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College football

FSU greases UF's path into Outback

By FRANK PASTOR and ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published December 5, 2005

TAMPA - Florida's disdain for Florida State is as plain as the punches the teams exchanged during their most recent meeting.

Yet when Outback Bowl-bound Gators coach Urban Meyer makes out his thank-you notes, don't be surprised if Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden is near the top of his list.

Florida State's 27-22 win over then-No.5 Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game Saturday, coupled with Florida's 34-7 victory over the Seminoles on Nov.26, put the Gators in the Tampa bowl for the third time in four seasons.

No.16 Florida plays No.25

Iowa on Jan.2 at Raymond James Stadium in a rematch of the 2004 Outback Bowl, which the Hawkeyes won 37-17.

"Florida looks even better with the Florida State-Virginia Tech win," Outback Bowl president and CEO Jim McVay said. "When you look at that, it really was a convincing win (for Florida) over Florida State."

The teams will split the $5.7-million payout. The matchup hinged on the outcome of conference title games and wasn't finalized until 2:30-3 p.m. Sunday, after No.21 Wisconsin was chosen by Orlando's Capital One Bowl.

After receiving recommendations from its selection committee, the Outback Bowl's board of directors made the final decision based on records, rankings, fan interest, television ratings potential and appeal to the title sponsor.

Florida had the whole package, McVay said, and wins over FSU and Southeastern Conference champion Georgia made the Gators an easy pick over Louisiana State, which fell 34-14 in the SEC title game Saturday.

"That was a pretty good beating by Georgia," McVay said. "I can't say that was the absolute key thing that pushed us away, but I think some people saw that game, and it probably weighed heavily in Florida's favor. Was it the precipitating incident? I don't know that."

For Florida (8-3), the invitation is a great opportunity to stay close to home and a potential boost to recruiting. Playing in a January bowl carries much more prestige than the Dec.30 Independence Bowl, where the Gators likely were headed if the Outback hadn't selected them.

"The minute I heard, other than my wife, the phone calls I made were to recruits because I think it's critical that the players know that as soon as possible," Meyer said. "When you say Jan.1, Jan.2, and you say the Outback Bowl, and then you say you're playing against a team with a great reputation like Iowa, it's all positive."

The Gators will practice until Dec.21, then take some days off for the holiday before arriving in Tampa, clearly an advantage over the Iowa team that will have to travel much farther.

But then Iowa (7-4) already has come a long way to play in its fourth straight January bowl. The Hawkeyes bounced back from consecutive losses to Michigan and Northwestern - they squandered a 13-point lead in the final two minutes in losing to the Wildcats 28-27 - to beat Wisconsin and Minnesota.

"I really feel as good about this season with the road we traveled and where we ended up as about any season since I've been here," Kirk Ferentz, in his sixth year as Iowa coach, said.

Though the teams haven't played this season and have met three times, Florida co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison knows all about the Big Ten school. That's because his son, Bryan, is a defensive end for the Hawkeyes.

"We may have to turn Florida in to the NCAA," Ferentz said, joking. "You're not allowed to scout anymore, and rumor has it one of their coaches (Mattison) has seen two of our games this year in person."

Tickets sold out within a day and a half the last time the teams met, McVay said.

UF COMMITMENT: Berkeley Prep offensive lineman Jim Barrie committed to Florida during his official visit to Gainesville. He chose the Gators over FSU, Michigan, Notre Dame and Tennessee. "I'm real excited," Barrie said. "It's not a team, it's a family up there and that's what I want to be apart of. (Meyer) was real excited. He told me to start getting ready." Barrie (6 feet 5, 310 pounds) is rated by rivals100.com as the state's 27th-best prospect.

--Times staff writer Keith Niebuhr contributed to this report.

[Last modified December 5, 2005, 03:00:29]


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