BCS Bowl Projections: The Fiesta Bowl Belongs to the Iowa Hawkeyes (We Hope)

Bryan KellySenior Analyst IDecember 1, 2009

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 14:  Split end Derrell Johnson-Koulianos #15 of the Iowa Hawkeyes celebrates after making a catch against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 14, 2009 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

I'll begin by assuming that Texas will beat Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship game. This is maybe the second time all year I've vouched confidence in Texas, but the Aggies were probably their second-best win of the year behind Oklahoma State, considering the hostile crowd, the pressure, and the stakes.

In that win, the Longhorns showed they can survive by outscoring and outlasting rather than by suffocating their opponent by leaning on their defense. The UT offense has improved statistically in each passing week, and I think they're ready for the Big Game.

In fact, I don't think Colt McCoy will struggle at all against Nebraska's defensive backfield, and the mixture of draws, screens, and look passes will neutralize the threat of Ndamukong Suh. That game, like every Big 12 Championship game going back to 2003, won't be close.

That means that Texas will be in the championship game—hurrah, hurrah, we're all hoping you can beat Florida . And with Oklahoma State losing in uncompetitive fashion to Oklahoma on Saturday, the Fiesta now has two at-large spots up for grabs.

I'll wear my sympathies on my sleeve—I think Iowa with a healthy Ricky Stanzi, Adam Robinson and that Hawkeye defense is on par with the best teams in the nation.

They played one of the most difficult schedules in the country, beat Penn State by double digits in Happy Valley, nearly beat Ohio State in Columbus with their back-up quarterback, and fielded one of the most complete and well-coached defensive units all year.

They're survivors, on par with the cardiac Tide in the SEC.

Which is why I really hope Penn State does not leap Iowa come Selection Sunday. Going on pure strength of schedule, Iowa's three best wins are Penn State, Arizona, and Wisconsin.

Penn State's are Northwestern, Temple, and Michigan State. This should explain why the BCS computers still love Iowa, ranking them No. 10 overall to Penn State's No. 19.

But as has been argued elsewhere, Penn State is where the money and the viewers are. Iowa is not, nor has ever been, a sexy team.

While undefeated, they were habitually ranked behind the other unbeatens—Texas, Florida, and Alabama—despite boasting a stronger schedule and an equally talented defense. When they lost to Northwestern, their BCS stock took an unfairly punitive nosedive.

Only the computers—those impartial judgers of talent, those numbercrunchers, taking into account only who beats whom and never how it looked—have never given up on Iowa.

Is it wrong that I trust the computers more? In 2009, the BCS voters have given me a fresh set of reasons to find the system biased and loathsome.

The unfailing love for USC, whom the voters ranked ahead of Oregon a week after the Ducks ran wild on the USC defense before losing to Stanford, was nauseating.

Ditto for LSU, whose best win is over Auburn at home, yet still lounges on the outskirts of the top ten despite getting their incompetencies exposed .

Only the computers can factor out the love for Pete Carroll, the SEC brand—and, yes, the sentimentality for JoePa.

Cool Papa Joe is a straight shooter, and I don't think even he believes this team is good enough to compete in a BCS game.

Losing by double digits in both crucial games at home is not good enough, especially when one of those losses is to a better team situated between you and the Big Ten champion Buckeyes.

The record doesn't speak for itself, which is why Paterno and the rest of the Nittany Lions have to promise the other things : fans, ratings, ticket sales, advertising interests, nostalgia, clipshows of Paterno kicking up dirt at scores of refs in hundreds of games while "How To Save A Life" plays in the background...

Am I bitter? Yes; I can see how this one might end badly. Penn State gets the bid and the blowout loss, Iowa gets the overmatched SEC opponent in the Capital One Bowl, and another offseason of "Is The Big Ten The Worst Conference In History?" continues to depress me.

The good news is, Iowa's athletic director has done a good sell job to the Fiesta Bowl, the most likely spot for a Big Ten team to land (they have the second at-large pick overall to replace Texas after the Sugar Bowl picks to replace Florida).

Apparently, there are roughly a million displaced Iowans living in the Arizona area—for retirees of the Midwest, Arizona is the new Florida, remember?—meaning the Fiesta Bowl can sell out all the Iowa allotments without any need for travel.

Now, assuming that Texas wins—i.e. doesn't further complicate the BCS picture by losing—the likely opponent for the Big Ten is fellow at-large compadre Boise State.

They have the rankings, the historical Fiesta credibility , and, as anyone in Idaho will tell you, they can bring the fans.

And this is why I'm rooting for Iowa. The Hawkeyes have a better shot at avoiding the humiliation of the Big Ten losing to the (gulp) WAC, another indignity I'm sure hasn't been suffered yet in history, but would be more than possible with the overranked Nittany Lions as foes.

Forget fans, commercials, ticket sales—Iowa has a better secondary and a better defensive line than Penn State (their linebackers and offenses are a push—fair?), and, at least for this year, better coaches .

If the BCS chooses Penn State and the Lions are humiliated, it reflects on the entire conference, and that's bad business for both sides.

Iowa and Boise State might well play out as a close, exciting game. The Hawkeyes and Broncos will match strength to strength, weakness to weakness. Iowa's pass defense squares off against the unflappable Kellen Moore.

Boise's rush defense—which started strong has steadily allowed more and more rushing yards per game—faces one of the best offensive lines in the country.

The Broncos haven't shown me that they travel well. The close calls against Fresno State, Tulsa, and Louisiana Tech on the road, during which Boise had to fight to remain ahead and struggled to sit on leads—indicate the bowl atmosphere might rattle what is still a pretty young and as-yet untested team, on offense and on defense.

Iowa has shown they can travel well, but they're also no strangers to the close win. The last-second slant pass to beat MSU, the come-from-behind wins over Indiana and Penn State, the two blocked field goals against Northern Iowa all revealed that Ferentz's game plan is to survive long enough for the other guy to run out of gas.

So unless the Fiesta and the BCS want to get trashed by the fans again—and broadcast a thoroughly unwatchable thrashing of a Big Ten opponent to boot—they'll take the more able Hawkeyes to face off against the Broncos.

Remember: great games, not great teams, beget great ratings. We'll all tune in no matter who plays—what matters is whether we continue watching after the first half.


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