This is all you could have asked for, Hawkeye fans.
An invitation to the Outback Bowl, against No. 14 Louisiana State, puts a check mark in every box.
Great locale? Check. The average high temperature for late December in Tampa, Fla, is around 70 degrees.
And Iowans should know their way to the beaches after traveling to the Outback Bowl following the 2003, ’05 and ’08 seasons.
National stage? Check. The game kicks off at noon on New Year’s Day on ESPN.
Yes, it’ll have to compete with three other bowls during that time period (Gator, Heart of Dallas and Capital One). But who doesn’t channel-surf these days?
Intriguing storylines? Check. Get the Tate-to-Holloway clip cued up.
This is a rematch of the 2005 Capital One Bowl, when Drew Tate’s 56-yard touchdown pass to Warren Holloway beat the Tigers 30-25.
Nick Saban bolted Baton Rouge, La., for the Miami Dolphins after that defeat, while the Hawkeyes finished No. 8 in The Associated Press poll.
And that leads us to our next, most important category:
Something to play for? Check.
Iowa (8-4) received a few votes in this week’s AP poll.
Now, the Hawkeyes have a chance to punctuate their return to prominence by beating LSU (9-3) and earning a spot among the top 25.
Who would have thought that was possible back on Aug. 31, after a 30-27 loss to Northern Illinois in the opener?
“(Iowa) is a young team that has really come together,” said Jim McVay, president and CEO of the Outback Bowl. “They’re a bunch of tough, smart guys who are well coached and can play with anybody.”
If they tame the Tigers, the Hawkeyes would end the season with a trio of wins against marquee programs, following a sweep of Michigan and Nebraska.
“We know Iowa is going to show up,” McVay said, “and put on a heck of a show for everybody.”
A victory over LSU, one of the Southeastern Conference’s heavyweights, would also strike a blow for the Big Ten.
Critics still dismiss the conference as tradition-rich but talent-poor.
“Iowa has the whole package,” McVay said. “The fan base is spectacular. Everything about the organization is first-class.
“The key is, you’ve got a bunch of tough football players who are representing the Big Ten, against a really good SEC school.”
Les Miles replaced Saban as the LSU coach and owns a 94-24 record in nine seasons, including a BCS title in 2007.
The Tigers are balanced, averaging 200.8 rushing yards and 265.1 passing. Their losses have come against Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama.
Jeremy Hill, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound bruiser, ran for 1,185 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 6.8 yards per carry.
He may need to carry more of the load for LSU, with senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger out with a knee injury.
Mettenberger, was completing 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns.
His absence adds another subplot to this showdown.
“It just made sense,” McVay said of the matchup “Everywhere you turn, you think, ‘That’s a good one.’’’
Andrew Logue covers Hawkeye football and sports media for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLogue.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football