A lot, that's what.
For starters, they were not even eligible for a bowl until the evening of November 12th. The task in front of them to even become eligible for a bowl was to beat Barry Alvarez's Wisconsin Badgers at their place, on Senior Day in Alvarez's final home game. If that was not a big enough challenge, they hosted the nation's #1 rushing attack the next week and a team that had beaten Michigan on the road this year; the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Things looked a bit bleak in the Hawkeye Nation back in early November.
But the Hawkeyes won those two games and went into the clubhouse with a record of 7-4.
They had to sit back and wait.
After their win against Minnesota on November 19th, Iowa fans were resigned to signing their scorecards and hoping that the rest of the nation, as well as Cyclone Nation, would go Jean Van de Velde for them.
You remember that guy, right? He had the four stroke lead heading into the 18th hole in the 1999 British Open. He could have shot double bogey on the 18th and still won the Clarret Jug. But he choked away all four strokes and lost a playoff to Paul Lawrie.
It might be the biggest choke job in the history of sports.
The odds of Iowa gaining an Outback Bowl bid on November 19th were not zero percent, but they were in the single digits.
So what the heck happened? How is it that on December 4th, we are rearranging our schedules and travel plans, calling our parents to see if they can still watch our kids, but that the dates are different, as we are heading to Tampa for Iowa's fourth-straight New Years bowl game?
SETTING THE STAGE
The one way to nearly assure that Iowa could do no worse than the Alamo, or so we thought on the night of November the 12th, was for Ohio State to get one of the two BCS at large selections.
The BCS standings after Iowa's win over Wisconsin had the Buckeyes in 7th place, with Virginia Tech 6th and Miami 3rd. Miami had already beaten Tech and they were in the drivers seat for the BCS bid from the ACC. However, Tech looked like it could sneak into the Top Four, thus assuring them of a BCS at large bid and freezing out the Buckeyes. That would send Iowa to the Sun Bowl.
Alabama had a big game coming up against ranked Auburn, and there was concern that they might sneak into the Top Four as well.
On November 19th, Iowa beat Minnesota to finish 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten, good for a third place tie with Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
Auburn beat Alabama on the 19th and Georgia Tech stunned Miami at home; those were two of the first ‘dominos' to fall for Iowa's improbably run to any bowl above the Sun Bowl.
The Tide's loss all but eliminated them from BCS consideration and Miami's loss put Virginia Tech back in the drivers seat for the ACC's automatic bid. It also meant that the ACC would just get one bid to the BCS, thus removing them from one of the contenders for an at large and helping Ohio State's chances.
Conventional wisdom on the 19th still called for Ohio State to get the second at large bid from the BCS with their road win at Michigan to close the season. Or at least, it seemed like a real plausible scenario. In that scenario, Wisconsin was off to the Cap One if they could beat Hawaii in two weeks time.
It was deemed that Michigan would go to the Outback Bowl as they had beaten Iowa and they can bring in television viewers for the sponsor.
Those of us at HawkeyeNation.com felt that the Alamo Bowl was a likely bet if Ohio State got the second BCS bid, so we began marketing our fourth annual bowl charter package on the website. We had the caveats that if Iowa fell to the Sun Bowl, deposits would be refunded or if Iowa somehow went to the Outback, we would handle the transfers, though that seemed highly unlikely.
Iowa State had a bye that weekend, and talk began to stir that the Alamo Bowl might be considering an Iowa-Iowa State rematch. ESPN had signed off on the prospects of the game, and the Alamo people were sending out feelers.
Speculation began to mount.
THE BIG SHOES DROP
Nebraska throttled Colorado in Boulder, thus opening the door for Iowa State to perhaps jump up to the Holiday Bowl. But at the same time, there was a growing concern that the Alamo might select Iowa State as the Big 12 team, and at this time, an Iowa-Iowa State rematch was off the table. That created some anxious moments in the Hawkeye Nation, because that likely meant that the Alamo would select Northwestern or Minnesota to play against the Cyclones, thus banishing Iowa to El Paso and the Sun Bowl.
Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State the day after Thanksgiving, making them a very likely selection for the Holiday Bowl and further cementing Iowa State's shot at the Alamo.
All that stood in the way of Iowa State's likely trip to San Antonio was a road game at Kansas…
We all know that Iowa State lost that game in overtime, the second straight year they lost in OT with a shot at the Big 12 North title on the line. Another domino had fallen in favor of Iowa.
Wisconsin beat Hawaii on the same day, sending them to the Cap One as long as Ohio State got the second BCS bid.
The next release of the BCS standings saw Ohio State in sixth with Virginia Tech and LSU ahead of them in 5th and 4th place. It was looking clearer and clearer; Tech and LSU win, and they get their league's automatic spot. Ohio State would just have to be selected over Oregon for the second bid, setting up an Ohio State-Notre Dame match up in the Fiesta Bowl, sending Iowa to the Alamo to play against Nebraska. There seemed just a sliver of a chance for Iowa heading to the Outback.
But as last week pressed on, Iowa and the Outback gained momentum. Florida getting an Outback bid also gained momentum, and when that was discussed, conventional wisdom was that Florida was a good gate draw for the game and a good enough television draw for the sponsor. The city of Tampa then would need a Big Ten team that could come in and fill up the hotels and restaurants; who better to do that that than the bumblebee's from Iowa? It was at least a plausible scenario, though the Alamo Bowl was still the smart money.
After all, who really believed that the Outback would pass on the history and tradition of Michigan?
Then on Thursday, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney was ‘quasi-quoted' in a Chicagoland paper as saying he felt that Iowa would be in the Outback and Michigan would play in the Alamo.
Maybe, just maybe, this was more than just speculation?
Then came Saturday's games. Iowa fans just had to hope that Texas would beat Colorado, so the Longhorns would not lose and fall to the third or fourth slot in the BCS, which would have likely locked Ohio State out of the mix.
That game was 70-3 midway through the second half.
At that time, everything seemed pretty good with regards to Iowa going to the Alamo at worst. Real good.
But the dominos were not done falling.
LSU and Virginia Tech, who were 4th and 5th in last week's BCS standings, both lost their league title games.
This ended any speculation that Oregon would get an at large over Ohio State, because the Buckeyes moved up to #4 in the BCS rankings, assuring them one of the at large bids.
This guaranteed Iowa no worse than the Alamo Bowl.
Then the fine folks from Tampa and Outback Steakhouse decided that they liked Iowa better than Michigan. The sweet taste of revenge was flavored Bloomin' Onion style, as the Outback too Michigan over Iowa in 1996 when the teams had identical 8-3 records.
Michigan's history may have done them in; they don't travel well in years when they lose to Ohio State. Iowa travels well every year.
There was also some speculation that Iowa wanting the game, and Michigan being, well, Michigan, and their indifference to anything that is not a BCS game, was the deciding factor. If there is truth in that, it could pay dividends down the road, too.
So it will be #25 Iowa against #18 Florida on January 2nd, 2006.
It will be Iowa's fourth-straight New Year's bowl game, and Michigan's streak of nine-straight New Years games is over.
Oliver Stone could not have devised such a script.