SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Insight Bowl passed on taking Penn State, instead going with two teams that had been to the desert recently.
Given the Fiesta Bowl’s troubles and the scandal at Penn State, taking Oklahoma and Iowa seemed like the safest bet.
“We considered Iowa a great opponent and with what they (Penn State) had been through, this wasn’t the best year,” said Duane Woods, board chairman for the Fiesta Bowl, which operates the Insight Bowl.
The Fiesta Bowl had a rough year that included financial improprieties, an attempted cover-up and the firing of president John Junker.
Penn State’s campus swirled with controversy stemming from the alleged sexual abuse of children by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, which led to the firing of longtime coach Joe Paterno.
Combining one scandal with another wasn’t the best idea, so the Insight Bowl became one of five bowls to pass on the Nittany Lions.
The result pits two good teams who’ll be playing in the desert for the second straight bowl season.
Iowa (7-5) beat Missouri 27-24 in last year’s Insight Bowl for its school-record third straight bowl win.
Oklahoma (9-3) also played in the Valley of the Sun last year, routing Connecticut 48-10 in the Fiesta Bowl.
This year, they’ll meet Dec. 30 in Tempe at Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium, hoping to turn around seasons that have fizzled at the end.
“It is hard to finish. It’s exciting,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “And the other sidebar, obviously, is Oklahoma has a great tradition, great football team.”
Oklahoma opened the season at No. 1 and got off to a great start, winning its first six games, including a rout over Red River rival Texas. The Sooners took a hit with a loss to Texas Tech on Oct. 22 and another three games later by losing a shootout to Baylor.
Despite the letdowns, Oklahoma still had a shot at winning its eighth Big 12 title and earn a BCS bowl berth. Those hopes came crashing down Saturday night, when the Sooners were routed 44-10 by Bedlam rival Oklahoma State.
The BCS hopes gone, Oklahoma is hoping to at least end the season on a good note.
“It’ll be important,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, a former Iowa player. “We’ll have a lot to get straight. We have a lot to correct. I don’t know if bowl practices will be enough to get it done, but we’ll see how they respond.”
Iowa faded down the stretch last season after being ranked in the top 10 to end up in the Insight Bowl, then had 13 players hospitalized for undisclosed conditions related to an offseason workout, leading to criticism of Ferentz and the program.
The Hawkeyes battled through the adversity and some tough stretches this year to become bowl eligible for the 11th straight season, though two losses in their final three games knocked them down the Big Ten pecking order and into the Insight Bowl for the second straight year.
“We’re looking forward to returning there for obvious reasons,” Ferentz said. “Very much like last year, we have a tough draw, a great challenge on our hands — we’re playing another great team from the Big 12 Conference.”