IOWA CITY, Iowa — In what seemed an unlikely destination just nine days ago, the Iowa Hawkeyes will make their fifth trip to the Outback Bowl and face SEC East Division champion Florida, Land of 10 learned Sunday.
The Hawkeyes and Gators finished the season with identical records (8-4) and Florida finished one spot ahead of Iowa in the final College Football Playoffs rankings released Sunday (20th and 21st, respectively).
On the day the Hawkeyes beat Nebraska (9-3), it appeared likely Iowa would make its first trip to the Holiday Bowl in 25 years. Likewise, Nebraska never had played in the Outback Bowl but has been in the Holiday Bowl three times since 2009.
But the Outback Bowl makes its recommendation to the Big Ten ahead of the Holiday Bowl. In the final analysis, the Outback Bowl evaluated both Iowa and Nebraska and the outcome figured in the bowl’s decision.
“Everything matters,” Outback Bowl president Jim McVey told Land of 10 when asked if Iowa’s win played a role. “Everything matters.”
ESPN’s Brett McMurphy also reported the matchup on Twitter.
Outback Bowl – Florida vs. Iowa
— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) December 4, 2016
On the surface, why would Iowa want to return to Tampa? The Hawkeyes have played there four times since the 2003 season. And some of Iowa’s best postseason moments under former coach Hayden Fry took place at the Holiday Bowl. The Hawkeyes participated in the San Diego-based bowl three times from 1986-1991, winning twice and tying once. Each of the games had a thrilling conclusion. Fry is in the Holiday Bowl’s Hall of Fame.
Additionally, many Hawkeyes fans clamored for a trip to Nashville’s Music City Bowl. Unlike the other destinations, fans could drive there. Quarterback C.J. Beathard hails from Nashville, where his father is a successful country music songwriter. Plus, country music is popular in Iowa so the side attractions have merit.
But the Outback’s pull carries weight. While the appeal of a January bowl has diminishing value, it still enables the coaching staff to space out practices in December. Several players who were nursing bumps, bruises or injuries could have a little more recovery time. Plus, Jan. 2 is on a Monday and a sanctioned holiday for most employees. The game kicks off at noon CT on ABC opposite just one other game, the Cotton Bowl.
Iowa had had success at the Outback Bowl, too. In its first appearance in following the 2003 season, it beat Florida 37-17. Two years later, Iowa’s Chad Greenway was wrongly whistled for offside to negate a recovered onside kick in a 31-24 loss to the Gators. In 2009, Iowa dismantled South Carolina 31-10. Three seasons ago. Iowa lost a 21-14 slugfest with LSU.
Its games against Florida rank fourth (2006) and fifth (2004) in Outback Bowl attendance. In 2014, Iowa sold the highest percentage of its ticket allotment among Big Ten schools, save for the Rose Bowl.
— Outback Bowl (@outbackbowl) December 4, 2016