IOWA CITY, Iowa — Three of the most memorable Holiday Bowls included the Iowa football team. After a 26-year absence, could a fourth be in the cards for the Hawkeyes?
Iowa remains one of four Big Ten teams under consideration by the San Diego-based bowl game, which is played Dec. 28 at Qualcomm Stadium. The Hawkeyes haven’t played in San Diego since 1991 and there remains a mutual affinity from both Iowa fans and bowl officials.
“Iowa is certainly in the discussion,” said Holiday Bowl executive director Mark Neville. “We’ve had a couple three great experiences with Iowa in our history and we understand how great Hawkeyes fans are. If things worked out where we did invite Iowa to play in our game, we would roll out the red carpet for the student-athletes and the University of Iowa and their fans. It would be a great trip out to San Diego.”
The Holiday Bowl dispatched a committee member to Iowa City for the Hawkeyes’ home finale Nov. 18 against Purdue. The Boilermakers upset Iowa 24-15, which seemingly ended the Hawkeyes’ chances of competing in the San Diego bowl. Iowa finished with a 7-5 record, which is worse than three other Holiday Bowl candidates. Northwestern and Michigan State are both 9-3 and won 17-10 decisions against the Hawkeyes. Michigan (8-4) also is under consideration.
“[Record is] a variable that’s taken under consideration,” Neville said. “But it’s a lot more than just that as well. There are many variables that play into any decision. We work with the conference as well on this, too. We want to do what’s best for the San Diego Community Credit Union Holiday Bowl and we’ll see. Right now, Iowa is certainly under consideration.”
In 1986, Iowa rallied from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat San Diego State 39-38. The Aztecs took a 38-36 lead with 47 seconds left on a field goal, but Iowa countered with a Kevin Harmon kickoff return to the San Diego State 37-yard line. Iowa won on a last-second field goal from Rob Houghtlin.
In 1987, Iowa trailed Wyoming by 12 points in the fourth quarter, but an interception return by Alexander Wright and a 1-yard plunge from David Hudson led to a 20-19 win. Iowa safety Merton Hanks blocked a punt that was recovered for a second-quarter touchdown. Hanks preserved the victory by blocking a 52-yard field goal attempt with 46 seconds left.
In 1991, the 10-1 Hawkeyes tied BYU and former Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer 13-13. Iowa led 13-0 at halftime before Detmer led the Cougars to the tie. Iowa defensive back Carlos James preserved the non-loss by intercepting Detmer at the goal line with 30 seconds left.
Michigan also has a history with the Holiday Bowl. The Wolverines beat Colorado State 24-14 in 1994. In 1984, BYU clinched the national title with a 24-17 victory against Michigan.
Neither Northwestern nor Michigan State has participated in the Holiday Bowl.
“With an 8-4 record and a couple tough losses here down the stretch against some good football teams, Michigan is another one of those schools in the Big Ten that we look at very highly,” Neville said. “They have a great tradition there in Ann Arbor. They’ve been to our game a couple of times as well, and similar to Iowa they had memorable trips to San Diego and our community remembers them well, remembers Iowa well. There’s a reason why we’re proud of our association with the Big Ten. We feel like we’re in a really good position right now.
“You would think with where we are in the pecking order and what it’s looking like developing in the College Football Playoff, I would say the teams in our picture right now are Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa and Northwestern. I guess there’s a chance that Ohio State could fall to us — I don’t see that happening — but it’s a possibility, I guess.”
Among Big Ten bowls, the Holiday Bowl selects after the Outback Bowl. The Holiday Bowl picks the Pac-12 squad after the Alamo Bowl.
There are several factors, from recency to matchup to overall record, that figure into the Holiday Bowl selection. The Holiday Bowl’s selection process among Pac-12 schools is perhaps more muddled than with the Big Ten. Stanford, USC and Washington all are under consideration for a New Year’s Six bowl game.
“If one of those is available to us, I would say that’s probably the likely area that we’d go,” Neville said. “But let’s say Washington goes up to the [New Year’s Six], then we will be looking at a couple of other teams. We could be looking at Washington State. We could be looking at Arizona State. We could be looking at Arizona.
“There’s a lot of football to be played. It doesn’t seem like there should be but there is. I don’t remember a time where there have been this many teams on the table for us.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh formerly coached at the University of San Diego before taking a job with Stanford in 2007. A pairing of those teams in city where he started his head-coaching career would be difficult to pass up. Arizona features former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, who was fired in 2010, so that matchup is attractive as well.
“There are many variables that play into it and the matchup is certainly one of those variables that are under consideration,” Neville said.
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