Usually, the way the bowls are set up, you expect a 7-5 team to meet a team that, at least as far as its record is concerned, is fairly evenly matched.
However, this season, due to a bevvy of 7-5 Big Ten teams, the strength of the Big Ten's bowl tie-ins, as well as the weakness of the Big 12's tie-ins, the 7-5 Iowa Hawkeyes find themselves going up against the 10-2 Missouri Tigers.
Looking strictly at wins and losses, this is one of the more lopsided matchups in all bowl games this year. Furthermore, it is the most lopsided matchup in Big Ten-involved bowls.
Nevertheless, the Hawks' record is somewhat deceptive. That is not because they were a better team than their 7-5 indicates. No, I am firm believer in the saying, "You are your record."
Rather, because man-for-man, the Hawks could have been so much better, and did, at one time, have the potential to match the Tigers' 10 wins and maybe more.
The 2006 Hawkeyes came into their bowl in a somewhat similar situation. They lost the game, but came out with their heads held high, having won something of a moral victory.
I don't know if this team can have a moral victory. In fact, I don't even know if a win over a very good Missouri Tiger team will be enough to salvage this season.
Nevertheless, if the Hawks and their fans are to go into the offseason with any optimism, Iowa will need to show up in a big way.
Shortly after Iowa sleepwalked through their game against Minnesota, I recall seeing an online poll that asked Hawkeye fans: If you had the money and the time, would you travel to see the Hawks play?
Unfortunately, I can't recall the exact numbers, but I believe around 80 percent replied, "No." Of course, that was when the Minnesota loss was still painfully fresh in Iowa fans' memories. It was also before the Midwestern winter set in.
In effect, the question is will attitudes change? Moreover, if attitudes don't change, will the team's attitude reflect that of the fans?
We will know the answer in less than a week, but as of December 21, Missouri has considerably outpaced Iowa in ticket sales.
That might not seem like too huge a deal, but this is the Iowa fan base. Remember, the Hawkeyes went to the Outback Bowl in 2005 over Michigan for no reason other than the Iowa fans. It could be argued that Iowa got the nod over Penn State in last year's Orange Bowl because of those same fans.
Iowa fans are known for traveling well. They are known for following their Hawks to any and every bowl, no matter what the Hawks' record.
You can believe that if Hawk fans have a relatively poor turnout at this year's Insight Bowl, future bowl executives will pay attention. Moreover, Iowa's athletic director, Gary Barta, will definitely pay attention.
Spread offense? Check
Experienced, accurate quarterback? Check
Fleet-footed quarterback? Check
Offensive scheme that focuses on ball control? Check
Running game that starts with the zone read? Check
Passing game that starts with short, high-percentage passes? Check
Up-tempo, often no-huddle offense? Check
An offense that lines up almost exclusively in the shotgun? Check
Why does all of this sound familiar?
Because it sounds a lot like the offensive scheme of the Northwestern Wildcats.
The Iowa Hawkeyes' record against the Northwestern Wildcats over the last six years?
One win and five losses.
And man-for-man, Missouri has better athletes than NU.
By now, we know the deal.
In all but one of their wins, the Hawkeyes held the lead throughout their game.
However, all five of their losses looked like carbon copies of each other. Iowa held a lead at some point in the fourth quarter. The offense was needed to move the ball and take time off the clock. The offense failed.
The defense came on and proceeded to let up a score, giving the other team the lead.
The Iowa offense came back on in two-minute mode and consistently and promptly imploded.
That's five losses in virtually the exact same way. In short, Iowa's play during the fourth quarter this season has been nothing less than lousy.
Will it be the same story this time? Can the Hawks last four quarters? Will the coaches make any adjustments or will they keep going back to what appears to be a very dry well?
This season, Iowa lost two games by three points and one game by one point. In the one-point game, Iowa missed an extra point and a field goal. In one of the three-point games, Iowa missed a field goal.
Iowa place kickers have not kicked above 80 percent on field goals since 2005. Needless to say, that has hurt Iowa greatly over that time, and it hurt them tremendously this season.
The majority of the kicks this season have come off the foot of true frosh Michael Meyer. In 2010, he made exactly 80 percent of his field goals. This is pretty good for a true freshman and considerably better than Nate Kaeding fared in his first season playing college football. Hopefully, this bodes well for the future.
Nevertheless, for right now, Meyer is still a true freshman playing in his first bowl game.
Meanwhile, Missouri's junior field goal kicker Grant Ressel had an off-year. He only made 88.9 percent of his field goals. Last year, he made 96.3 percent.
To put it bluntly, this is not a team with whom Iowa wants to get into a kicking dual.
Missouri was dead last in the Big 12 in third down conversions. They converted 36.69 percent in all their games and an abysmal 25.81 percent in their two losses.
As it happens, Mizzou was also 10th in the conference in third down conversion attempts.
Long story short: The Tigers do not want to get into many third down situations, and they really don't want to get into 3rd-and-longs.
Shut them down on first and second, and it's fairly likely they will wind up punting.
On the other hand, Iowa's defense ranked sixth in the Big Ten in stopping third down conversions. Hawkeye opponents converted 38.73 percent of their attempts. Moreover, Iowa forced the second-most third down attempts in the conference.
However, here is the bad news. In Iowa's four November games, they allowed their opponent to convert an embarrassing 50 percent of their third downs. If that number were spread out over the entire year, the Hawks would be 117th in the country.
Iowa's numbers are almost as miserable in all of their five losses, as well as the fourth quarter.
Basically, the game plan is simple: Force Missouri into third down situations and hold them. All indications are that Missouri shouldn't be that hard to hold, if they are facing a lot of third downs.
Between 2007-2009, Missouri had the 18th-best winning percentage in FBS football. My best estimate is that when 2010 is said and done, the Tigers will come in at 10th or 11th best over the last four years.
That will also be the second-best showing in the Big 12, after Oklahoma.
And what do the Tigers have to show for it?
Trips to a Cotton Bowl, an Alamo Bowl, a Texas Bowl and now an Insight Bowl. Three 10-win seasons and nary a BCS bid in sight.
To put that fully in perspective, consider that Mizzou's run has taken place in the same time frame as the 2007 Illinois team that went to the Rose Bowl with a 9-3 record. That was a team, by the way, that Missouri beat.
Moreover, the 2009 8-4 Tigers got passed over for last year's Insight Bowl by the 6-6 Iowa State Cyclones. Yes, those same Cyclones that typically sell out their paltry, little stadium only once every other year.
The end result of all of this is that 10-2 Missouri was the fourth choice of this season's Big 12 bowl tie-ins. And they will be facing the 7-5, sixth choice of the Big Ten's tie-ins.
Meanwhile, in most years, a 10-2 team in the Big Ten—almost any 10-2 team in the Big Ten—would have a much-better-than-average shot of receiving a BCS bowl bid.
The primary reason for Missouri getting passed over so often has been Missouri's conference, the Big 12; aka the Texas/Oklahoma League. Unfortunately, teams in the Big 12 not named Oklahoma, Texas A&M, or especially Texas, tend to get treated as something of an afterthought.
For that reason, in the Big Ten's recent expansion, Mizzou all but publicly lobbied for inclusion into the conference. Unfortunately, it didn't work out, and now Nebraska will be leaving the Big 12, and Missouri will stay right where they are.
And where they are, or rather who they are is a second-class citizen in a somewhat unstable football conference.
So, how do the Tigers respond to this? After all, there are plenty of teams and fanbases and areas of the country that hate the Big Ten for any number of reasons.
However, it could be said that none of them have as much of a logical reason as Missouri.
With a turnover margin of plus+1.08, Iowa is tied for the seventh-best in the country.
If you had told me before the season that Iowa would have the seventh-best turnover margin in the country, I would have all but guaranteed that the Hawks would have at least 10 wins, but I digress.
Missouri is at plus+.92. That is good enough for 14th in the country.
The Tigers' numbers are bolstered because they have forced the 19th-most turnovers in the nation. The reason the Hawks have such an impressive turnover margin is because their offense is tied for first with the fewest turnovers lost.
I'm not willing to say that something has to give. However, I am willing to say that the team that wins the turnover battle in this game will probably win the game.
Speaking of turnovers, the best recipe for forcing a lot of turnovers is having a dominant defensive line and a strong pass rush.
Before the year, I would have said that sounded a lot like Iowa, but as it turned out, the Hawkeyes only had 19 sacks on the season. That put them at 86th in the nation.
On the other hand, Missouri logged 37 sacks, for seventh in the country. Furthermore, while Mizzou is not as "vanilla" as Iowa, the majority of their pressure does come from their line.
Twenty-five-and-one-half of their 37 sacks came from their front four. That is 69 percent. Throw out a few garbage time sacks, and the Tigers' line is over 75 percent. Four of their top five pass rushers were defensive linemen.
In short, this is the best defensive line and pass rush that Iowa has seen all season. The former holders of that title were Arizona.
Iowa gave up six sacks to the Wildcats (though three of them were on the last Hawkeye drive of the game).
Of course, Iowa's line is much more experienced than it was on that night, but as of now, starting guard Adam Gettis is questionable for the bowl game. Moreover, Gettis struggled with injuries all season, and there is no getting around the fact that the two most dominant games Iowa's offense had were probably the only two games he started.
Remember the players in the picture that accompanies this slide?
They are (from left-to-right): Jewel Hampton, Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher. They looked to be Iowa's three-headed running back monster this season.
At the end of last season, many of us were wondering how there would be enough room in Iowa's backfield for these three talented players.
Well, those worries are over. None of them will be playing in the Insight Bowl.
Wegher left the team before the season started and recently announced his intention to transfer. Hampton's season ended with an ACL tear in the third game of the year. He will also be transferring.
Finally, A-Rob is still a Hawkeye, but he has been suspended for the bowl game, due to what Kirk Ferentz has inferred are academic issues.
The starter at tailback should be true freshman Marcus Coker. Coker has had a solid season, rushing for 403 yards on 81 carries for a 4.98 average. That is even more impressive when you consider he missed much of fall camp and the early part of the season with a shoulder injury.
Still, Iowa calls its offensive plays largely based on how much the coaches trust the players in the lineup. I think it goes without saying that "trust" may be a huge issue with a true frosh lining up behind the quarterback.
Missouri's colors are black and MU gold. Iowa's colors are black and old gold.
Both teams have trophy games against the Iowa State Cyclones.
The state of Missouri comprises almost all of Iowa's southern border.
Columbia is a four-hour-and-two-minute drive from Iowa City. It is almost due south.
Despite all of this, the Hawks and Tigers have not played each other since 1910. And despite the lack of any games between the two teams, there is still a great deal of animosity between the two fanbases.
So, what gives?
Hopefully, the linked articles will answer all of your questions.