Iowa and Penn State both have completed the regular season at 10-2, but the schools' competition for a BCS at-large berth is just getting started. Ohio State owns the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth (almost certainly to the Rose Bowl), but as usual, the league is well positioned for an at-large selection.
The Iowa-Penn State debate is fascinating because so many factors are involved, and many seem split on these teams. Penn State is ahead in all of the human polls, but the computers favor Iowa and push the Hawkeyes in front in the BCS standings.
Here's a look at the BCS case for each team.
The Case for Iowa
Iowa's case is built around what happened on the field and who it came against. The Hawkeyes feel they have the facts on their side and see no need for flash or sizzle (i.e. style points).
AD Gary Barta and head coach Kirk Ferentz can point to the following factors:
A head-to-head victory at Penn State on Sept. 26. Iowa went into Happy Valley and upset Penn State 21-10. The Hawkeyes also were without starters Bryan Bulaga and Tony Moeaki in the game.
Better wins than Penn State. Iowa beat Arizona, a recently ranked team that would be back in the polls had it not fallen apart late against Oregon. Iowa also beat Wisconsin, ranked 16th in the BCS standings before last week's loss to Northwestern.
A tougher schedule overall and on the road. Iowa had to visit Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State and went 3-1. The Hawkeyes could have gone 0-4 or 4-0, but they were competitive in every game. Plus, Iowa played two nonconference games against decent BCS teams (Arizona and Iowa State), while Penn State played one against a bad team (Syracuse). Iowa's schedule ranks 27th nationally based on cumulative opposition; Penn State's ranks 47th.
More adversity than Penn State. Iowa lost two potential starters before the season (RB Jewel Hampton and CB Jordan Bernstine) as well as starters like Bulaga, Moeaki, wideout Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, safety Brett Greenwood and quarterback Ricky Stanzi during the season. Iowa's only two losses came in a game Stanzi didn't finish because of injury (Northwestern) and a game in which Stanzi didn't play (Ohio State).
A much better showing against Big Ten champ Ohio State. Iowa took the Buckeyes to overtime in Columbus despite redshirt freshman quarterback James Vandenberg making his first career start. The Hawkeyes lost 27-24, while Penn State got obliterated on its home field.
Stanzi is expected back for a bowl game.
Iowa fans travel extremely well to bowl games, a reason the Hawkeyes have leapfrogged Big Ten teams in the selections. Arizona is filled with Iowa natives and university alumni, making the Hawkeyes attractive to the Fiesta Bowl.
The Case for Penn State
Penn State's case is built around impressive victories, star players, a tremendous brand name and a legendary head coach. The Lions earned style points in their wins this season and finished the regular season with their top performance, throttling Michigan State. Plus, these bowls know what they'll get with Penn State, and they'll like it.
AD Tim Curley and head coach Joe Paterno can cite:
Margin of victory. Penn State beat Michigan State by 28 points on the road, Michigan by 25 points on the road and Northwestern by 21 points on the road. Iowa needed a touchdown on the final play to beat Michigan State 15-13. The Hawkeyes also beat Michigan by only two points at home and lost to Northwestern at home.
Stronger play down the stretch. Iowa went 1-2 in November and had only one victory by more than 12 points after spanking Iowa State 35-3 back on Sept. 12. After falling to Iowa, Penn State won seven of its final eight games, with six of those wins coming by 18 points or more and five by 20 points or more.
A key injury against Iowa. Penn State faced the Hawkeyes without star linebacker and co-captain Sean Lee, who missed the game with a knee injury.
The Temple win. Everyone knocks Penn State's nonconference schedule, but the Lions' 31-6 victory against Temple on Sept. 19 looks better and better. The Owls haven't lost since and could win the MAC title.
Paterno. He remains one of the most fascinating figures in sports, and he always makes a bowl game more appealing with his presence. Paterno has won more bowl games than any other coach.
A national name. Iowa and Penn State both travel well, but Penn State is a name recognized by casual fans around the country. Penn State has been to five Orange Bowls and six Fiesta Bowls, including the 1987 game that clinched the school's last national championship and drew a huge television audience. If a bowl picks Penn State, it is guaranteed a huge turnout and great TV ratings.