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Tampa trip almost too good to believe
For Iowa, especially its numerous area products, the Outback Bowl is a thrilling destination.
By FRANK PASTOR
Published December 27, 2005
TAMPA - Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz had plenty of time to think about his team's dwindling bowl prospects during the long bus ride home from Northwestern after a 28-27 loss Nov.5 dropped the Hawkeyes to 5-4.
He never would have imagined Iowa would be invited to play in the Outback Bowl little more than a month later.
"After that game, we probably would have signed on for any bowl that would have taken us," Ferentz said. "I probably would have signed in blood that evening. I'm glad that we didn't, but at that point there were all kinds of things racing through all of our minds."
As his team began preparations Monday at Jefferson High School for its Jan.2 game against Florida, Ferentz and his players sounded thrilled to be ending their season in Tampa.
Particularly those who call the area home.
"It's great to be home," said sophomore linebacker Chris Brevi, a former Armwood player who is sidelined with a foot injury. "It's something every college player I'm sure dreams of. To go through (a January bowl) all three of my years I've been here, I can't ask for anything any better than that."
Besides Brevi, Iowa defensive backs Antwan Allen (Armwood) and Marcus Paschal (Largo), running back Kalvin Bailey (Armwood) and defensive lineman Ettore Ewen (Wharton) played their high school ball in the bay area.
Because Iowa arrived in Tampa on Dec.24, most took advantage of the opportunity to spend Christmas with family and friends.
Defensive back Jovon Johnson, wide receiver Clinton Solomon and linebacker Edmond Miles were among a handful of players who accompanied Allen to his grandmother's home, where they enjoyed a big breakfast and lunch.
"I saw (family) the last two days," Allen said. "But now it's time to get even more focused, and they understand that."
Iowa stayed in Iowa City for Christmas in 2003 before traveling to Miami for the Orange Bowl. But after conferring with its seniors, the team decided to leave early for Tampa so it could spend the holiday together. The traveling party enjoyed Christmas dinner, and even Santa made an appearance.
"I think the consensus was and continues to be they'd rather be together on Christmas," Ferentz said. "That was our thought; get down here, it gives us a chance to get our feet on the ground and, most importantly, we're all here together."
Tampa was the last place Ferentz expected to be after losses to Michigan and Northwestern - in which Iowa blew a 13-point lead in the final two minutes - dropped the Hawkeyes off most bowls' radar. But they bounced back to beat Wisconsin and Minnesota in their final two games.
"I think the key thing probably was the leaders on our team," Ferentz said. "After that day was over and we came back in on Sunday, I think the leaders chose to look forward rather than backward, and we really didn't dwell on the circumstances in terms of what our record was or that we were going to walk into two tough situations. We knew we had two tough challenges ahead of us and just got back onto focusing on what we could do to get back into winning ways."
Iowa has fond memories of Tampa after defeating Florida 37-17 in the 2004 Outback Bowl. But players and coaches were quick to point out that Urban Meyer's Gators are considerably different from the 2004 squad coached by Ron Zook.
"We're not going to sneak up on them like I think we did the last time," Iowa linebacker Abdul Hodge said. "I think they kind of took us for granted, but this time we know we've got our hands full."
Meyer, whose squad (8-3) defeated Atlantic Coast Conference champion Florida State and SEC champion Georgia, expects a balanced matchup.
"Iowa is a physical outfit," Meyer said from the University of Tampa, where the team set up camp Monday. "I think it's classic Big Ten vs. SEC. I think the whole country is excited to watch. I've watched them play. You're going to hear this consistently because it's true, but they are a very physical offensive and defensive line. And their linebackers are as good as they say. I think it's a great matchup, two evenly matched teams."