who are no strangers to Miami. Plus, Penn State has a larger alumni base in Florida than Iowa does.
Although Saturday's game is by no means a guarantee that Iowa is heading to Glendale, Oklahoma certainly helped the Hawkeyes' chances of booking a trip to the Valley of the Sun. There is also no guarantee that the bowl pecking order, as Texas still needs to beat Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game. And while a Nebraska upset doesn't seem likely, Iowa could still be headed to Glendale, with the Fiesta taking Nebraska with its first pick, the Orange taking Texas with its pick, and the Fiesta taking Iowa with its second pick.
While Iowa won't be sure of their bowl destination until BCS selections are made next Sunday, the Hawkeyes made huge strides without even playing a game. And even though one can only speculate so much, Iowa is looking more and more likely to be having a Fiesta in the desert come January.
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