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IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz wouldn’t have recommended ordering any Big Ten West championship gear after the team’s back-to-back double-digit losses to unranked teams in October.
“That probably wouldn’t have been very smart to print them up four weeks ago,” Ferentz said Friday.
Now, with Big Ten West champion T-shirts in hand, Iowa is one win away from a Big Ten crown.
The No. 16 Hawkeyes, outright champions of the Big Ten West, will head to the Big Ten championship game for the first time since 2015.
Iowa will play No. 5 Michigan, which won the Big Ten East after upsetting No. 2 Ohio State, 42-27, on Saturday.
Iowa earned its spot after unranked Minnesota upset No. 14 Wisconsin on Saturday evening in the Gophers’ first home win against their rival to the east since 2003.
The odds of a Big Ten West title appeared to be bleak earlier in the season. After the Purdue and Wisconsin losses pushed the Hawkeyes to fourth in the Big Ten West after tiebreakers, ESPN’s Football Power Index gave the Hawkeyes a 21.7 percent chance of winning the division on Nov. 2.
The Hawkeyes then won their next four games, all by 10 or fewer points, to finish their Big Ten slate at 7-2.
It’ll be the Hawkeyes’ second Big Ten championship game appearance since its inception in 2011. Wisconsin is the only Big Ten West team to go to the Big Ten championship game more than two times.
Iowa’s 10-2 regular-season finish is its best since 2015, when the Hawkeyes went 12-0 before losing in the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl.
The trip to Indianapolis has been on the Hawkeyes’ minds for a while.
A black sign with gold text above the sliding doors that connect Iowa’s indoor practice field and weight room says, “The road to Indianapolis goes through these doors.”
Players throughout the season said they tried to only focus on the current opponent, though.
“You’ve just got to focus on the next game,” center Tyler Linderbaum said on Nov. 2. “A lot of things can play out in the Big Ten. ... First you’ve got to worry about winning your games that are in front of you, and let other stuff take care of itself.”
Linderbaum was right, and the next game for him to focus on will be in Indianapolis.
Bowl possibilities as outright Big Ten West champion
Iowa's path to a New Year’s Six bowl is a lot more simple now that it’ll be playing for a Big Ten title. Win and in.
Each Power Five conference champion is guaranteed a spot in one of the six premier bowl games, which include the two College Football Playoff semifinal games. (The CFP is well out of reach for Iowa.)
If Iowa loses to Michigan, the path to a New Year’s Six spot is more difficult.
There isn’t much precedent for a team being ranked No. 16 in the College Football Playoff rankings in Week 13 and then earning a New Year’s Six spot.
Since the College Football Playoff’s inception in 2014, it’s happened seven times. All seven teams were conference champions.
The ACC’s struggles in 2021 means No. 17 Pittsburgh or No. 18 Wake Forest will get one of the 12 spots, taking away a potential at-large opportunity for Iowa.
If Iowa does not get a spot in the Rose Bowl, Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl — the three possible New Year’s Six destinations for a Big Ten team — the Citrus Bowl would be the logical destination.
It is the most prestigious Big Ten-affiliated bowl outside of the New Year’s Six, and representatives from the bowl have frequently attended Iowa games. That’s also where Northwestern played last season after losing to CFP-bound Ohio State in Indianapolis.
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