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Fan power, play on field help Iowa edge bluebloods for Outback berth

[ 0 ] December 8, 2013 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. It happened three decades ago — a slight that Kirk Ferentz hasn’t forgotten.

“I do have a pretty good memory,” Iowa’s football coach said Sunday. “In 1983, we did beat a pretty good opponent here in Kinnick, then got bumped by them in a bowl game. It would have been a warmer destination than where we ended up that year. Sometimes it goes that way.”

Ferentz was an assistant to Hayden Fry when Iowa beat Ohio State, 20-14, and finished a game ahead of the Buckeyes in the 1983 Big Ten standings. But the Fiesta Bowl took the Buckeyes. Iowa settled for the Gator Bowl.

On Sunday, history didn’t repeat itself. Iowa (8-4) got the nod over college football bluebloods Michigan and Nebraska to meet Louisiana State (9-3) in the Outback Bowl Jan.<TH>1. When Iowa athletic director Gary Barta sold the Hawkeye program to Outback officials, he used <FZ,1,0,13>play on the field and fan support as his biggest bargaining chips.

“At the end of the day, I talked about proving it on the field,” Barta said. “So when we got to the résumé table, we were able to say, ‘Well, we beat Michigan, we beat Nebraska.’ Both do have storied histories. But in 2013, the University of Iowa stood tall.”

Iowa fans have turned out strong for the Hawkeyes’ three previous Outback Bowl appearances, in 2004, 2006 and 2009.

“We have some of the best fans in the country, and the bowls know that,” Barta said. “You can talk to them about TV ratings, or I can show them ticket sales. And believe me, that means a lot to those bowls. And competitively, we stood tall with those storied programs.”

A year after missing a bowl game and losing its last six games, Iowa won four of its last five including a 24-21 victory over Michigan and a 38-17 decision at Nebraska. When he met with his team Saturday, Ferentz gave them an idea of what to expect.

“I told them I didn’t know how it was all going to turn out, but my guess is we’ll play somebody that has a name that’s very recognizable and ranked,” Ferentz said. “To me, that’s a good thing. That’s what you want. One thing about bowls is you’re always going to play a tough opponent. The other thing is that it’s a great opportunity.”

Iowa has won three of four games with SEC teams under Ferentz, including two Outback Bowls. One of those SEC victories was over LSU in the 2005 Capital One Bowl, when quarterback Drew Tate threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Warren Holloway on the final play of the game for a 30-25 victory.

Asked if he would bring Holloway in to speak to his team before this season’s game, Ferentz said, “I hadn’t thought about that. It’s a good idea.”

The Tigers, 5-3 in the SEC, are ranked 14th.

“At first blush, their losses have come to quality opponents, like ours,” Ferentz said. “Maybe the most telling thing is they are the only team to beat Auburn (35-21) this year.”

A year removed from a 4-8 season, Iowa became bowl-eligible with a 38-14 victory at Purdue Nov. 9.

“The thing I’m most pleased about is that our team kept moving,” Ferentz said. “(Purdue) was not the end all. It’s one thing to get in a bowl, but you want to improve your lot. I’m just really proud of how the guys handled the last 13 days of the season. They were really focused. They put everything they had into it. They played their finest football the last half (against Michigan), and certainly in our last game (at Nebraska). It’s a real compliment to our players. It’s a reward they earned. To have a chance to go to Tampa, that’s just fantastic.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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