TAMPA — In a break from tradition, the Outback Bowl is looking to the West — the SEC West.
Bowl officials extended invitations Sunday to the LSU Tigers (9-3) and Big Ten’s Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4), who will meet in the Jan. 1 game at Raymond James Stadium.
LSU is making its first appearance in Tampa since the 1988 season — when it was known as the Hall of Fame Bowl — and it lost against Syracuse 23-10.
“It’s always good to circulate the inventory and the fact that LSU hasn’t been to Tampa in 25 years I think will make their fans really eager to experience our game,” Outback Bowl executive director Jim McVay said.
“We know about Iowa and their fans. We think this matchup is going to be great for the hospitality industry in Tampa Bay and it’s going to be great on the field as well. These are two good, well-coached teams that are ascending, feeling good about themselves and they want to go out with a win.”
Traditionally, the Outback selects a team from the SEC East for geographic reasons. Since the conference split into divisions in 1992, an SEC West team had only been chosen three times before Sunday: Auburn in 1996 and 2010 and Alabama in 1997.
But with the SEC East having a down year — neither Florida nor Tennessee was bowl eligible — LSU became the logical pick. Beginning this season, the SEC league office has become more involved in the placing of its teams to bowl games.
LSU has become an annual powerhouse, having won national championships following the 2003 and 2007 seasons.
The Tigers also played for the 2011 national title, under Les Miles, but lost 21-0 against Alabama and finished 13-1.
This season, LSU was the only team to defeat Auburn, which will play Florida State for the BCS championship. LSU defeated Auburn 35-21, while also registering victories against Texas A&M (34-10) and TCU (37-27).
Meanwhile, Iowa is making its fourth Outback Bowl appearance, all with Kirk Ferentz, defeating Florida in 2004 and South Carolina in 2009. The Hawkeyes, who were 4-8 last season and didn’t qualify for a bowl, arrive with a three-game winning streak, including a 38-17 victory at Nebraska.
The last bowl-game meeting between Iowa and LSU was unforgettable. It was Jan. 1, 2005 at Orlando’s Capital One Bowl. With LSU coach Nick Saban already announcing he was headed to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, his finale ended in shocking fashion. Iowa won 30-25 as time expired on a 56-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass from Drew Tate to Warren Holloway.