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CHICAGO — Iowa’s blowout loss in last season’s Rose Bowl won’t leave any residue with the College Football Playoff selection committee, executive director Bill Hancock said this week.
“Not a bit,” Hancock told The Gazette at Big Ten Media Days. “Not a bit. Prior years are irrelevant with the selection committee.”
Despite a 12-win regular season, the Hawkeyes received heavy criticism for their 2015 schedule. Of their three Football Bowl Subdivision non-conference opponents, only Pittsburgh (8-5) qualified for a bowl game.
In Big Ten play, only two of Iowa’s eight opponents finished with winning seasons. That schedule was a byproduct of Big Ten realignment away from the competitively based Legends and Leaders divisions to a geographical split. Before the league expanded to include Maryland and Rutgers, the Hawkeyes were slated to play eventual league champion Michigan State (12-2), Michigan (10-3) as well as Penn State (7-6) in 2015.
When Stanford blasted Iowa 45-16 in the Rose Bowl, critics appeared validated that the Hawkeyes’ regular-season success was based on their competition. The Hawkeyes’ schedule this year is similar with just four FBS opponents with winning records. It does include 10-win teams Michigan, Wisconsin and Northwestern. Iowa is projected as the Big Ten West Division favorite this year.
That has some concerned that should Iowa contend for a playoff berth, it would get jumped based on last year’s performance or if there’s a discussion between Iowa and Stanford. But last year’s outcomes won’t impact Iowa positively or negatively, Hancock said.
“It’s the culture of the committee,” Hancock said. “We remind them, ‘It’s all about this year.’ They all understand that. They appreciate that. It’s not hard, it’s just not hard. We start on week nine, so it’s all about what’s happened through week nine.”
Leaving out previous seasons’ performances as part of this season’s discussion helps keep the 13-member committee on task, Hancock said.
“It actually makes it easier for the committee because we can say it’s all about this season,” he said. “It’s not about what happened in the past.”
At 8-0, Iowa debuted at No. 9 in last season’s inaugural College Football Playoff rankings. The Hawkeyes moved up to No. 5 for two consecutive weeks, then moved to No. 4 for two straight weeks before settling at No. 5 in the final rankings. Michigan State edged Iowa 16-13 in the Big Ten championship game.
“Iowa just kept on plugging away and the committee noticed that they were solid on both sides of the ball,” Hancock said. “They kept on getting it done. The way they played, so mistake-free, they played so hard on both sides of the ball. That really got the committee’s attention. So it was intriguing to watch as Iowa kept moving up.”
Among the selection committee members is former Iowa assistant and current Wisconsin Athletics Director Barry Alvarez, a Hall of Fame coach with the Badgers. Hancock said the committee leaned on Alvarez for his evaluations of all teams, not just Iowa. The Hawkeyes beat the rival Badgers 10-6 at Camp Randall Stadium, a game that ultimately decided the Big Ten West Division title.
“The committee takes advantage of people who have had an opportunity to see teams play,” Hancock said. “There’s a lot of discussion. Barry was not necessarily an advocate; he was not necessarily an opponent. He just reported what he had seen.”
The selection committee provides six consecutive weeks of rankings, culminating with a final poll that determines semifinal match-ups and other New Year’s Six bowl games. This year, the Fiesta and Peach bowls host the semifinals on Dec. 31, with the committee’s No. 1 ranked team playing in the bowl closest to its location.
Among other bowls, the ACC champion qualifies for the Orange Bowl, champions for the Big Ten and Pac-12 earn Rose Bowl berths, and the Sugar Bowl hosts the Big 12 and SEC champions. However if those champions move into the semifinals, committee rankings often determine their replacements. Also, the ACC’s Orange Bowl opponent is the highest-ranked non-champion from either the Big Ten and SEC conferences or Notre Dame. The Cotton Bowl will consist of the highest ranked group of five champion (American, Mountain West, Mid-American, Conference USA, Sun Belt conferences) against an at-large opponent determined by the selection committee.
The Rose, Cotton and Sugar bowls will air on Jan. 2. The Orange Bowl is held Dec. 30.
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