Let's not kid ourselves. With only two fairly ho-hum Big Ten games on the docket Saturday, the Iowa-Penn State BCS debate is the big story in the league this week.
I've already touched on it here and here, and you can see my bowl projections here, but there were a few items that didn't make it into those posts from my conversations with Fiesta Bowl official Tony Alba and athletic directors Gary Barta (Iowa) and Tim Curley (Penn State).
Fiesta Bowl official Tony Alba
On whether the bowl would be concerned about a negative backlash from taking Penn State over Iowa despite the head-to-head result: "I wouldn’t say it’s a concern. It’s certainly a consideration. But it happens. The only thing that we really have to worry about is, are the teams eligible? At that point, we’ve got to make a decision in terms of what’s best for the bowl. Sometimes, it does dictate taking a lower-ranked team, and I'm not saying that’s what we would do. Sometimes in doing what is best for your bowl game, you have to do something that may be somewhat unconventional or goes against the grain."
On Penn State's long history with the Fiesta Bowl (six appearances): "It works in their favor, but is it enough to get them over the hump? I don’t know. That’s something we’ll have to talk about. We’ve wanted Iowa for a long time. They won the game head-to-head on the field, and they’re more highly ranked, so those are all factors we’re going to have to weigh."
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta
On the bowl selection process: "We know that head-to-head isn’t the No. 1 factor, final record isn’t the No. 1 factor. It’s certainly one of the factors. But when you take fan attendance, fan support, television ratings, we can go head-to-head with anybody on those also."
On Iowa's pitch to the Fiesta Bowl: "We certainly point out to the Fiesta Bowl what our Iowa numbers are in terms of alumni and Iowans in the area, and we share with them that piece of information. And then we, again, point to past history in other bowls. We convey to them that we're confident that our history at the Orange Bowl, at the Rose Bowl, at the Capital One Bowl, wherever we’ve been, will definitely transfer to Phoenix."
On his attitude if Penn State got the BCS berth: "I love the way Kirk [Ferentz] approaches it and I share his thoughts. And that is, we control what we can control, and Kirk and his team, I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished. So our work has already been done. The three bowls that I mentioned (Fiesta, Orange, Capital One), if we’re fortunate enough to go to one of those three, we’ve been to two of them, we’re very aware of the third, and any one of them is going to be a great experience."
Penn State athletic director Tim Curley
On Penn State's fan support for bowls: "We have a great fan base that buys a lot of tickets and spends a lot of money. We had about 30,000 at the Rose Bowl and about 35,000 at the Orange Bowl. The other day, I talked to our alumni association and they've already had 12,000 inquiries about the bowl game, and we don't even know where we're going. The interest is really, really strong."
On selling Penn State as a national program: "That’s part of the package we’re talking about, the TV interest. The national appeal we have with television ratings is very, very important in this day and age. The Eastern seaboard and the Mid-Atlantic region, we think we’re very strong, and then we think we have national appeal from a television perspective with over 500,000 living alumni."
On how he'd feel if Iowa got the BCS berth: "I wouldn’t want to put a descriptor on it that it’s a major disappointment. We've had a great year and we're going to play in a great bowl game, and like I said, we want to play in the best one we possibly can. We're going to go after it just as strong no matter where we end up."