Now that Indianapolis is out, let’s do a check on where the No. 23 Iowa Hawkeyes might end up for a bowl game.
Yes, this isn’t what you wanted to read. After Saturday's 24-22 gut churn at Wisconsin, Iowa (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) has moved on to the “what bowl?” phase of the season.
Yes, it might feel empty. The Hawkeyes were a championship contender this season and played like it in three losses to Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin. That’s three losses, with games at Michigan and in Madison, by a total of 14 points, and that is the difference between the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis, Ind., and a bowl at one of the Sans — Francisco or Diego.
Since going 8-0 and winning the West in 2015, the Hawkeyes have gone 6-3, 4-5 and 5-4 in the Big Ten.
“It’s hard to do,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said when asked about reasons for not winning the West in the Wisconsin postgame. “There are seven teams, I think, on our side, so one is going to go and six aren’t. That’s the way football goes sometimes. Everybody is competing for the same thing. I have no idea who’ll be at the top. I think mathematically, we still could. I have to tell you, I haven’t burned much energy on it, but it still could happen and with the way football is, I wouldn’t rule anything out.”
College bowl projections are an industry on the internet. They are the bait that is clicked and clicked and clicked.
Monday, the range of bowls random bowl projectors had the Hawkeyes going to were from the Redbox Bowl (Santa Clara, Calif., where the San Francisco 49ers play) to the Holiday Bowl (San Diego, Calif.) or the Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, Fla.).
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The Gator Bowl is out. Iowa played in Jacksonville in 2015 and went to the Outback Bowl last season. The contract with the league calls for too much of a shuffle for the Gator to pick Iowa. For what it’s worth, only around 5,000 Iowa fans traveled to the 2015 Gator, a 45-28 loss to Tennessee that was over before halftime.
So, the question the Holiday Bowl will face is does it want Michigan? Can the Gator cut a deal with Michigan and, say, an Auburn for a pair of heavyweights at EverBank Field, where the Jacksonville Jaguars play?
Iowa and the Holiday Bowl have history. The Hawkeyes have played in San Diego three times, with the last being a 13-13 tie with BYU in 1991. Former Hawkeye head coach Hayden Fry is in the Holiday Bowl hall of fame.
But Michigan would be a tough pass for the bowl, which is in its last season of affiliation with the Big Ten, which also could be a factor.
So, the Redbox Bowl. It’s been in existence since 2000 and has had four name changes. The game, an 11 a.m. kick on Dec. 30 and televised by Fox, is played in Levi's Stadium, home of the 49ers and where former Hawkeye tight end George Kittle has become an NFL star.
None of this is written with a Sharpie. Iowa has three games left and this Saturday's against No. 7 Minnesota (9-0, 6-0) is the Hawkeyes’ last chance for a quality win in 2019 that isn’t Iowa State. Yes, Illinois is enjoying a resurgence and won’t be an easy out, but that also won’t go down as a quality win in most Iowa fans’ eyes.
“Personally, I’m still going to try to pump guys up and get guys going,” Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs said. “I don’t want to lose next week. It’s not a good feeling. Now, it’s playing for each other and the love of the game.”
Suddenly, keeping the Floyd of Rosedale bronze pig trophy might be considered a season saver. The Gophers have a lot of motivation here, beyond the fact that they haven't won at Kinnick since 1999 and that time Iowa fans tore down the goal posts at the Metordome in 2002.
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The Gophers snapped a 15-game losing streak to Wisconsin last season and claimed Paul Bunyan's Axe. Against Iowa, Minnesota has lost four straight and 14 of the last 18. Not quite the level of dominance Wisconsin demonstrated, but try telling that to the No. 7 team in the country that will actually walk into Kinnick a three-point underdog.
What would go better with a 6-foot axe than a 98-pound bronze pig?
“What we need to do is win next week,” Ferentz said. “We’ve got to get back on our feet and try to win next week. That’s the goal every week. We’ll get global when the season is over and figure those kinds of things out, but it’s a tough conference, like most conferences. It’s hard to be at the top, but that’s what we’re working for, that’s what we’re fighting for every time we do something.”
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