The Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4, 5-3 Big Ten) and head coach Kirk Ferentz have rebounded from an abysmal 2012 campaign to earn a spot in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 against the LSU Tigers (9-3, 5-3 SEC).
Iowa has reached a bowl game 12 times with Ferentz’s under the helm and none more impressive – minus the squad’s 2010 Orange Bowl win – than this year’s bid to play against SEC-powerhouse LSU.
This will be the fourth time the Iowa Hawkeyes have been invited to play in the Outback Bowl – including a 31-10 win over South Carolina in 2008, a 31-24 loss to Florida in 2005, and 37-17 win over Florida in 2o03.
Ferentz has fielded more talented teams in years past in route to the Bowl season but this season’s team is unique because of the tribulations they’ve faced during the past few years.
Players like linebackers Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey, James Morris, and wide receivers Jordan Cotton and Kevonte Martin-Manley remember the Hawkeyes’ 2011 Insight Bowl loss to Oklahoma and would have to endure the worst season of Ferentz’s career in 2012 to return to the Bowl season.
Those experiences bode well for Iowa and its players because LSU won’t be the same offensive team when the two meet on New Years day.
Tigers quarterback Zack Mettenberger tore his ACL in LSU’s season-finale against Arkansas. Mettenberger finished the season with over 3,000 yards passing and 22 touchdowns.
This Outback Bowl berth has silenced many critics and media members – myself included – that questioned Ferentz’s future as Iowa head coach.
He’s the highest paid employee in Iowa and one of the highest paid coaches in the NCAA – his 2013 salary is $3.9 million – but has never reached a BCS championship game, let alone a Rose Bowl berth.
Ferentz however, is a steadfast coach and has consistently propelled Iowa into the national conservation by consistently competing in Bowl season – he’s currently 6-4 in bowl games and has won three of the last four.
His recruiting and conservative play-calling has taken a hit lately but heading into the Outback Bowl he’s garnered a moment of respect, not scrutiny.
On Jan. 1, Iowa and LSU will meet in a Bowl game for the second time in the Ferentz era but this time the circumstances will be different.
Ferentz’s opposition will be Les Miles, not current -Alabama head coach Nick Saban, and the opposing team, even without its starting quarterback, will seemingly have more talent than the Hawkeyes.
Iowa won’t play as if it’s overmatched by an SEC opponent. The play that brought them redemption following last season will also guide them towards their opportunity for validation.
For more analysis on Iowa leading up to the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 check their team page on Isportsweb.