Football stadium

Professional football stadium.

I was a little late to the party on Sunday, Dec. 8, as far as hearing where the University of Iowa and Iowa State University were going to be playing for their college football bowl games, but when I looked up the matchups late that evening one word came to mind: Wow.

The Hawkeyes and Cyclones have earned some respect in the college football world is what it appears to me. Not so much in where they landed — the Holiday Bowl and the Camping World Bowl seem about right where they should be slotted with the conference tie-ins — but the quality of opponent they face.

Iowa takes on the University of Southern California at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 27. Iowa State plays Notre Dame at 11 a.m. the next day.

Maybe I’m showing my age a bit here because both of those programs have had their ups and downs lately, but those are certified college football blue-bloods. Those schools have deep traditions and rich histories in athletics in general, but with both of them the minute you hear the name you think college football.

To me, playing those name-brand teams just sounds like fun, especially if you win.

I’m biased, but I’m not the only one that likes the matchups. Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports ranks all 39 bowl games each year as far as which ones will be the most fun to watch. His formula considers strength of teams, matchup quality and styles of play.

This year Fornelli has the Holiday Bowl between the 16th-ranked Hawkeyes and the 22nd ranked Trojans at No. 12, but the last thing he says about it in his column is that it’s not far off being a top 10 game.

He has the Camping World Bowl between the 15th-ranked Irish and the unranked Cyclones in his eighth spot. Fornelli expects it to be high scoring. He says “This game will be close, and it could be a tennis match as well.”

The oddsmakers seem to think the games will be exciting as well. Iowa is a 1.5-point favorite over USC, while Notre Dame is favored by 3.5 points over Iowa State.

Iowa got a big boost as it’s being reported that although juniors A.J. Epenesa and Tristan Wirfs are expected to enter the National Football League Draft, they do plan on playing in the bowl game. Epenesa is particularly important as he recorded 5.5. sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and forced three fumbles in Iowa’s final four games. The pass rush is key because Southern Cal seems to have found something in its third starting quarterback this season. Freshman Kedon Slovis has thrown for 352 yards per game in the nine full games he played in with 28 touchdown passes. He threw for over 500 yards in the Trojans’ regular-season finale against USC.

Iowa State faces a big-time passing team as well and one that lost badly in its two setbacks this season, but those were to Georgia and Michigan, so they weren’t exactly bad losses for the Irish. Wide receiver Chase Claypool has 12 touchdowns this season after having only six in his career entering the year. Iowa State is going to throw it too with sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy having plenty of weapons to choose from.

By the way, for those of you who haven’t heard of the Camping World Bowl, the Orlando, FL-based game has been around for 30 years, but it’s one of those that seem to be constantly changing corporate sponsors. Way back when, it was known as the Tangerine Bowl. Camping World is the sixth company to own the naming rights for the game.

It should be a fun between-holidays weekend no matter which of our state’s teams you root for.

And for you unfortunate Nebraska fans, there is always next year.