For six consecutive seasons, Iowa has knocked off either an 11-win team or one that qualified for the Bowl Championship Series.
Even in years when Iowa didn’t earn a bowl bid (2007, 2012), the Hawkeyes beat a team that competed in a BCS bowl. Since 2007, Iowa owns a 5-3 record against BCS bowl squads and the losses were by a combined seven points (31-30 to Wisconsin, 20-17 to Ohio State, 27-24 to Ohio State in overtime).
Let’s go through the years. In 2007, Iowa stopped Illinois (yes, they used to play quite frequently) 10-6 at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa safety Brett Greenwood intercepted a pass in the end zone with 1 minute, 12 seconds left to preserve the victory. That win ended an eight-game Big Ten losing streak for Iowa, which finished 6-6 but did not qualify for a bowl. Illinois ended the regular season 9-3 and earned an at-large invitation to the Rose Bowl.
In 2008, Iowa scored one of its most dramatic wins of the Kirk Ferentz era with a 24-23 upset of No. 3 Penn State. The Nittany Lions were 9-0 and cruising to the Big Ten title. Daniel Murray’s 31-yard field goal with 1 second left sealed the win and Penn State’s heartbreak. The Hawkeyes won nine games that season, which concluded with a stomping of South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Penn State rallied to take its final two regular-season games and snag the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl slot.
Iowa’s 2009 campaign included several big victories (11-win Penn State and 10-win Wisconsin) but only one was over a BCS opponent. The Hawkeyes stopped ACC champion Georgia Tech 24-14 in the Orange Bowl. Iowa (which dropped the Rose Bowl slot 27-24 at Ohio State) ended the season 11-2 and ranked No. 7 in the final polls.
In 2010, Iowa lost to BCS qualifiers Ohio State and Wisconsin by a combined four points on late touchdowns. But the Hawkeyes gave 11-win Michigan State its only regular-season defeat in a 37-6 blowout at Kinnick Stadium. For good measure, 8-5 Iowa beat 10-win Missouri in the Insight Bowl. The Spartans earned a Capital One Bowl spot after finishing in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten.
Iowa limped through the 2011 season but still found a way to upset 11-win Michigan 24-16 at Kinnick Stadium. It was Iowa’s third straight win in the series. The Wolverines rallied to win the Sugar Bowl, while the Hawkeyes finished 7-6 with a loss in the Insight Bowl.
Last year, the 4-8 Hawkeyes opened with an 18-17 victory against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field. That was the Huskies’ only regular-season blemish. Northern Illinois was ranked higher than the champions of two automatic qualifying conferences (Big East, Big Ten) and seized an Orange Bowl berth.
What does that mean for this year? It’s highly unlikely Iowa extends that streak if it doesn’t win Saturday at Columbus. The Buckeyes, who have won 18 straight games, are cruising toward another BCS bowl game. If Iowa upsets Wisconsin, Michigan or Nebraska, it probably keeps any of those teams from qualifying for the Big Ten championship game, let alone a BCS bowl.
So if Iowa wants to knock off a potential BCS bowl squad in 2013, this might be its only chance.