One reason the Gators were selected was because of tickets, and the game is already a sellout. The other reason for being selected is the fact that UF won five of it's last six games and in most people's minds should have won the sixth game (FSU). They defeated both teams in the SEC Championship and one of the two teams (LSU) who is playing in the BCS Championship Game. They also have Chris Leak, the most recognizable freshman in the country and the SEC Freshman of the Year. This will be the second time UF and Iowa will meet in a bowl game. The Gators defeated the Hawkeyes in 1983 at the Gator Bowl 14-6. (For the record I sold Pretzels at the game and it was freezing). One thing both coaches have in common is they returned to the college sidelines from the pro coaching ranks. Ron Zook coached against Ferentz in the NFL with the Steelers while Ferentz was with the Ravens. Florida will face it's seventh ranked opponent of the season, which ties a school record for the entire season.(1987,1991,2001). Florida is 7-3 all time versus the Big Ten in Bowl Games and of course lost last season's game 38-30 to Michigan.
Snippetts and Tidbits
Chris Leak will have to throw for 318 yards to break Quincy Carter's single season freshman passing record. He needs nine completions and two touchdowns to hold the lead in those categories as well. Keiwan Ratliff won defensive player of the year, becoming the third Gator to ever do it joining Alex Brown and Jevon Kearse. The Gators had 20 interceptions and that's third in the country and tied for seventh in school history. They only had seven interceptions a season ago. Remarkably UF's streak of eleven straight games with an interception ended against Chris Rix and Florida State. Just in case the Gator defensive statistics don't overwhelm you as you ready yourself for the Outback Bowl remember the Gator defense shut out LSU in there stadium. Finally, from the statistics department, the Gators held FSU to one yard rushing in the fourth quarter on nine attempts. That usually is good enough to finish off a victory (unless there are ACC Officials involved).
Bowl preparations will provide some much needed extra practice time for young players and backups but the key to success lies with the seniors. If the senior doesn't take the trip and the preparations seriously then the game will end up like last season. Having been around this senior class quite a bit I think the win in this game is more important than how much fun they can have in Tampa. Iowa is a big physical team without as many offensive weapons as Michigan of one season ago. They are well coached and sound in the kicking game. Speaking of the kicking game Ron Zook knows how to recruit a punter with Eric Wilbur being selected to the second team All-SEC by the AP. I am not sure Matt Leach should have not been at least second team. Jonathan Nichols missed two clutch FG's vs LSU in the loss and Billy Bennett missed three in the Dogs first loss. Leach kicked a 50 yarder in Death Valley in the big 19-7 win and the game winner versus Georgia in Jacksonville. For Daryl Dixon to be not even honorable mention was joke from the AP. He was the best defensive back from start to finish for the Gators this season.
This and That
Iowa is a very good running team with Fred Russell and a big offensive line. The Hawkeyes averaged 167 yards per game on the ground, however that number was down to 145 per game inside the Big Ten. Taurean Charles is practicing with the team and will be a backup linebacker in the bowl game. I think he may get a look at defensive end in the Spring but much of that experiment depends on the health of current players and who UF is able to sign. Gavin Dickey is running the second team at quarterback but he has had himself ready to play in any of the games the last month. Dickey might have gotten the call before Martin in certain situations. He is also working with the baseball team on his hitting. He is preparing for the spring and baseball season. Daryl Dixon and Matt Farrior will graduate in December.
Keith Rivers is the most talked about recruit in the state of Florida and the Gators are up against it. USC has the lead right now and the kid likes the West Coast. One interesting sidebar is Linebacker Coach Nick Holt is leaving the Trojans to become the Head Coach at Idaho. Ron Zook is in comeback mode with Rivers and remember last year he was able to convince Marcus Thomas (DL-Mandarin) to change his mind from FSU to UF and he is going to be a legitimate star. The Gators need a win against Iowa to even up their record versus Bowl Teams. UF is currently 3-4 vs Bowl Teams in 2003.
Stat of the Week: 3
This is the ranking of UF's strength of schedule according to the NCAA this season.