Iowa Football

Iowa gets new Outback Bowl foe in oh-so-familiar Tampa

Cyclones get tons of bowl fun with San Antonio and Washington State

The Hawkeye Marching Band at the Outback Bowl’s annual Clearwater Beach Day on Dec. 30, 2013 in Clearwater, Fla. The beach is likely to look the same for the band again this year. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
The Hawkeye Marching Band at the Outback Bowl’s annual Clearwater Beach Day on Dec. 30, 2013 in Clearwater, Fla. The beach is likely to look the same for the band again this year. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Iowa has scored 109 points and allowed 109 points in Outback Bowls.

So that may explain neutral feelings about the Hawkeyes going to the Tampa Jan. 1 bowl. Again. For the third time in the last six years and sixth time since 2003.

Outback Bowl fatigue? Eh, maybe, maybe not. One suspects that lasts less than the length of time it takes to enjoy breakfast at one of the Tampa area’s 14 Waffle House locations.

Tampa will be warm. We know this. That’s a criteria for a bowl location that many don’t meet. Yeah, I’m looking at you, New York.

Plus, Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium is the opposite of a dump. San Diego County Credit Union Stadium, the host of the Holiday Bowl, is more than showing its 51 years. Now, take away the three hours of the game and San Diego sails past Tampa as a tourist destination, unless you’re considering the time and expense of getting there.

All the previous Outback Bowl experience won’t matter a bit to Iowa players who have been to none or one. If you’re a red-hot Hawkeye fan who goes to the bowl no matter where it is, you’ve either grown to love Tampa-St. Pete like your second home or your immune system has built quite a tolerance for it.

Iowa ties Michigan for most Outback appearances with six. Which is six more than Minnesota or Nebraska or Indiana. So that’s something.

At least the opponent is new. Mississippi State is one of seven SEC teams Iowa has never faced. That includes Alabama and Georgia. If you watched the SEC title game Saturday, you might conclude that’s not a bad thing.

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Mississippi State is either good or disguised as such. The Bulldogs closed the season with two routs, 52-6 over Arkansas and 35-3 over Ole Miss. They have outscored their opponents by a whopping 349-144 and have outgained their foes by 133.6 yards per game. They lead the nation in fewest points per game allowed with a mere 12.

Here’s the rub: In the losses to Florida, Kentucky, LSU and Alabama — arguably the four best teams on their schedule — they were outscored by a total of 84-13.

Those were four games with no more than seven points or 260 yards. Hey Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker, how do you like getting 30 days to prepare for that?

Iowa State, meanwhile, got everything it could want with an 8-4 record. The Alamo Bowl is the best destination/bowl environment Cyclone football has had in its 14-bowl history. It’s not even close, really.

San Antonio doesn’t have Memphis’ music, but it checks off a lot more other boxes starting with two biggies: Better weather and an indoor stadium within walking distance of the tourist-magnet Riverwalk. Fun.

The bowl itself has been pretty relevant for a non-New Year’s Six game. It’s where the Pac-12 puts its most attractive remaining team after the New Year’s Six bowls make their selections, and they have just one Pac-12 team, league champion Washington.

Enter Washington State, which is 10-2, 13th in the final College Football Playoff rankings, and tons of fun with Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. The Cougars average 38.3 points, which sounds daunting until you realize that puts it behind three Big 12 teams.

The Cougs, as they call themselves, lead the nation in passing offense with 379.8 yards per game. They throw 52.3 times per game. That’s different.

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WSU senior quarterback Gardner Minshew will be high on the list of players who received votes for the Heisman Trophy, but not enough to go to New York for the ceremony. Minshew has passed for 4,477 yards and 36 touchdowns in a dozen games.

Nine Cougars have at least 25 catches. Five have at least 47. Fun.

But know that the last three years, with a few weeks to prepare for WSU in their bowls, Miami, Minnesota and Michigan State combined to hold the Cougars to a sum of 49 points and won two of those three games.

The Alamo Bowl passed on West Virginia (16th in the final College Football Playoffs) in favor of No. 24 Iowa State. The bowl understands what ISU will bring besides a team that dominated West Virginia (and squeezed past Drake).

Fans. Lots and lots and lots of fans. Air Raid meets Cyclone Raid, in prime-time. Fun.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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