Now that there’s a Playoff in college football, the other 40 bowl games really are nothing more than exhibition games. Win or lose, it’s just a nice road trip at the end of the year and the outcome doesn’t really matter.
Or does it?
Since they keep score and add it to your record every year, it does matter. How much can always be debated, but when trends emerge, then it becomes a concern at times.
For Iowa, bowl trips have usually worked out well. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was 6-3 in his first nine bowl games before a five-game losing streak. That’s why last year was important, to end that long drought.
It was also different because Iowa was supposed to win. The Hawkeyes were a 3.5-point favorite going into the Pinstripe Bowl game with Boston College at Yankee Stadium. When you get a favorable matchup, you have to take advantage of it, and the Hawkeyes did, winning 27-20.
Those matchups aren’t always favorable, and they can add up.
During the five-game losing streak, the Hawkeyes:
- lost 31-14 to Oklahoma after the 2011 season
- lost 21-14 to LSU after the 2013 season
- lost 45-28 to Tennessee after the 2014 season
- lost 45-16 to Stanford in the Rose Bowl after the 2015 season
- and lost 30-3 to Florida in the Outback Bowl after the 2016 season
Sure, they lost five games in the row, but they were also underdogs in every game. They were, quite frankly, supposed to lose. The favorites — Oklahoma (14), LSU (7.5), Tennessee (3), Stanford (6.5), Florida (2.5) — all took care of business.
Sometimes the matchups just line up wrong, based on how the entire bowl process works. For instance, in 2014, all 10 Big Ten favorites were underdogs. Last year, just about all of them were favorites and the Big Ten teams nearly ran the table, with everyone by Michigan winning.
This go-round, the Hawkeyes are underdogs again. Mississippi State is a 6.5-point favorite, thanks largely to their No. 1-ranked defense. Their offense, much like Iowa’s has been hit and miss all year.
Mississippi State has a senior quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald, a dual-threat with the ability to burn defenses. In 11 games this year, Fitzgerald has 1,615 passing yards and 15 touchdowns to go along with 1,018 yards and 12 scores on the ground.
“Just first blush, it looks like [Mississippi State is] an outstanding defensive football team,” Ferentz said. “I know they have a really good quarterback. Sounds like a guy who is a very strong leader… But yeah, we have a lot of work to do to catch up and find out more about them. The good news is there’s plenty of time.”
Iowa has been to the Outback Bowl in Tampa five times before, and it’s always a good time. There are a lot of fun events every day and it’s a great week to get out of the Midwest and enjoy the Florida weather. The Hawkeyes were just there two years ago. It’s always a popular bowl destination because of the Big Ten-SEC matchup as well.
“We got to explore Tampa a little bit. We got to go to a (Tampa Bay) Lightning game, so that was fun,” Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley said. “If I have that opportunity again, I’ll definitely go to an NHL game.”
Not everyone is headed to Tampa, of course. Tight end Noah Fant has already declared for the NFL draft and will not play in the bowl game. The Hawkeyes will have to move on without him,
Mackey Award winner T.J. Hockenson will miss his running mate, but he’s confident in the Hawkeyes’ tight-end group moving forward.
“We’ve got some depth at the tight end room,” Hockenson said. “We’ve got some guys that can do some different things and specialize in different categories in their game. We’ll see what these guys can do in the next game.”