So we're going to have a playoff. Cool, right? You probably already know more about it than I do, but here's a quick refresher: The playoff will have 4 teams that are decided on by a committee who will weigh teams' win-loss record, strength of schedule, conference champion status, and head-to-head record.
I like it. I am a big fan of the conference champion component and would have liked it even more if it was a requirement rather than a suggestion. In a sport where relatively few games are played, and most are played against regional foes (especially when you look at how little the SEC travels), it is very difficult to judge who is better when who across the country with having them go head-to-head (thus the playoff).
We do have a good mechanism for determining who is the best team among a group of 12 or so...the conference champion. It works especially well for conferences with divisions. You play a round robin in your division, plus a few other games to determine the best team in the division. That team plays the best team from the other division and we figure out who is the best team in the conference. If you're not the best team in your conference, you are not the best team in the country. So, do you want to find the "best four teams" for a playoff, which is really, really difficult, or the best team in the country? I say the best team in the country. And there are 114 teams that I know are not the best team in the country because the were not the best team in their conference. So this is me saying...a team's conference champion status should be a major factor in determining who makes the playoffs.
Can Iowa make it?
Sure. It's likely going to take a near perfect season for Iowa to get a shot (a perfect 13-0 will most definitely earn a bid), and we've seen it happen before. The 2002 Iowa team might have made it (#3 in the polls, but #5 in the BCS standings); the 2009 team could have if Ricky Stanzi didn't go down; it's realistic to think seasons like that will happen again. But depending on how the committee determines the participants, Iowa chances of making it to the football final four go up and down. Things that will help the Hawkeyes:
Greater weight given to conference champions - If Iowa can go 12-1 and even 11-2 with a B1G Title Game win over a highly-ranked Leaders Division champ, then the door is wide open to make the playoffs. While 12-1 last year probably still would have left Iowa behind Alabama, a conference champion clause in the criteria could have allowed the earn the bid.
Strength of schedule - Similarly to the conference champ scenario, a 12-1 Iowa that made its way through the B1G is probably more attractive than an undefeated Boise State/TCU/Utah/whoever that had a much easier schedule. Iowa also do a pretty good job of scheduling decent non-conference opponents. While this year's schedule is a little light with Iowa State as the only BCS conference opponent (there won't be BCS conferences any more though...we'll have to come up with a new name for the power conferences). But most years Iowa adds an additional BCS foe to Iowa State, and one of those two games is generally on the road.
What about when Iowa doesn't make it?
Realistically, Iowa won't have a shot to make the playoffs in most years. So, is the new system better than the BCS for the Hawkeyes? I'm not so sure. The B1G was practically guaranteed to have 2 teams in the BCS every year. This meant that in Iowa's normal years, that they got bumped up in the bowls and went to a better bowl than perhaps deserved. A third place finish in the conference meant a trip to the Capitol One bowl to face a good SEC team. Even last year finishing just 7-5 earned a trip to the Insight Bowl.
That's not going to happen too often under the new system. It's going to be pretty rare that the B1G gets two teams into the final four. I don't think any conference will get multiple teams in very often (yeah, even the SEC will only have it happen every once in a while). In years where the Rose Bowl is not hosting a semifinal, then a B1G runner-up will likely head to Pasadena (assuming the champ makes the playoffs). So we'll get the same scenario as the 2 in the BCS. But when the Rose Bowl does have a semi, the rest of the B1G teams will get pushed down a bowl. There are 6 bowls slated to host semifinal games, which based on the math would mean the Rose Bowl will host every 3 years, but they are looking into hosting less often.
The worse case scenario would be that no B1G team made the playoffs and the Rose Bowl was hosting a semifinal. Then the B1G teams would all drop to lower bowls. Maybe for once the conference would finally have a winning record in bowl games!
I imagine the B1G will be pretty aggressive making its bowl tie-ins. So maybe a middle of the pack finish in the conference won't meet heading to Detroit or somewhere nobody really wants to go.
Ultimately I think things will be about the same. Every 10-15 years, Iowa will manage to win the B1G and get a shot in the playoffs. Maybe by then the playoffs will be expanded to 8 teams. In other years, I think the B1G will have a big enough presence in the playoffs, that Iowa will still make it to good bowl games.