Wine: Why Iowa? Let Me Tell Ya'

Dec. 11, 2005

The Bowl Game

More About Iowa Football

When the bowl pairings were announced recently, the biggest surprise came out of Tampa, where the Outback Bowl picked the Hawkeyes to play Florida.

Virtually all publications and websites that predict bowl pairings had Iowa going to the Alamo Bowl. Many fans, including some friends of mine, were so convinced that they paid for non-refundable airline tickets to San Antonio and purchased tickets to the game there.

Travel agencies were running ads in Iowa newspapers, selling Alamo Bowl packages, presumably to Hawkeye fans. Nobody was selling bowl packages to Tampa.

So the Outback selection committee put one over on the so-called experts, who could not imagine the folks in Tampa taking Iowa ahead of Michigan. But upsets happen in bowl games – sometimes before they’re played — and for the fourth straight year the Hawkeyes are headed to Florida to play in January.

What made this happen?

Iowa’s fans are getting a lion’s share of the credit, as well they should. The legendary “Bumblebees” put their money where their mouths are – they love their Hawkeyes and they snap up tickets. It took Outback officials only two days to announce a sellout that will include some 30,000 Iowa fans. The Bumblebees are good for ticket sales and they’re good for tourism.

No doubt that Iowa’s strong finish to the regular season was a factor. First the Hawkeyes knocked off a Wisconsin team (20-10) that is headed for the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, then hammered a Minnesota team (52-28) that will play in the Music City Bowl in Nashville.

Those impressive victories propelled Iowa back into the Top 25, where they started the season but fell out after losing four games. It is doubtful the Hawkeyes would be playing in a January bowl if they weren’t nationally ranked.

No doubt that Iowa’s strong finish to the regular season was a factor. First the Hawkeyes knocked off a Wisconsin team (20-10) that is headed for the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, then hammered a Minnesota team (52-28) that will play in the Music City Bowl in Nashville.

Those impressive victories propelled Iowa back into the Top 25, where they started the season but fell out after losing four games. It is doubtful the Hawkeyes would be playing in a January bowl if they weren’t nationally ranked.

A more subtle reason was also a factor, in my opinion. Iowa has been a regular post-season participant since 1982, getting 19 bowl invitations during that time. Iowa coaches, players and staff members have built a solid reputation with bowl officials, who view them as congenial, agreeable and courteous guests. The Hawkeyes are easy to work with in the weeks leading up to a bowl game. The bowl folks appreciate that.

Television ratings are important to bowls, and the perception is that Michigan trumps Iowa in TV ratings. But that, according to research compiled by ESPN, is not true. Over the 2003 and 2004 seasons, Iowa had significantly better ratings than did Michigan for games played on ESPN. In comparing Iowa to the Big Ten in general, Hawkeye numbers were also superior.

This can be analyzed until Iowa and Florida kickoff in Tampa, but the obvious fact is that the Hawkeyes have become very attractive to bowl officials. If you are headed to the Sunshine State, enjoy the game. If you bought a non-refundable bowl package to the Lone Star State, don’t be so impetuous next year.

THE MATCHUP – Moving up in the bowl pecking order generally means two things: (1) a bigger pay day, and (2) a stronger opponent. For Iowa, No. 1 is meaningless because Big Ten members equally share bowl revenue. No. 2 means the Hawkeyes in Tampa will be a slight underdog to Florida. In San Antonio, they would have been a solid favorite to beat Nebraska.

This is not the same Florida team – it’s not even the same Florida program – that Iowa beat 37-17 in the Outback Bowl two years ago. The Gators have a new coach, a new system and a new attitude. Urban Meyer is only 41 years old, but he’s already been head coach at three Division-1 schools. He was 17-6 in two years at Bowling Green and 22-2 in two years at Utah.

His first Florida team is ranked No. 16 nationally and has beaten two opponents bound for BCS bowls – Georgia and Florida State. Meyer is best known as an offensive innovator, and he also has a defense that ranks seventh nationally.

Florida has only two players at the top of its depth chart that started against the Hawkeyes two years ago. One is junior quarterback Chris Leak, who seriously considered playing for Iowa. The other is senior center Mike Degory.

A more subtle reason was also a factor, in my opinion. Iowa has been a regular post-season participant since 1982, getting 19 bowl invitations during that time. Iowa coaches, players and staff members have built a solid reputation with bowl officials, who view them as congenial, agreeable and courteous guests. The Hawkeyes are easy to work with in the weeks leading up to a bowl game. The bowl folks appreciate that.

Five Hawkeyes will start for a second time against Florida – linebackers Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway, cornerbacks Jovon Johnson and Antwan Allen, and offensive guard Mike Jones.

Statistically the game looks like a toss up. Iowa has averaged 30.5 points a game, Florida 28.4. Opponents have averaged 18.4 points against Florida, 19.0 against Iowa.

The quarterback stats are almost identical. Drew Tate and Chris Leak have both completed 63 percent of their passes. Tate has thrown for a little more yardage and one more touchdown. Both QBs have been intercepted only six times.

Featuring Albert Young and his 1,300 yards rushing, Iowa has a better running game, but the strength of Florida’s defense is its ability to stop the run.

If the teams play as they did during the regular season, this will be a close and entertaining football game.