By Todd Brommelkamp/KGYMRadio
When it comes to postseason destinations for the Iowa football team, the Outback Bowl is like a pair of perfectly worn tennis shoes. The kind you slip on and have instantly conform to the contours of your feet.
That may or may not be a good thing for the bowl and foootball fans looking to escape the freezing temps the Hawkeye State traditionally endures in late December.
Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta told reporters Tuesday night that the Outback and Holiday appear to be the two most likely bowl destinations for the Hawkeyes when bids are announced Sunday. That immediately sparked discussion among fans who had locked in on San Diego and the Holiday following Iowa’s 31-28 win over Nebraska last week.
I was there. I saw how happy the red jacket-clad Holiday rep was when Miguel Recinos’ game-winning kick sailed through the uprights. That is a bowl game that desperately wants to get its hands on Hawks and, if we’re being perfectly blunt here, their wallets.
With good reason, too. The Hawks haven’t hit up San Diego since 1991 when Hayden Fry delivered a swarm of black and gold bumblebees for the third and final time. It’s a game Iowa has a history with and one an entire generation of fans have yet to experience.
Meanwhile, the Outback has hosted the Hawkeyes five times between 2003 and 2016.
Much like those old tennis shoes, sooner or later you realize that all the things you like about them are also reasons to shop around for new ones.
Iowa fans who have made the trip to Tampa for previous Outback Bowls can probably recite the schedule of events from memory at this point. The players and opponents may change but very little else does, which isn’t a knock on the Outback. It’s a well-run bowl game that takes care of everyone who attends it from coaches and players to the fans and, yes, the media.
There’s the day at Clearwater Beach (and the traffic snarl that accompanies it), there’s the New Year’s Eve parade in Ybor City, and, of course, lots of references to Bloomin’ Onions.
The Outback Bowl is, ironically enough, like your favorite chain restaurant. You go there because you like familiarity and the menu is the same from state to state, in much the same way the bowl and its events are essentially unchanged from year to year.
Sooner or later though, you find yourself tempted to try something new.
That something new this year is San Diego and the Holiday Bowl and it may not happen if the Outback has a chance to select Iowa. Under the Big Ten’s current contract with the game it will receive five different teams over six years. Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan have taken the field at Raymond James Stadium over the course of the current agreement, meaning this year or next the bowl could opt to bring back a familiar face.
Assuming Ohio State beats Northwestern Saturday in the Big Ten title game the Buckeyes will either be in the College Football Playoff or, at worst, locked into the Rose Bowl. Michigan seems locked into a New Years Six appearance and Penn State is No. 12 in the current poll, meaning the Nittany Lions would be eligible for selection as well.
That, in theory, puts the Citrus Bowl in play for the Hawkeyes, though Barta acknowledged Tuesday a lot of things need to happen for Iowa to return to Orlando for the first time since Drew Tate hit a streaking Warren Holloway in the 2005 game (then known as the Capital One Bowl).
The Wildcats and Hawkeyes will be among the most attractive teams available to the Outback, which selects after the Citrus, and with both having played in the game they won’t be obligated to take one over the other. There will likely be some political pressure from Jim Delany and the Big Ten conference to prevent a division-winning Northwestern team from sliding too far down in the pecking order.
The final call, though, will rest with the bowl committee in Tampa and that group is going to take the Hawks and the larger fan base over NU’s 99 times out of 100 if left to its own devices.
I’ve covered every Outback Bowl the Hawks have played in and while there may have been some “fatigue” with Tampa in 2016 that had more to do with the Hawks failing to follow up on a Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl berth from the year before.
It should be noted that perhaps things are different a couple years later. While not scientific by any means, a Twitter poll I conducted yesterday revealed about 2/3 of fans who voted would prefer the Hawks playing a Pac-12 opponent in San Diego rather than facing an SEC squad in Tampa for the sixth time under Kirk Ferentz.
California costs more than a trip to Florida but the relative newness of the Holiday Bowl seems to have piqued the interested of Hawkeye Nation this time around.
Which ultimately means Iowa fans should probably brace for Tampa.
Last season, despite a relatively disappointing regular season, there seemed to be some excitement about a possible Music City Bowl bid. The Hawks, however, wound up in sub-freezing New York City and the Pinstripe Bowl.
I mentioned earlier how well the Outback Bowl treats everyone in attendance. This is true. I’ve covered every bowl game of the Ferentz era and while experiences vary across the board for all involved, the folks in Tampa are a class all their own. And, if the Hawks do wind up paired with an SEC foe for the sixth time in Tampa, I’ll share more on that in the future.
We’ll all find out together Sunday afternoon.