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Ferentz formula defies oddmakers’ predictions

[ 0 ] December 21, 2013 |
IOWA CITY, Ia. — They’re doing it again.

The so-called experts have tabbed Iowa’s football team as an underdog heading into the Jan.1 Outback Bowl against Louisiana State.

“I’m sure we are,” lineman Brett Van Sloten said with a shrug. “I don’t pay much attention to it.”

And why should he?

This wouldn’t be the first time prognosticators were wrong.

LSU, 9-3 and ranked No.14 in The Associated Press poll, is listed as a 71/2-point favorite over Iowa (8-4).

If that line holds, the odds will be stacked against Iowa for the 10th time in 11 postseason appearances under coach Kirk Ferentz.

“There’s not too much love for Iowa,” said Kevin Bradley, sports book manager for Bovada.lv. “The spread might have been bigger for LSU, but they had their quarterback injured.”

It’s not just a betting trend.

A panel of six CBS Sports pundits all picked the Tigers to win. Same with the five staff members of Athlon Sports who posted their predictions. Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network predicted LSU 24, Iowa 21.

“We always play with that chip on our shoulder,” Van Sloten said. “Coach always says the most hungry team will win.”

Ferentz has history on his side. In the Hawkeyes’ previous 10 bowls (dating to the 2001 season), they’re 6-4 overall and 7-3 against the spread.

The four bowl losses came against perennial powers Southern California (2003 Orange), Florida (2006 Outback), Texas (2006 Alamo) and Oklahoma (2011 Insight).

No Big Ten Conference school has won more bowls since the 2001 season, and only Iowa and Ohio State (with a 6-5 mark) have a winning record.

All of which begs two questions: Why doesn’t Iowa get more respect? And what’s the secret to Ferentz’s success?

“I would surmise that like everything else Kirk does, you’ve got a formula,” said Gerry DiNardo, a BTN analyst who coached LSU from 1995 to 1999. “My guess is, he just has a template that works. He knows the right formula for how hard to work the players, when to back off and how much (a bowl game) is a reward.”

The Ferentz formula

Experience is a primary ingredient.

Iowa rolled through the 2002 regular season before losing momentum in the weeks leading up to the showdown with USC. The Trojans won 38-17.

“I do remember everything was just a little bit different,” former Hawkeye kicker Kyle Schlicher said. “That was in Miami. We were staying at the Bal Harbour. We literally were treated like kings.

“I think maybe, all of that happening, it might have taken away from some of the focus on the preparation.”

Schlicher, who redshirted in 2002, was a starter when Iowa stunned LSU in the Capital One Bowl two years later.

“It is about the preparation,” Schlicher said. “We started bowl prep as soon as that last game of the regular season was done … even though we didn’t know where we were going or who we were playing yet.”

The first few workouts are centered on self-improvement. By the time Iowa arrives in the host city, attention is directed toward the opponent.

“I think it’s just about putting in the time, making sure that when you go down there it’s not a vacation,” senior linebacker James Morris said. “It’s an opportunity for us to sort of showcase our team and how much improvement we’ve made over the month.”

The Parker factor

When the Hawkeyes returned to the Orange Bowl in 2010, they brought a different attitude.

They also had an edge in preparation, thanks to former defensive coordinator Norm Parker.

Iowa’s 24-14 upset of Georgia Tech, a four-point favorite, added to Parker’s mystique.

“He broke the run-pass code,” DiNardo explained. “When the offensive tackle did one thing, it was run. When the offensive tackle did another, it was pass.

“He shut down Georgia Tech, and I think every ACC coach during the offseason came through Iowa City to visit him.”

Ferentz overhauled his staff the past two seasons, so this will be the Hawkeyes’ first bowl with Phil Parker as defensive coordinator and Greg Davis calling the offense.

“I think this matchup is interesting in that … (LSU) is pretty standard,” DiNardo said. “Their offensive style is not that much different than what Iowa does.”

That could favor the Tigers, one of the most athletic teams from the Southeastern Conference.

Then again, Ferentz and the Hawkeyes are 3-1 against SEC bowl foes.

Van Sloten, a native of Decorah, was in junior high when Iowa beat the Tigers in 2005.

And he remembers a comment receiver Warren Holloway made after scoring the winning touchdown as time expired: “On this team, giving 100 percent doesn’t make you special. It just makes you part of the team.”

It’s a quote that still echoes throughout the Iowa program.

“That’s something that always stuck with me,” Van Sloten said. “It’s a good motto for a team to have.”

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THE UNDERDOG AGAIN? THAT’S JUST FINE

According to oddsmakers, Iowa has been an underdog in nine of its 10 bowl appearances under coach Kirk Ferentz. It will be 10 of 11 this year, with LSU favored by 71/2 points less than two weeks out from the Jan.1 Outback Bowl. Here is Iowa’s bowl history under Ferentz, whose teams have won five games outright as underdogs and are 7-3 in bowl games against the spread:

Game Point Spread Result
2001 Alamo Bowl 111/2, underdog Iowa 19, Texas Tech 16
2003 Orange Bowl 6, underdog Southern Cal 38, Iowa 17
2004 Outback Bowl 3, underdog Iowa 37, Florida 17
2005 Capital One Bowl 6, underdog Iowa 30, Louisiana State 25
2006 Outback Bowl 1, underdog Florida 31, Iowa 24
2006 Alamo Bowl 9, underdog Texas 26, Iowa 24
2009 Outback Bowl 4, favorite Iowa 31, South Carolina 10
2010 Orange Bowl 4, underdog Iowa 24, Georgia Tech 14
2010 Insight Bowl 2, underdog Iowa 27, Missouri 24
2011 Insight Bowl 14, underdog Oklahoma 31, Iowa 14

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Andrew Logue: Andrew has been with the Des Moines Register for 15 years, covering everything from preps to Hawkeye and Cyclone sports, as well as the Drake Relays. View author profile.

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