Back to the Outback

Iowa vs. SEC finalist Florida on Jan. 2 in Tampa

IOWA CITY — Iowa is going bowling, and it’s going to do it in some sunshine.

For the fifth time in school history, the Hawkeyes accepted their invitation to play in the Outback Bowl, taking on the University of Florida for the fourth time in school history.

“We’re not only thrilled but we’re honored to be selected to the Outback Bowl,” said head coach Kirk Ferentz. “I speak for everybody involved in our program, all of our players, all of our coaches, our staff members. It’s just a real honor, and we’re looking forward to the challenge of playing the University of Florida. What a traditional program and strong football team. That’s a great thing.”

It’s Iowa’s first appearance in Tampa, Fla., since 2014, when the Hawkeyes lost to LSU 21-14 in the Outback Bowl. Iowa has faced Florida three other times, splitting contests in 2004 (a win, 37-17) and in 2006 (a loss, 31-24), while also losing the 1983 Gator Bowl 14-6.

All-time, the Hawkeyes are 2-2 in the Outback Bowl, with another win against South Carolina in 2009 (31-10).

One of the biggest questions heading into the January bowl game will be the health of the Hawkeyes, mainly with the secondary being banged up after the Nebraska win two weeks ago.

“Unfortunately, Drake [Kulick] is out, and he’s not coming back for this ball game,” Ferentz said. “Manny [Rugamba] has got an outside shot, but I don’t think we can count on him right now. Probably know more in a couple weeks, just depends on how things come together.”

Iowa will also be without Greg Mabin and Cole Croston, who has not started practicing yet.

Florida head coach Jim McElwain said the Outback Bowl is a highly sought-after bowl game, and the Gators are thankful for the chance.

“The word around our league is this is the one you want to go to,” McElwain said. “It’s run by great people, they do great things for the fans, obviously the players, and always put a great show on. It should be a fun matchup.”

Iowa wrapped up its season with a convincing 40-10 win against Nebraska, which will play Tennessee in the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn. Ferentz said the stand-out win “certainly didn’t hurt,” and was appreciative of how his team handled the opportunity to seize a win it so desperately needed.

“I think that’s one thing I learned a long time ago,” Ferentz said. “If you have success on the field, it just gives you more opportunity in all regards. We got knocked out of the conference race a while back, but you’re stilling playing for a lot of things that are significant, and going to bowl is very special for anybody that competes as a college athlete.”

Florida fell to No. 1 Alabama on Saturday in the SEC Championship, 54-16. McElwain has led the Gators to a bowl game in each of his first two years and has seen Big Ten programs from the inside, serving as an assistant coach at Michigan State from 2003-05, where the two teams split two wins while he was there.

“Obviously, playing a team that’s on a roll right now,” McElwain said. “You don’t go for a participation ribbon. I’m not sure a year ago we didn’t have some guys in there looking for a participation ribbon. To me, that speaks volumes really about each person’s character that was involved in that event. Speaking personally, I was embarrassed. And yet, it happens. It happens at a lot of programs.

“But this is one that they’ve got to understand we’re representing the Gators and that’s different. We’ll be ready to go play.”

Kickoff is set for noon on Jan. 2, 2017, airing on ABC.