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Hawkeyes' finish improves bowl position

Hawkeyes' finish improves bowl position

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Keegan Render and Ross Reynolds, shown here carrying the Heroes Trophy following Iowa's win over Nebraska, are looking to follow a long list Hawkeye offensive linemen to earn NFL opportunities.

IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz has no idea which bowl will offer the Iowa football team an invitation one week from today.

But, the Iowa coach does know that his eight-win Hawkeyes have in all likelihood earned a destination with a temperature warmer than the 23-degree kickoff temperature that greeted Iowa and Boston College at last year’s Pinstripe Bowl.

"I’ll make that prediction, go out on a limb," Ferentz said following Friday’s 31-28 win over Nebraska. "We had a great experience last year. I’m not minimizing that at all. It was a great experience. We’re looking forward to wherever they want to send us."

In reality, that’s how it works these days.

The Big Ten and its bowl partners will work through contractual criteria designed to prevent repeat trips and repeat match-ups. Then one week from today, Iowa will receive an invitation to a bowl it played its way to with wins in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Winning at least eight games for the fourth straight season — the longest stretch in Ferentz’s 20 seasons — the Hawkeyes are among just five eight-win teams in the Big Ten, and they are under heavy consideration by the three bowls which had representatives at Kinnick Stadium on Friday.

In order of selection, Iowa will likely be available for the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, the Outback Bowl in Tampa and the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

Of that group, the Holiday Bowl and a New Year’s Eve match-up against a Pac-12 opponent is the most plausible possibility on the surface.

Both the Citrus Bowl and the Outback Bowl are New Year’s Day games, pairing Big Ten teams against SEC opponents.

Organizers of those bowls would likely prefer to avoid a rematch of the 2017 Music City Bowl between Northwestern and Kentucky, two teams that will be radar of both bowls this season.

Most current Big Ten bowl contracts, now in the fifth year of a six-year cycle, call at least five different schools to participate over that six-year period in order to avoid repeat trips.

Iowa played in Outback Bowl in 2016 and Wisconsin was in the Holiday Bowl in 2015. The Hawkeyes have not been to the Holiday Bowl since 1991 and last played in the Citrus Bowl after the 2004 season when it was known as the Capital One Bowl.

Other factors — including if the Big Ten lands two or three teams in the so-called New Year’s six bowls — could ultimately impact Iowa’s destination.

In reality, the Hawkeyes are simply appreciative of the opportunity to play one more game together and build off of Friday’s last-second win over the Cornhuskers.

"The chance to be with these guys and have a chance to finish the year with a win in a bowl, that’s what you work year-round," defensive end A.J. Epenesa said. "We’ve been working toward that since January, and we’ve put ourselves in a position to make that happen."

Finding a way to finish off a game on Saturday allowed that to happen.

A season that included plenty of woulda, coulda, shoula situations frustrated Iowa on multiple previous occasions.

A first down here, a stop there separated the Hawkeyes from 8-4 and something truly special, but the Hawkeyes took another step forward Friday with their drive over the final 3 minutes, 22 seconds against Nebraska.

This time, Iowa got the yards it needed, made a play in a critical fourth-down situation and kicked the game-winning field goal as the clock dropped to 0:00.

It all fit together to provide the Hawkeyes with one more chance to see what it can make out of 60 minutes of football.

"We get another chance to compete, a chance to be together, probably face a new opponent and see what we can do with it," Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse said.

"The season had a lot of twists and turns and we didn’t get everything we hoped to get out of it, but we do get one last chance to earn a win and that’s big for us."


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