Why Iowa’s best bowl victory chances come down south

IOWA CITY, Iowa — When it comes to a bowl game, Iowa is in Al Davis-mode.

Just win baby.

The saying of the former Oakland Raiders owner is the unofficial motto of the fan base, as the Hawkeyes haven’t won a bowl game since 2010. Ending the bowl losing streak is the biggest postseason priority.

With that in mind, Land of 10 evaluates Iowa’s best options based on opponent and possibility of a win.

Who does Iowa beat?

Before looking at the bowl options, it’s good to look at the teams Iowa has beaten (and lost to) and see if any trends emerge.

Note: All stats are from the S&P+ rankings

Outcome Avg. Overall Avg. Offense Avg. Defense Avg. Special Teams
Wins 53.3 76.9 54.1 53.4
Losses 24.6 61.6 14.6 64.4

Avoiding strong teams with strong overall and defensive rankings is the best path to victory. It makes sense, as the Iowa offense was boom or bust this year. The Hawkeyes won games where their offense played well and dropped ones where they couldn’t move the football.

All five losses also came against top 30 defenses. Iowa holds two wins over top 30 defenses and a third over Iowa State, the No. 31 defense. Two things quickly jump out. The Hawkeyes lost all five games to teams ranked 43rd or better in overall S&P. They only hold one win over a top 40 team. There are two additional wins over top 50 teams (No. 44 Iowa State and No. 47 North Texas), but the overall trend with top teams isn’t promising.

Music City Bowl

Odds are, Iowa heads to either the Music City or Pinstripe bowls. Land of 10 examined bowl projections from ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS and USA Today for potential bowl opponents.

The Music City Bowl seems like the Hawkeyes’ preferred destination. It’s also lining up as the best possibility for the best chance at a winnable contest.

Team Record Overall Offense Defense Special Teams
Mississippi State 8-4 28 65 21 7
Texas A&M 7-5 63 64 65 20
Kentucky 7-5 94 67 103 25

First, let’s address Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are the exact kind of team the Hawkeyes want to avoid as they are top 40 overall and top 30 overall in defense. They look like a better version of Northwestern (especially offensively), who beat Iowa 17-10. Coach Dan Mullen left for Florida and quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is out for the season with a dislocated right ankle, which could impact how the Bulldogs play, but it doesn’t change the fact they’re built like a team that would give Iowa trouble.

Texas A&M and Kentucky are different. Neither possesses the traits that gave the Hawkeyes fits. Statistically, the Aggies are average across the board. Now, wide receiver Christian Kirk and free safety Armani Watts are anything but average. Jimbo Fisher may end up as the next coach at Texas A&M, but he won’t be bringing his top 40 Florida State defense with him.

Kentucky is the worst rated defense of any potential bowl opponent and are the definition of a team that only beats opponents it should. The Wildcats hold two wins over a top-50 team. They beat Southern Miss in the season opener and Missouri in October before the Tigers turned around their season by winning their final six contests.

And, yes, Iowa sits in the top 50 at No. 48.

Pinstripe Bowl

How Iowa matches up with potential opponents for this New York bowl isn’t as obvious as the Music City Bowl.

Team Record Overall Offense Defense Special Teams
Louisville 8-4 18 6 89 33
Virginia Tech 9-3 24 98 6 39
N.C. State 8-4 45 29 62 115
B.C. 7-5 66 93 34 89

Virginia Tech is the team to avoid here, a strong overall squad with an elite defense. The Hokies profile out as a better version of Iowa. They aren’t great on offense, but defense carries them. There is a path to victory here, but Iowa’s track record against top defenses is hard to ignore.

N.C. State and Louisville are the most likely ACC representatives in the Pinstripe Bowl. Neither brings a strong defense, but both possess top-40 offenses. There is no correlation with the Hawkeyes and facing elite offenses. They are 2-2 against top-40 offenses.

Still, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, is capable of beating an opponent on his own. N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb is the best defensive lineman in the nation and quarterback Ryan Finley is underrated.

Facing the Wolfpack is probably a pick ‘em game, but it’s a better option than facing Jackson.

Also, there is a chance Boston College sneaks into the bowl. Its profile, with a strong defense, is similar to Purdue, which beat Iowa 24-15. There is one difference. The Eagles are better than their offensive ranking. They’ve scored at least 35 points in five of their last six games.

Other options

There is an outside chance Iowa ends up in the Holiday or Foster Farms bowls against a Pac-12 team.

Team Record Overall Offense Defense Special Teams
Washington 10-2 5 23 4 100
Stanford 9-3 27 33 51 2
Washington St. 9-3 33 57 23 76

No option here is appealing. All three potential opponents bring a good defense or a Top 25-caliber squad. Washington State’s offense was all over the place in November, but it’s still dangerous. Iowa would be pulling off an upset to beat any of these teams.

Final thoughts

Iowa wants to head to the bowl where it has its best shot at winning. Odds are, Texas A&M or Kentucky, the two teams Iowa matches up best against, ends up as the opponent.

There is no good Pinstripe Bowl foe, but N.C. State appears like an even contest.

The best bet to snap the bowl losing streak is in the Music City Bowl. It’s just another reason for the Hawkeyes to want to head to Nashville.

The post Why Iowa’s best bowl victory chances come down south appeared first on Land of 10.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.