Howe: This Bowl Bid Does Iowa No Favors

Iowa fans hoping for something to excited about when the bowl bids were announced on Sunday were let down when their Hawkeyes were matched up for 6-6 Tennessee. It's not a meeting likely to spark much interest going forward, either, writes HI Publisher and Columnist, Rob Howe.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - The hyperbole ran rampant here on Sunday night when it was announced that Iowa would be playing Tennessee in a January bowl game located in Florida. Put that way, it sounded special.

It's not. It's college football 2014 where average is rewarded.

The narrative began developing shortly after this match-up became public. It pitted two storied schools in a historic postseason event.

True, these are two proud programs. And, yes, the Gator Bowl kicked off in 1946 and has hosted some dandies.

Well, in reality, the Old Gray Mares, they ain't what they used to be.

It's no longer called the Gator Bowl. The marquee highlights a sponsor that has something to do with taxes. Whether they prepare returns or levy tariffs isn't worth researching.

The Hawkeyes stumbled into the contest at 7-5, losers of three of their last four games. They dropped all four trophy games this fall, three of them at home, and failed to defeat an FBS team with a winning record.

Tennessee squeezed into a 13th game by splitting its first 12. It reached its first bowl game since '10 by a hair, or, more precisely, a 24-17 home win against 3-9 Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale.

Admittedly, the postseason means the most to right people - the players. These kids work their tails off year-round in the classroom and weight room and on the field. They deserve a great experience after risking life and limb for four and five years. May their swag be merry and bright.

For the program, however, playing in bowl game against another underachiever fails to mask the bitter taste in the mouths of Hawkeye fans who dreamed of a championship. It's been a decade, after all, and the conditions proved ripe for ending the drought.

Attempts to hide behind the refrain that there are no bad bowl games is tired, yet it was uttered here again Sunday night. Ten out of 14 Big Ten teams received a postseason bid. That's hardly a unique accomplishment.

The "January Bowl" achievement has lost some luster as well. Sure the Four-Team playoff is scheduled in the new year but so are the GoDaddy, Birmingham and Armed Forces Bowls.

The Hawkeyes needed an intriguing postseason partner to perk up an apathetic fan base. Arkansas and former Iowa player and assistant Bret Bielema would have provided that. Maybe a tussle with USC or Stanford in San Diego or San Francisco would have sparked interest.

Instead, Iowa heads back to Florida, where it's been seven times in the last 13 years. Jacksonville ranks down the list of the state's winter vacation hot spots with January temperatures averaging at a high of 64 and low of 45.

Perhaps Vols fans will flock to see their team play again. It's just hard to imagine them being thrilled with a .500 regular season. We're talking about a state where football is king and the program owns six national championships.

Tennessee hasn't won more than seven games in a season since 2007. A win against the fourth-place team in the Big Ten West will not result in cartwheels.

You can see what the Jacksonville event is going for here. Even when their teams are, at best, average, the fans are passionate, faithful and follow. That notion will be tested Jan. 2.

A cursory search for round-trip plane tickets from Cedar Rapids to Jacksonville, leaving Dec. 27 and returning Jan. 3, show a price of about $850. Tack on hotel, ground transportation, food and entertainment, that's a sizable an investment.

The Hawkeyes will receive support. Their incredibly loyal fan base will squeeze out a loud rooting section better than most. Again, one would hope that's the case for the players.

As linebacker Quinton Alston said here Sunday night, they shield themselves from the negative sentiments swirling around their coaches right now. They're too busy to get wrapped up in the drama.

But the natives are restless. That's apparent in slumping attendance at Kinnick Stadium. Reaction on social media, message boards and talk radio comes across as overwhelming dissatisfaction with the program and its leadership.

In the last several days, AD Gary Barta uncharacteristically went to the media with public votes of confidence for long-time head coach Kirk Ferentz. That's a red flag of worry that more seats will be empty next season.

Barta and Ferentz said the right things here on Sunday night. They're keeping on a positive face to drum up interest in this game and promote positivity for their program. It's just unlikely to happen before next fall.

Iowa captains Alston, Brandon Scherff and Louis Trinca-Pasat looked focused Sunday. They were champing at the bit to get back on the field and wash the bad taste of November out of their mouths.

Ferentz and Barta are relying on them. A win against tepid Tennessee won't return the good vibrations for fans but a loss would create even more unrest. This bowl bid does them the Hawkeyes no favors.


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