Not much to say. It's been, what, 15 hours since we got together last. I'm real pleased to report that nobody fell down the steps. Nobody got sick. (laughter) I don't think we've had an injuries occur during that time period. As I said yesterday, our preparation has been good. I feel good about that. I feel the guys are where they need to be at right now mentally and physically. The key for us is to keep our focus going into the ballgame. Then, needless to say, we need to play well during the ballgame. The physical work is done. It's time to go play. It's kind of an anxious time for everybody involved. That's where we're at right now. We'll go from there. We'll throw it out to questions.
How much more focused is this team as a result of what happened last year in Miami?
I think it factors in. Mainly, it wasn't so much that we lost the game but the way we lost it. We lost to an excellent football team. There's no disgrace in that. But the fact that we didn't play our best game, we didn't look like the Iowa Hawkeyes, that was certainly disappointing. I think any time you have a performance like that…those things happen. They don't always in just bowl season. They happen during the course of the regular season. Sometimes it's hard to pinpoint why. I think this year, at least in this case, there were some things that we felt we could adjust and change. That's our only hope (Thursday) is that we go out and play the kind of football game we're capable of playing. It's that way every week when we line up. We don't talk a lot about winning and losing. We talk more about playing the best that we can play. If you do that, as I said before, you get what you deserve. We got what we deserved last year. We got spanked.
When you see the performance of a Chris Leak and others around the country, do you think coaches will be more willing to use true freshmen in the future?
I was out of major college football for nine years. Coming back in '99, a lot of things have changed. But two of the biggest things were the pace of recruiting, it is totally different than it was before, and the 85- scholarship rule has dramatically changed the landscape of college football. In the old days it was almost assumed that you were going to redshirt most of your guys. Now, it's almost the other way around. You get them in camp in the preseason and you see how they're adjusting on the field and also socially, academically and those types of things. Yeah, it's gets a lot more realistic. You see it nationally now, a lot of guys playing as true freshmen. To see a guys like Chris Leak play with the poise and composure that he has at that position as a true freshman, that's very, very impressive and very unusual.
What does it mean to your players to receive they fan support they did last year in the Orange Bowl and again here this year?
Again, I draw back to my experiences in the ‘80s. Our fans have always known how to enjoy a bowl game. They enjoy it as much as anybody. They travel well. They like to get into the towns and really enjoy the surroundings and spend a little money and have some fun. And they'll certainly be vocal in the stadium. We can count on that. So, that's one of the unique things that we enjoy at Iowa. When we travel around the Big Ten and other away games, if our fans can get tickets, they're going to be there and be supportive. You go back a year ago at Minnesota. We had over half the Dome filled up with Iowa people. It's a great boost for our guys. That's one of the things that makes us so unique is the fan base, the loyalty of our fans in good times and bad times. They're really tough to beat.
You had 13 penalties in Miami last year. You talk about being uncharacteristic. How much do you have to size up the mental side of things, especially coming off a gap since you last played?
Again, we didn't work a heck of a lot more than we did last year. But I think we're a little more intense about workouts this year. Those are the things that get you beat in regular season games, in bowl games. Special teams, you tend to see mistakes that way. If you don't play smart with turnovers and penalties and those kinds of things (hurt you). The key to our football team, if we're not sharp in those areas, we're not going to have a very good chance to beat a good opponent. A lot of it is concentration. I think we're in better shape than we were last year. We'll find out (on Thursday). I feel good today, at least, knowing that we're better prepared than maybe we were last year.
A follow-up on an earlier question – Do you think the freshmen coming now are more advanced or do you think they just have a better opportunity than they had in the past?
It's probably a combination of both. Kids are growing up faster now. That's the same as our kids at home. They're growing up faster than they did 10 years ago. Coaching has gotten better at all levels, especially at the high school levels. We're just seeing improved play everywhere. And the mindset is that it's a little bit more common. Players are thinking more along those lines. And certainly coaches are. You can just look across the country and more and more freshmen are playing than every before. It's probably a combination of all of those factors.
How much does playing in back-to-back January 1st bowls help the Iowa program, not to mention the first game of the day on New Year's Day?
We're excited about that. It's nice to have a captive audience in terms of it being on national TV. ESPN has been great to us the last few years. It was a major goal for us to go to Pasadena like everybody in the Big Ten. You're always playing for a championship if you're a member institution in a conference. That being said, it didn't work out. We were in the race in November and stubbed our toe. To end up in a very prestigious bowl like this in such a great environment, we're thrilled to death. It would be even better if we could pull off a win somehow. It's just been a great experience for us. I think we're starting to gain more credibility across the nation than we did a couple of years ago.