On New Year's Day, in its first Rose Bowl in 23 years, Iowa will reap benefits, not crops.

As the Big Ten champion Hawkeyes prepared to play Washington, the Pacific-10 champ, in the 68th game of roses, Coach Hayden Fry admitted with a twinkle in his eye and a twang in his voice, "All we wanted was just a winning season this year."

It is very strange, this Rose Bowl, because the teams are Iowa (8-3) and Washington (9-2) and not, say, Southern California and Michigan. And because these teams are Iowa, ranked No. 11 (UPI) and No. 13 (AP), and Washington, ranked No. 10 (UPI) and No. 12 (AP), the game is being viewed by some cynics as "the grandduddy of them all."

Said Fry, "I could care less about what people say one way or another. The media downplays this game, but we've still got to give our best. The media downplays this game, but we've got all-Americans. We've got a good football team."

Washington Coach Don James, whose team stopped USC, 13-3, has heard this kind of disparagement before: in the 1978 Rose Bowl, when Warren Moon led his Huskies to a 27-20 win over Michigan and in the 1981 Rose Bowl, when Anthony Carter got revenge for Michigan in a 23-6 victory over the Huskies.

The James Gang includes split end Anthony Allen and tailback Jacque Robinson, two talented players. James knows, however, that many Southern Californians would have preferred a different Allen and a different Robinson: Marcus Allen and Coach John Robinson of USC.

James is 56-24 in seven years on Puget Sound and responds to the situation with kind formality: "We can't get involved with that stuff. We're delighted to be here now that we have a little experience here."

Because, as Fry noted, "There really aren't any superstars on either team, just good solid players," the media has latched onto Fry, who coached at Southern Methodist and North Texas before coming to Iowa City in 1979.

Fry is a calm man who has a 17-16 record at Iowa and a 106-105-4 record overall, marks that are as middle-of-the-prairie as you'll find. "The closer I get to game day, the more relaxed I get," said Fry, who grew a mustache along with a football team in 1981 and now looks like the Marlboro man.

This season, Iowa defeated such bowl regulars as Nebraska (10-7), UCLA (20-7) and Michigan (9-7), and, after a 5-1 start, one Iowa politician proclaimed, "The corn can wait."

Then came losses to Minnesota (12-10) and Illinois (24-7). There was trouble in Iowa City with a capital 'T'. "Our news media, our fans, our coaches and our players; we all did a poor job of handling success," said Fry. "It was something new to us."

But Iowa won its final three games, including a 36-7 win over Michigan State in the finale. Senior quarterback Gordy Bohannon (72 of 142 passes for 999 yards and six touchdowns) and senior running back Phil Blatcher (740 yards, eight touchdowns) lead a respectable offense.

And senior all-America end Andre Tippett led a defense that is respected. The Hawkeyes ranked fifth in the NCAA against the run, allowing a puny 86.9 yards per game, and 10th in total defense, allowing 253.6 yards per game. Tippett had 14 of the team's 89 sacks. "Defensively, Iowa is better than any team in our league," said James.

Washington also relies on defense. Against USC in Seattle, the Huskies yielded only 41 yards passing and three points, the Trojans' smallest scoring output since losing, 3-0, to Oregon State in 1967. Junior linebacker Ken Driscoll (151 total tackles) and senior linebacker Mark Jerue (144) lead the Huskies.