When Iowa and Georgia Tech meet in tonight’s Orange Bowl it will be the bloom from a recruiting surge three years ago. Both programs signed higher ranked classes than usual in February 2007 and now three years later are knocking heads in a big money, BCS bowl game, one as a conference champion, and the other missing their league’s title by a whisper in no small part because their starting QB was injured for the showdown that tilted the race. The cores of both these teams was forged on the recruiting trail that cycle.

Georgia Tech’s 2007 class amazes me on several levels. One, it was ranked significantly higher than every other Tech class in the immediate years before and after. Per Rivals, it was ranked #18, on the heels on of five classes that had trouble breaking in the top-50: 49, 49, 57, 62, 52.  Their recruiting classes since then have had similar numbers as 2002-06. Phil Steele ranks recruiting classes as well and in 2007 Tech checks in at 17 after having never been in his top 25 prior to that or since. Two, the high percentage of prospects that panned out with 10 of the signees having developed into first teamers for this game tonight with another four second string on the two deep. Three, the fact this class didnt implode and part ways in the wake of a coaching change. Ten months after this class signed on the line, the school fired Chan Gailey, the coach who convinced them to come to Atlanta, and replaced him with Paul Johnson and his quirky, somewhat old fashioned triple option offense. Yet, the kids stuck around and two seasons later, players and coach have led Tech to a rare high–an ACC Championship.

Do you think Tech’s haul was important that year? It only netted Josh Nesbitt, Jonathan Dyer and Roddy Jones. Folks, that’s the offense.  The class also yielded stud Derek Morgan on the DL as well as a second starter on the defensive  line, as starting linebacker and 3 of 4 starters in the secondary. A parttime starter at wideout, 2 offensive linemen and 4 top second stringers rounds out the impact of this class so far. There is barely a bowl team at GT, let alone an ACC champion, without this class of prospects.

Over at Iowa, the intriguing aspect of its 2007 class is that it came practically on the heels of the 2005 class that many thought was the best ever at the school. That class has been a well talked about bust. The 2007 class, however, was not ranked quite as high, but did come in better regarded than most other Iowa prospect lists. The difference in guru approval between 2007 and 2005 when the classes arrived on campus has been more than made up for by results. It’s also a testament to a coaching staff’s ability at  identifying a kid’s strength and knowing where to put him on the field. In 2007, 4-star recruits Christian Ballard and Broderick Binns came in as a tight end and a linebacker, but during the third year in the program together they were starters next too each other on one of the most fierce defensive lines in the country. Marvin McNutt came in as a QB, but is now catching game winning touchdown passes. Taylor Sash came in as a 3-star athlete. Brian Bulaga was a stud OLine recruit and has turned into a stud college OLineman. There are several other members of the class contributing right now in parttime roles that ought to expand during their final two years of eligibility. Now, this class isnt as omnipresent on the depth chart as Tech’s class is, but its still ranked higher than all but one Iowa class in recent years. And, those are arguably five of the better guys on the team. Where are they without half of them? Not in this bowl game, that’s for sure. Their ceiling would be something less Orangey and more Insighty.

The recruiting uptick in 2007 is paying dividends now for both schools. And NFL Draft departures pending, it ought to keep both schools in their league races next season. I wonder what my brethern in the Michigan fanbase thinks about this. Their 2007 class has been a disaster, of sorts. The 20-member class was ranked 12th in the nation per Rivals. Three years later, eight of those 20 prospects have left the program. They almost have as many kids from this class transfer out as Tech has starters from this similarily ranked class that same season. There are seven starters on the team from that class, but frankly those starters have not produced as well as the key figures from Iowa and Georgia Tech’s class that year. You know, I dont want to talk about this anymore.Its painful.  So, lets move.

Like last night’s Fiesta Bowl, this game presents this gambler with a choice between two favorite programs. Most people hate betting on Georgia Tech games because over the years they’ve been very inconsistent and hard to get a read on. I’ve actually had an easy time capping their games. If they’re a road dog, bet them. If they are a home favorite, fade them. Over the years, Tech consistently ‘underachieves’ at home and ‘overachieves’ on the road based on the betting public’s expectations. Betting against Tech in those spots at home and on the road has served me well over the years, while others spin their wheels trying to figure out one of the flakiest programs in the south. Since 1990, Tech is 26-33 as home chalk, but 37-23 as road dogs. The book on Tech is that easy, especially as road dogs.

Enter Paul Johnson from Navy. I fell in love (no homo) with this guy during his stay at Navy. He turned the Middies into a bowl team and a pointspread monster. He closed his Naval Academy tenure on a 40-23 ATS run and all time at Annapolis he was 17-5 ATS as a road dog. I was stoked to see him take the job at Georgia Tech because one of my favorite road dog coaches was teaming up with with one of my favorite road dog programs. The result in 2008 during Year 1? A 4-1 ATS record in the road dog role with covers over Va Tech, BC, Clemson and UGA. Like at Navy, Johnson has turned his current program into a cover machine, regardless of role and locale. In two seasons at the helm, his club has logged a 15-7-1 ats mark. Had you put $100 on every Tech game since Johnson took over, you’d be up $730. Not a bad investment, considering the state of the stock markets these days, dont you think.

So, in one corner you have one of my favorite program and coach to bet on, who have combined forces the last two years to become a nice money maker. I’d be all over them tonight……except……..

In the other corner, might be my favorite team to bet on of all time: the Iowa Hawkeyes.  Only Boise State covered the spread at a higher rate this last decade than Iowa (62 percent vs 58 percent). The Kirk Ferentz era has been more than profitable for Iowa boosters, especially when the Hawkeyes are playing at home. The Hawks are 38-22-1 ATS at Kinnick Stadium under Ferentz. The seasons from 2001-2005 where a heyday for Hawkeye bettors. Their home covering rate was over 80 percent, their overall cover rate was close to two out of every three games. I love Michigan, but the Hawkeyes became my second favorite team. I was betting, and winning, on them virtually every week. Funny story. My friends were having a first birthday party for their child and in lieu of gifts many of us donated money to the kid’s new college fund. On the card, I wrote ‘this is for college. Or football gambling. If its latter, make sure to always bet the Hawks, especially at home.’ The parents were thrilled with the cash donation, but I somehow got crossed off the prospective godparents list. I wonder why.

Anyway, things cooled for the Hawks for a couple of seasons, but they’ve been lights out for two years now. In large part because of the maturation of stars from the aforementioned 2007 recruiting class, the Hawks are back to turning a profit and beating just about everybody in the Big 10. They’re 16-7 ATS the last two seasons, 11-5 against the Big 10. I feel like I’ve been reunited with an old flame the last two years with Iowa rocking and rolling again. And you know what? It feels so good.

So, like last night, I am in a quandry as two of my favorite plays are going head to head. Last night, I simplified things and just took the points when faced with this same questions. Seemed to work. How about rinsing and repeating? I am on board with the points.

The game fascinates me. Watching Iowa’s defensive front attack and try to contain the explosive triple option. It’s strength on strength. I think they more or less play to a draw, with each landing a haymaker or two. Iowa will thwart several drives with TFLs, but Tech will also score some points on some home run sprints after getting by the first wave of the defense. It’s the other matchups, that has me leaning to Iowa. I think Stanzi and Darrell Johnson Koulianas will have a huge day connecting with each other. I love Iowa’s offensive line to take over the game and let their nameless rushing attack manage the game. And, getting back to the strength on strength, I do think Iowa will force a lot of long third down and distance sequences. I love the Iowa defense on those plays. Tyler Fucking Stash will have a key pick.

The Pick: Iowa +5…..if Iowa wins straight up, it will be the Big 10’s first winning bowl season in  years. That’s reason enough for us midwesterners to pull for the Hawks. Again, the primary motivation for this pick is both programs have won for consistently over the years. Playing each other, I am taking the points, expect a good, close game, sit back, enjoy and hope for the best. But, something I’ve said all season about Iowa remains my mantra today. Their defensive front specializes in making other quarterbacks look bad. Josh Nesbitt, you are On Notice.