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Hawkeyes land berth in Outback Bowl

No.13 Iowa makes first trip to Tampa bowl, faces No. 17 Florida for the second time.

Published December 8, 2003

The Tampa Bay area will be filled with Hawkeyes this bowl season.

The Iowa Hawkeyes face the Florida Gators in the Outback Bowl, officials announced Sunday afternoon. The game will be held at 11 a.m. on New Year's Day at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

It will be the second meeting between the schools and first appearance for Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Florida received its official invitation Wednesday, but had to wait until Sunday to learn its opponent.

"I tell you what, we've got ourselves a great, great matchup in Florida and Iowa," Outback Bowl CEO and president Jim McVay said. "This will be a classic matchup of a solid Iowa team with a big-time defense, battling a Gators team with a wide-open offense and an excellent young quarterback.

"This is going to be one of those hot games. These are two very competitive teams."

No.13 Iowa (9-3) lost to Southern Cal in the 2003 Orange Bowl. The Hawkeyes rank among the top three in the Big Ten in 12 categories, including scoring defense, rushing defense and red zone defense.

"Obviously we are very excited about the announcement," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I'm sure our players are pleased and we feel very honored to be going. ... I think it's a great compliment to our players for us to be going to back-to-back January bowl games. Hopefully it will be easier to focus on our preparation now that we know where we are going. We are playing an excellent football team in Florida. I saw them on TV a week ago against Florida State. They have a lot of great players. They are a great traditional football program. It's going to be a great challenge. It's a great location and a great opponent. You can't ask for anything more."

Iowa running back Fred Russell has rushed for 1,205 yards and six touchdowns this season, second best in the Big Ten. The team also features Outland Trophy finalist Robert Gallery and two 400-yard receivers - Ramon Ochoa and Maurice Brown. All-Big Ten kicker Nate Kaeding, a Lou Groza Award winner, leads the Big Ten with 17 of 18 field goals and 36 of 37 PATs.

No.17 Florida (8-4) is making its second straight appearance in the Outback Bowl. The only other time the teams have met was in the 1983 Gator Bowl - Florida defeated Iowa 14-6.

"We are looking forward to playing a very talented Iowa team," Florida coach Ron Zook said. "They are an experienced squad, who start nine seniors on offense and play tough defense, allowing just over 16 points a game. Kirk Ferentz, who led Iowa to the Big 10 championship a year ago, will have his team ready to play. They've had some big wins this year, including a victory against Michigan. We are looking forward to a great challenge."

Ferentz, who heavily recruited Florida quarterback Chris Leak, said playing in Tampa likely will be an advantage for the Gators, but hopes Iowa fans also will be a formidable presence.

"Hopefully our fans will be able to grab as many tickets as they can outside of our allotment," he said. "I would assume the Gator fans have grabbed as many tickets as they could this past week."

Because this is the first trip to the Tampa Bay area for Hawkeyes fans, McVay said bowl officials are expecting a strong turnout. A shipment of 15,000 tickets will be sent to the Iowa athletic department this morning and tickets locally are selling fast. According to McVay, about 1,000 tickets remain to be purchased from Ticketmaster.

"We will use up every one of them," McVay said. "We protected some tickets for them and we went out of our way to look out for the (Tampa area) hospitality industry.

"Their fans will bring a lot of enthusiasm. They'll be up and down the beaches and everywhere."

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