Going to forgettable bowl games with 7-5 records will be footnotes to the unforgettable red-letter moments of this football season for Iowa and Iowa State.
What the two of them did on the way to those bowls won’t be forgotten for a decade, a century, a millennium, even longer. Well, at least a decade, anyway.
The Hawkeyes and Cyclones both defeated the champions of their conferences. Iowa torpedoed Ohio State and the Big Ten out of the College Football Playoff. Four weeks before that, the Cyclones beat No. 2 playoff team Oklahoma in the Sooners’ stadium, 38-31.
The Cyclones have a Liberty Bowl matchup with Memphis. But no matter what happens in that game, ISU’s 38-31 win in Norman will forever stand as their signature moment of 2017. In the second half, they made Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield look mortal, something no other team has done this year.
Ohio State, which beat Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin, got clubbed 55-24 at Iowa. Had the Buckeyes lost to the Hawkeyes by, say, just 34-24, they’d probably be playing Clemson for a second-straight year in the playoffs. But the Hawkeyes’ dominance that day was too much for the playoff selectors to get past.
Somehow, an Iowa that was mundane became invincible for an afternoon. OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett was not good that day. It’s sports, and not everything has an explanation other than Ohio State isn’t a truly great team.
Yet, the Buckeyes were good enough to bounce back to win at Michigan, then beat a 12-0 Wisconsin team in Indianapolis. C’est la vie.
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Had the Hawkeyes been an 11-2 Big Ten champion that had lost 55-24 at Ohio State, they wouldn’t have been within two time zones of the bubble for the final playoff spot. So no, dear Buckeyes, life isn’t always fair.
As for those bowls that have invited the Cyclones and Hawkeyes, it’s easy to curb your enthusiasm.
Iowa State is understandably pleased to go a bowl of any sort after four years on the outside. But playing Memphis in Memphis? After the Liberty was the last bowl to host ISU? That probably wouldn’t have ranked in the Cyclones’ top three (or top 30) postseason scenarios.
Memphis is 10-2 and scores 47.7 points per game, second in the nation. It will be playing in its home stadium. The one advantage for Iowa State is Memphis’ players may not look at this bowl “trip” as any sort of reward, and will respond accordingly.
On the other hand, it’s the first bowl for current Cyclone players. Being jaded will not be a problem.
Iowa, meanwhile, is headed to the Pinstripe Bowl to play Boston College. If the Hawkeyes didn’t realize every game counted, they sure do now.
If I had a dollar for all the Hawkeye fans who told me over the last month that they didn’t want their team to go to the Pinstripe, I’d have enough money to afford a taxi from LaGuardia Airport to Greenwich Village.
Ohio State’s win over Wisconsin Saturday night set off dominoes that made the Citrus Bowl unavailable to the Big Ten. Which pushed Iowa down to the Pinstripe for a Yankee Stadium date with a BC program that hasn’t finished better than 7-6 since 2009.
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No knocks on Boston College, though. There are mundane 7-5 seasons and occasional good ones, like Iowa State’s. The Eagles have a good 7-5, having gone 5-1 in the second half of the season with wins at Louisville and Virginia and a 35-3 home rout of Florida State.
BC rolled at Syracuse in the season-finale, 42-14. That’s the same Syracuse that beat Clemson. But we all know this bowl/matchup captures the public’s imagination about as well as C-SPAN3 during one of its more-subdued broadcasts.
Ah, a late-December Wednesday afternoon game in the south Bronx. This will be different.