Hawkeyes Eager For Orange Bowl

Dec. 8, 2009

Travel with the Hawkeyes

By Sean Neugent

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The atmosphere surrounding Sunday’s University of Iowa football press conference was relaxed and there was a sense of relief on many of the player’s faces. There would be n o more waiting game — the Hawkeyes are Bowl Championship Series-bound for the FedEx Orange Bowl in Miami on Jan. 5.

The press conference was more casual and upbeat than most. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn even brought his nine-week-old pit bull terrier puppy, Ace, along for the ride. After not knowing their fate since shutting down Minnesota, 12-0, on Nov. 21, the Hawkeyes (10-2 overall) had to wait until Sunday to see where they were headed.

It appeared well worth the wait.

“It is definitely nice to know who we are playing now,” Clayborn said. “It was a long wait since the Minnesota game. We are going to prepare hard.”

“It is huge and we knew if we could get to 10-2 that we would have a chance to get into a BCS bowl, but we didn’t know which one necessarily,” linebacker A.J. Edds said. “We are excited and it’s a great opportunity to go in there and represent our conference, represent our school. We are excited — it should be a great game.”

For the past few weeks it looked as if the Hawkeyes would be headed to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Arizona to take on Boise State. On Sunday, the FedEx Orange Bowl came calling and the Hawkeyes accepted the offer with a big smile on their face.

“We watched (the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game between Georgia Tech and Clemson), but honestly, we were still thinking the Fiesta Bowl, so we were not watching it that closely,” Edds said. “Georgia Tech brings a great offense to the table, as far as stopping them with our defense. We will have our hands full, they are a good team and deserve it obviously and they won the ACC, so it should be a great game.”

Iowa has a daunting task ahead of it against the Yellow Jackets, but the Hawkeyes have plenty of time to watch game film and prepare. Iowa is in more familiar territory under head coach Kirk Ferentz, who took the Hawkeyes to the FedEx Orange Bowl in 2003 against USC. Georgia Tech returns to the Orange Bowl for the first time since 1967. The Hawkeyes lost the game to the Trojans, 38-17, in a game that Ferentz calls his team’s worst bowl performance. It was only Ferentz’s fourth season with Iowa and he is now more experienced in his 11th season.

“As a team we are very fortunate, very lucky to be in this position to go down to Miami and play a great opponent and be on the national stage,” UI quarterback Ricky Stanzi said. “We can show the country what we can do on that stage. It’s nice to be in this position and it is a tremendous honor for us. You have to be the one of the best in the lot in order to be in this position and everyone on this team has done a great job of playing team football.”

A day earlier, the Hawkeyes nervously watched Texas take on Nebraska in a game that had major implications for where Iowa would be heading. A Longhorn win would send the Hawkeyes to a BCS game, but a Cornhuskers win would most-likely take them out of the picture. Texas kicked a last-second field goal to win the Big 12 championship game.

“We were (cheering for Texas) and all hanging out,” UI wide receiver Marvin McNutt said. “We were all kind of holding on to each other when they kicked the field goal.”

“This will be my first BCS game,” tight end Tony Moeaki said. “It’s my last year so that is really nice. I think all together we are excited as a team and excited for all the fans and all my teammates.”

In an injury-riddled season, Iowa will have plenty of time to get healthy for the bowl game and the Hawkeyes already appear to have Stanzi back after missing the last 2 ½ games with a high-ankle sprain.

The stars have certainly aligned for the Hawkeyes, who have put together a few fourth-quarter comebacks and a little help from outside forces. Either way, Iowa’s hard work and resiliency this season has put it in one of the five BCS games.

You can be sure they will capitalize on it Jan. 5 inside Land Shark Stadium with a 7 p.m. kickoff (Iowa time).