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Gophers can spoil Iowa's BCS bowl hopes Saturday with win

Minnesota defenders Keanon Cooper, front and Kim Royston, right, bat down a pass intended for South Dakota State tight end Colin Cochart, left during the fourth quarter of an NCAA football game Saturday in Minneapolis. AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- All season long, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz dismissed the BCS talk that swirled around the program, saying simply that the Hawkeyes would probably end up where they belonged.

It won't be the Rose Bowl, which vanished in 15th-ranked Iowa's overtime loss at No. 10 Ohio State last weekend. But if the Hawkeyes can close out their roller coaster of a regular season with a home win over Minnesota on Saturday, their hopes for a first BCS bowl trip since the 2003 Orange Bowl would still be alive.

Iowa (9-2, 5-2 Big Ten) is ranked 13th in this week's BCS standings, one place ahead of the final spot for at-large consideration for a team from a BCS-affiliated conference.

The Hawkeyes are also ahead of fellow Big Ten schools Penn State and Wisconsin -- both of whom they beat on the road -- and Iowa fans have a reputation of traveling in droves to whatever bowl the Hawkeyes land in.

Of course, all that BCS chatter is moot if the Hawkeyes can't get past Minnesota (6-5, 3-4).

"I'm not even thinking about it. I hope nobody else is in our camp, because it doesn't matter," Ferentz said Tuesday. "That's somebody else's job."

Ferentz said that Iowa will face the Gophers without quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who "definitely will not play" because of a high ankle sprain. That means that the Hawkeyes will again turn to redshirt freshman quarterback James Vandenberg.

Vandenberg saw extensive action at home two weeks ago when Stanzi got hurt and didn't return. He struggled that day against Northwestern, throwing for just 82 yards and an interception in a loss, but Vandenberg bounced back with a gutsy performance in Columbus.

Thrown into the starting job with just 30 career passes and a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line, Vandenberg was 20 of 33 passing for 233 yards. Though he threw three interceptions -- including one on a fourth-and-26 desperation heave in overtime -- Vandenberg defied expectations by putting Iowa in position to win.

Vandenberg drove the Hawkeyes 70 yards in eight plays and threw a 10-yard TD pass to Marvin McNutt with 2:42 left that tied the game at 24.

Of course, Vandenberg also threw a pair of interceptions in the fourth quarter, including one on that final drive that was called back because of an Ohio State penalty. That was a major reason why Ferentz elected to play for OT late in regulation, even though Iowa had the ball on its own 33 with 52 seconds left.

Ferentz has taken some heat for that decision, but said Tuesday he wouldn't have done anything different.

A loss to Minnesota would almost certainly knock the Hawkeyes out of any BCS game scenario and, conceivably, drop them to fourth place in the Big Ten. A win over the Gophers would keep the Hawkeyes in the discussion for a major bowl bid.

"This is a big game," offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga said. "We're at two losses right now, but there's still an opportunity to get to a good bowl game if we win this game. There's a lot riding on this. I know Penn State and Wisconsin are right on our tail."