Iowa deserves better than what it got from its uninspiring bowl matchup
Hawkeyes will face 5-5 Missouri in Music City Bowl
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – As a reward for winning six consecutive games after starting the season 0-2, the Iowa football team will face Missouri in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tenn.
This is the same Missouri team that finished the regular season with back-to-back losses to Georgia and Mississippi State by a combined score of 100-46.
This is the same Missouri team that allowed at least 35 points in seven of 10 games this season, including 51 against a 2-7 Mississippi State squad this past Saturday.
This is the same Missouri team that failed to be competitive against anything close to a quality opponent this season, losing 38-19 to Alabama, 41-7 to Florida and 49-14 to Georgia.
This is the same Missouri team that scored 50 points against Arkansas, but still was fortunate to win after allowing 48 points.
So as far as rewards go, this bowl matchup leaves much to be desired from Iowa’s standpoint.
Kirk Ferentz likes to say there is no such thing as a bad bowl game, and not surprisingly, that was his narrative again on Sunday.
“It’s a great reward for our players and a good opportunity for us to be together for another ten days here and have a chance to compete one more time,” Ferentz said on a zoom conference. “And one nice sidebar, I think location gives our families a little bit better access to the bowl, makes it a little bit easier for travel, which is usually a challenge for us at bowl time.
“And then also, as I understand it, fans are going to be available, too. So I’m really happy for our fans in that regard. And it’s going to be great for our players to actually play in front of fans. We haven’t done that in over a year now, or almost a year. So that’s exciting as well.”
Everything Ferentz said is true.
There are benefits to playing another game, especially when so many games during this COVID-19-shortened season have been canceled for health concerns.
There are benefits to spending more time around your teammates, on and off the field
Nashville is also within driving distance for many fans, and the Music City Bowl is allowing a limited number of fans, although, it’s uncertain exactly how many.
The NFL’s Tennessee Titans have been allowing 14,000 into the stadium.
My intention isn’t to rain on Iowa’s bowl happiness, or to belittle an opportunity to compete when so much competition has been canceled because of the global pandemic. There are worse problems in the world than having to face a mediocre and uninspiring opponent in a bowl game.
It’s just unfortunate that Iowa, ranked 15th in the college playoff rankings, couldn’t have been matched against a better opponent, at least one with a winning record rather than 5-5 Missouri.
I’d say the same if the roles were reversed.
Missouri is a proud and proven program with many notable accomplishments.
But this is about right now, and Missouri just doesn’t deliver from a reward standpoint.
Missouri could certainly win the game, because it is battled tested as a member of the Southeastern Conference, and because the Iowa offense has sputtered at times behind first-year starting quarterback Spencer Petras.
This matchup is hardly a foregone conclusion from a competitive standpoint, especially with Missouri motivated by the disrespect from being a two-touchdown underdog.
Iowa could finish 7-2 this season, but without having defeated an opponent with a winning record.
A loss to Missouri would severely damage Iowa’s final ranking, while a victory over the Tigers would do little to improve it.
Ferentz, who recently tested positive for the coronavirus, said Sunday that Iowa will treat the Music City Bowl just like a road game, with the team arriving in Nashville the day before the game. Ferentz also said that he expects to be on the sideline coaching during the game.
Nashville has long been a coveted bowl destination for Iowa fans due to its rich night life, tourist spots and musical influences.
The Country Music Hall of Fame is in Nashville, as are countless music venues.
Unfortunately, the global pandemic has damaged the tourist industry in Nashville, with many music venues struggling financially due to not having live performances.
And while the County Music Hall of Fame is allowing visitors, it’s on a limited basis and guests can only spend a certain amount of time in the building.
Something is better than nothing. Yes I get it.
But from a matchup standpoint, Missouri just doesn’t push the needle.
The all-too-familiar Outback Bowl in Tampa was also a possibility for Iowa, and there were unsubstantiated reports that Iowa would face 4-5 Mississippi in that bowl.
But instead, 6-1 Indiana gets that special reward.
Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta is the chairman of the College Football Playoff Selection committee, but his influence didn’t seem to help the Big Ten much when it came to the bowl matchups.
Iowa slipped all the way down to the Music City Bowl, while a three-loss Iowa State team is headed to a New Year’s Six bowl for the first time ever.
Bowl games, more so now than ever, care more about making money and pleasing those with power and influence, than creating the best matchups, or rewarding the most deserving teams.
Because how else can you explain teams from Power 5 conferences getting into bowl games with losing records, while 9-2 Army gets snubbed?
Army, despite having a guaranteed bid to the Independence Bowl, will not be allowed to play in the bowl, according to @Stadium, because other bowls had contractual agreements with teams and were locked into taking teams with losing records.
My hope was that Iowa and Iowa State would be matched against each other in a bowl, but I knew it wouldn’t happen because Iowa State was in position for a New Year’s Six bowl, and made one on Sunday, thanks partly to Barta’s influence, with the Fiesta Bowl matching the Cyclones against 4-2 Oregon.
So congratulations to the Cyclones for making history, but from an entertainment standpoint, a bowl game against Iowa would’ve been far more appealing.
Kirk Ferentz said he isn’t aware of any Iowa players who are considering opting out of the Music City Bowl, but that could always change, especially with a potential high draft pick such as junior defensive tackle Davyion Nixon on the roster.
And you couldn’t blame a player in Nixon’s position for opting out.
The fact that Iowa has an opportunity to play a ninth game during a global pandemic, and have it be in a bowl game, is reason to be proud.
The players and coaches have stayed the course, and have overcome some serious obstacles and distractions, on and off the field, including the accusations of racial disparities by multiple former Iowa black players.
So again, I’m not dismissing what Iowa has achieved.
I’m just disappointed with the bowl matchup, and mostly blame the bowl system, and Missouri’s sieve-like defense, for that.