Outback Bowl, New Year’s Day, 1 p.m., ESPN
Iowa (8-4, 5-3) — Kirk Ferentz’s squad was 0-4 against the AP Top 25 this season, but still managed eight victories with an opportunity at No. 9 — the most since the Hawkeyes finished 11-2 with a BCS Bowl win during the 2009 campaign. Since becoming Iowa’s coach in 1999, Ferentz has led the Hawkeyes to a 6-4 bowl record with a 3-1 mark against the SEC in the Outback and Capital One games.
Related: Complete SEC bowl schedule
THE SKINNY: Iowa’s taking the all-business approach into Tampa against Les Miles and the Tigers, much like it has done the last several years against teams from college football’s power conference. The Hawkeyes are coming off what was arguably their best win of the season, a 38-17 thumping in Lincoln over Bo Pelini’s Nebraska Cornhuskers. Iowa’s won three straight heading into the Outback Bowl and its only losses this season were Michigan St., Ohio State, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois — teams who were all ranked in the Top 15 at some point this fall. The defense’s 18.8 points per game against is 11th-best in the country.
KEY PLAYER: Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock will have to make plays to upend the Tigers and at his best, the sophomore passer’s been reliable as a first-year starter. He does have a tendency to force balls into coverage and LSU’s secondary is among the SEC’s most talented. Rudock’s 12 interceptions is a cause for concern against a unit that finished just behind Alabama and Florida as the conference’s best against the pass.
WHAT TO WATCH: How will LSU fare on offense without Zach Mettenberger? He’s another star SEC quarterback sidelined with a knee injury this bowl season which certainly takes away from the wow factor of this matchup. Freshman Anthony Jennings will get the start and most of his work will be handing off to 1,100-yard tailback Jeremy Hill. When LSU runs the football with purpose, it usually wins, but Iowa’s defense is stout. The Hawkeyes give up just over 300 yards per game, seventh nationally. A big run or two early should open up Cam Cameron’s playbook through the air in the direction of wideouts Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.
FINAL SAY: LSU would solidify its fourth consecutive 10-win season with a victory, but bowl performance has been fickle in recent years for Miles and his staff. Since beating Georgia Tech by five touchdowns in 2008, the Tigers are 1-3 in bowl games including last season’s nightmarish one-point loss to Clemson. It’s not that LSU has lacked motivation, but its offense has been stagnant against quality competition. Iowa’s good enough defensively to make this one a game and if the Hawkeyes can shut down the run, Ferentz’s group will challenge in Tampa.
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