Never underestimate the power of the phrase, “January bowl game.”

When Hawkeye fans wonder why there’s an attraction to the Outback Bowl, look no further than the calendar.

Sure it’s not a New Year’s Six bowl — although at least one Mississippi TV outlet reported it was — but it’s a way to categorize and suggest a little more prestige, even if just four short years ago the Armed Forces Bowl was played on January 2. And a certain TaxSlayer Bowl, too.

Even these College Football Playoff semifinals are living up to their December landing spots. See? Bowl games just aren’t as good outside of January.

And for the record, I’m in favor of expanding the playoffs to eight. No one complains about blowouts in the No. 1 vs. No. 16 matchups in the NCAA basketball tournament. You’re telling me UCF couldn’t have put up the same fight Oklahoma and Notre Dame showed?

Put the Power 5 conference championship game winners in — so winning your division and conference and, therefore, the regular season, still mean something — and pick three wild cards so you can still put Alabama in every year they don’t win their division and conferenceless undefeated Notre Dame if you must.

I’d rather argue about the 8 and 9 seeds than 4 and 5, just like it’s better now than it was arguing 2 and 3 seeds. Sure there will be some years when the BCS seems better, but it wasn’t. Let’s have more decided on the field, and less in a committee.

But I digress. Let’s get back to the land of coconut shrimp and onions that bloom — and this week’s expert predictions. 

Featured predictions

Steve Batterson: Iowa 21, Mississippi State 18
Beyond accessibility to a blooming onion, don’t expect anything to come easily in the Outback Bowl, a match-up of two defensive-minded teams. The Bulldogs have struggled offensively against teams with top-level defenses that are effective in slowing the run game. That sounds like the Hawkeyes. Mississippi State has created offensive struggles for its opponents throughout the season with a defense that mirrors the one Iowa faced in LSU in the Outback Bowl at the end of the 2013 season. That game came down to the wire. This one has that potential, and if the Hawkeye defense can find a way to score a touchdown and gain at least 100 rushing yards, Iowa will have a chance to open the new year with a win.

Hawkeye Headquarters
Adam Rossow: Iowa 17, Mississippi State 14
Dan Vasko: Iowa 20, Mississippi State 14

National predictions
Bill Connelly: Mississippi State 26, Iowa 21

CBS Sports
Dennis Dodd: Mississippi State
Jerry Palm: Mississippi State
Tom Fornelli: Mississippi State
Chip Patterson: Iowa
Barton Simmons: Mississippi State
Barrett Sallee: Mississippi State
Ben Kercheval: Iowa

Athlon Sports
Steven Lassan: Mississippi State
Mitch Light: Mississippi State
Mark Ross: Mississippi State 

Bleacher Report
David Kenyon: Mississippi State 24, Iowa 14

The Athletic
Bruce Feldman: Mississippi State 28, Iowa 14
Stewart Mandel: Mississippi State 18, Iowa 14

Sports Illustrated
Andy Staples: Mississippi State
Ross Dellenger: Mississippi State
Joan Niesen: Mississippi State
Laken Litman: Mississippi State
Eric Single: Mississippi State
Molly Geary: Mississippi State
Scooby Axson: Mississippi State
Max Meyer: Mississippi State

Adam Rittenberg: Mississippi State 28, Iowa 17

Hawkeye State predictions
The Athletic
Scott Dochterman: Mississippi State 16, Iowa 10

The Gazette
Marc Morehouse: Mississippi State 19, Iowa 16

Hawk Central
Chad Leistikow: Mississippi State 17, Iowa 13

Go Iowa Awesome
Mike Jones: Mississippi State 21, Iowa 10

All Hawkeyes
Pat Harty: Mississippi State 19, Iowa 17

#IowaSim18 simulation
Cody Hills: Iowa 23, Mississippi State 17

Irrelevant prediction
And finally, the totally irrelevant prediction based on playing EA Sports’ NCAA Football 2004 on a PS2, as is the tradition since 2015.
Ryan Jaster: Mississippi State 20, Hawkeyes 17, OT. Mississippi State marches down the field, but a huge sack puts them out of field goal range. The Bulldogs attempt a 56-yarder anyway and it drops just short. On the Hawkeyes’ first play, the starting quarterback is knocked out of the game with a broken collarbone on a sack. The backup fumbles on the second play. On 3rd and 14, the Hawkeyes run a draw — surprise — but the running back bounces outside for a 65-yard touchdown.

Other than a Mississippi State field goal and Iowa losing two more starters to an MCL sprain and a migraine headache, that’s it for the half.

Mississippi State opens the second half with an 80-yard touchdown drive and takes the lead. With the second string quarterback ineffective (0 for 6), the Hawkeyes turn to No. 3 and the run, grinding 42 yards downfield before surprising with a 40-yard TD pass that’s almost picked off. The Bulldogs eventually answer with 34-yard TD pass to make it 17-14, and the Hawkeyes begin a trademark clock-eating drive that would end with a win if successful — but QB3 suffers a chest injury and is out for the game.

Down 3 at the 46 with 1:04 left, after a couple run plays it’s up to the arm of the fourth string quarterback. Hit as he throws, a wounded duck of a pass if there ever was one somehow finds a leaping receiver at the 13. After dodging that bullet, Iowa kicks the game-tying field goal a play later. To overtime we go.

Two big sacks knock out Mississippi State’s starting QB and the Bulldogs settle for a field goal. The Hawkeyes get ultra conservative and confidently run the ball to the 3. Iowa decides to go for it with a sneak on 4th and 1 and the fourth string quarterback fumbles it. 

Despite all of the adversity, the win was still right there for the Hawkeyes, but it finally caught up to them on the final play. It was just too much to overcome … even for an irrelevant prediction.

Prognosis: The national writers are almost unanimously on the Bulldogs. SEC bias, right? Well, not so fast. Even the Iowa experts that picked the Hawkeyes to win almost every game this season — no really, I kept track — are wavering for this bowl game (aside from our featured experts, it should be noted). It used to be that Iowa fought above its weight class every year because the fanbase travels so well. Even with whispers of Outback Bowl fatigue — still looks like plenty of fans made the trip to me — the Hawkeyes might find out that playing in a January bowl game looks good in a list of Kirk Ferentz accomplishments, but not on a stat sheet with the scores included. The Hawks are looking to avoid a five-game January losing streak here. At least most predict it to be close, but close games didn’t work out in Iowa’s favor much this year. More pain predicted than in any game this season.

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