No one, and I mean no one, can offer a convincing prediction about which bowl Iowa will attend this season, if any.
The reason: There are way too many Big Ten games in November that you can’t safely forecast, and three of them are among the Hawkeyes’ final four contests.
Can you say Iowa will win at Illinois? No, not even with the way the Illini have sputtered. Illinois will be a motivated team with the ever-dangerous Juice Williams at quarterback. However, you have to like Iowa’s chances of rushing with its typical 2008 success after seeing the Illini’s run defense at Wisconsin Saturday.
Can you say Iowa will lose at home to Penn State with certainty? No. Is Iowa’s defense significantly less than Ohio State’s? No. And the Buckeyes held the Nittany Lions to 281 yards and 13 points Saturday night in Columbus.
Can you say Iowa will definitely win at Minnesota in the season-finale? (We’re calling the Hawks’ home game against Purdue a win between the Penn State and Minnesota outings.) Obviously not with the way the Gophers have played in racking up a 7-1 mark.
So, Iowa can conceivably finish the regular season 9-3, 8-4, 7-5 or 6-6. That’s Tampa and the Capital One Bowl all the way down to Detroit and the Motor City Bowl.
I can’t see the Capital One Bowl as possible for Iowa. Maybe there’s a 1 percent likelihood. Say Ohio State loses two of its last three games and Iowa wins out. But there’s a 1 percent likelihood of a lot of things in life not worth worrying about.
This is why bowl projections are so absurd until, say, the regular-season has one week left. If Iowa upends Penn State, the Nittany Lions are out of the national-title picture and everything goes haywire for the Big Ten. It’s hard to see an 11-1 Penn State and a 10-2 Ohio State (if it wins at Illinois) both in BCS games, especially with Boise State and probably Utah snapping up spots.
On the flip side, the Hawkeyes have plenty of work to do just worrying about beating Illinois this week despite the Illini’s October pratfalls against Minnesota and Wisconsin. If the Hawks lose in Champaign, they could be staring at 5-5 once Penn State leaves Kinnick Stadium. Then it’s beat Purdue and try to beat Minnesota in the Metrodome for a winning season.
You go from dreaming of the Outback to tumbling past the Alamo and Champs Sports to the Insight and perhaps the (gasp) Motor City.
Minnesota, by the way, is the great wild card. The 7-1 Gophers ought to be 9-1 after they’ve hosted Northwestern and Michigan. Then they play at Wisconsin before the Iowa game. Minnesota could conceivably be 10-1, and probably no worse than 9-2, when they make their all-time Metrodome finale against the Hawkeyes in an atmosphere that should be frenzied.
Where Illinois, Northwestern and Wisconsin fit in bowl-speculation is unclear at best. The Illini are 4-4 and have four games left that could all go good or bad, including a trip to Western Michigan. Northwestern is bowl-eligible at 6-2, but doesn’t have a game left in which you’d call it a solid favorite. Wisconsin, 4-4, plays at Michigan State and Indiana before coming home for Minnesota and Cal Poly. That could be a 6-6 team.
If Ohio State doesn’t make it to a BCS bowl, we could be looking at eight Big Ten teams and seven affiliated bowls. For the first time in its agreement with the Big Ten, the Motor City Bowl may be in a position to pick who it likes best from the conference. What it really wants, of course, is for 2-6 Michigan to morph into a Michigan football team, win its final four, and bring its 6-6 record to Ford Field in downtown Detroit to play some fabulous Mid-American Conference club.
You can’t have everything, Motor City Bowl.