TAMPA — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz always expects a warm welcome from the Outback Bowl. Once again, Thursday’s trip to Tampa did not disappoint.
One night earlier in Iowa City, the temperature was minus-5 degrees.
“It took me about 15 minutes to get my car started,’’ Ferentz said.
The morning temperature was 7.
By mid-afternoon, when Ferentz arrived for the bowl’s contract-signing party, when he entered Raymond James Stadium amid palm trees and bright sunshine, it was 72.
“Well, as always, this is a great destination,’’ Ferentz said. “We are excited to be here today. And we are determined to put on a great show.’’
When Ferentz returns to Tampa on Dec. 24, when the Hawkeyes (8-4) begin their on-site preparations for the New Year’s Day game against the SEC’s LSU Tigers (9-3), the mood will shift to all-business.
Iowa has been bowl-eligible in 12 of the last 13 seasons. The only non-bowl season was 2012 – and it was a bitter 4-8 finish.
“Traditionally, our fan base treats these bowl games like another family vacation,’’ Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said. “So last year, I guess we ruined a lot of family vacations. Last year wasn’t any fun.
“You can never predict your record, but we knew that we had a chance to be much, much better. By the end of the season, I think we were playing about as well as anybody in the country. So we’d like to finish this thing on a high note.’’
Finding a way to defeat LSU? That will be the focus in a few weeks.
Thursday was more about fun.
It was a chance to celebrate the accomplishments of each team, share food and drink with about 1,000 of the locals and promote interest in the matchup.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron represented LSU in the absence of head coach Les Miles, who stayed behind to watch his son participate in the Louisiana state high-school football playoffs.
Iowa has a history of success in Tampa, having gone 2-1 in previous Outback Bowls, including a 37-17 victory against Florida in 2004 and a 31-10 triumph against South Carolina in 2009.
There was also a madcap rally in the 2006 game, when the Hawkeyes scored 17 fourth-quarter points, but fell just short of Florida, 31-24.
“We like being here,’’ Ferentz said. “We feel comfortable here. We love the stadium and the hospitality. So when we got the call (from the Outback Bowl), we were definitely excited.’’
Ferentz expressed deep respect for LSU, the only team to defeat SEC champion Auburn, which will face top-ranked Florida State in the BCS Championship Game in January.
LSU beat Auburn 35-21 on Sept. 21.
“LSU is up there right at the top in the nation every year for what seems like forever,’’ Ferentz said.
But LSU is also wary of Iowa.
“They’re a red-hot program right now,’’ Cameron said. “They have our attention.’’
Iowa’s four losses came against teams with a combined 45-6 record (Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin).
If the Outback Bowl lives up to the only other Iowa-LSU matchup in history – the Hawkeyes’ final play victory on a 56-yard touchdown pass at the 2005 Capital One Bowl – it will be a game to remember.