Dec. 29, 2013
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By DARREN MILLER
TAMPA, Fla. — Head football coaches from the University of Iowa and Louisiana State University came together for a joint news conference Sunday at the Wyndham Hotel, and it was difficult to tell which one had heard more questions about conference superiority.
It didn’t take long for an inquiry about the strength of the Southeastern Conference to be asked, and as usual, UI head coach Kirk Ferentz handled it with grace.
“You would have to be blind to college football not to recognize the level of talent and the level of coaching in the (SEC) — it’s outstanding and it is well documented,” Ferentz said.
That’s when LSU head coach Les Miles chimed in, putting his two cents in support of the Big Ten, a conference where played and coached at Michigan.
“I wasn’t asked this question, but I’m going to answer it anyway,” Miles said. “If you’re from the Big Ten you enjoy seeing some of those old helmets; the conference is a tremendously competitive, very capable football conference. The more you study it, the Big Ten Conference is every bit as capable as any conference in America.”
That was the tone of the first media gathering with the coaches that, to no one’s surprise, turned into a meeting of the mutual admiration society.
For Ferentz, this is his fourth trip to the Outback Bowl in the last 11 seasons. The Hawkeyes faced Florida in 2004 and 2006, and South Carolina in 2009 with Iowa winning two of the three games.
“You would have to be blind to college football not to recognize the level of talent and the level of coaching in the (SEC) — it’s outstanding and it is well documented.”
UI football coach
“You always play an outstanding team from the SEC and that is the case again this year,” Ferentz said.
LSU is 9-3 overall, 5-3 in the SEC. The Tigers are searching for their fourth season in a row with 10 or more victories. This season they were the only team to defeat Auburn (Sept. 21), which is playing for a national championship.
“Any time you line up to play a game, especially a bowl game, you are playing an outstanding opponent and it means you have a good team, too, and had a good season,” Ferentz said. “That in itself is enough motivation for anyone who is involved in the ball game and all that other stuff is just stuff. It’s a chance to go out and compete against a good football team and both these teams have done that during the course of the year — we both play in tough conferences.”
Starting at quarterback for the Tigers is true freshman Anthony Jennings, who led his team on a game-winning drive in the regular season finale against Arkansas.
“The only wild card for us is we don’t have much tape on him,” Ferentz said. “The job of any quarterback, regardless of his style or of his age, is to move the team, and he moved them in about as extreme circumstances as you could dream up. For him to move from an incoming freshman to the No. 2 guy the way he did says a lot about the people who have seen him on a day-to-day basis. We can count on a really good player being back there.”
Most bowl games have a first game feel to them, but the presence of Jennings magnifies that.
“What they were doing is working well this year, but we have to be ready for anything,” Ferentz said. “I don’t expect wholesale changes but I’m sure we’ll see a wrinkle or two, that only makes sense. Philosophically what they try to do we expect to see that.”
This is Ferentz’s 15th season at Iowa; Miles is in his ninth season at LSU.
“This is a place we have enjoyed living,” Ferentz said. “We moved here in 1981 not knowing what to expect and we have lived here 23 years total. It’s a great place to live, raise a family and coach football. Those are the most important things to me but it takes a mutual agreement.”