Needless to say we are extremely thrilled. Our team is excited, they must know by now. I am very thrilled and proud of the football team. It's a great tribute to our guys. When you think of the distance the team has traveled since that lost in Evanston, that was a heartbreaking loss. We told the guys the next day that it knocked us out of the league title picture, but precedent had been set that we had a shot at a January bowl. I don't know that any of us saw this happening the way it did. Our team did a great job of getting off the mat after those two tough losses. I would be remiss if I did not recognize our fans. The fact that we are going to Tampa is a reflection of the job our team has done in bowls, and the way our fans support our team through this season. They have been great during our four bowl trips and they will do great for this one. We are thrilled to be going to the Outback Bowl. The people down there were fantastic two years ago and we are honored they took us. We have a huge challenge on our hands playing an excellent Florida team. We could not be more excited.
Q: When did you find out that you were going to the Outback Bowl?
Kirk Ferentz: I am not the head of the posse on this one. I got a call from Bob late in the afternoon. We had a sense this morning that something might be brewing. We got a call around three o'clock where it looked like things were going that direction, but you are never quite sure. We were in suspense like everyone else.
Q: How does it feel to basically jump over Michigan to get this invitation?
Ferentz: We feel good jumping anyone right now. Just to be playing in January. That being said, we would have been thrilled to go to San Antonio. We have had great experiences in both cities, and both bowl committees have been first class. We are thrilled about it, to answer your question. I think when you consider the way the season went and where we had to come from the last few weeks, it makes it that much better. It's a great reward for them, one they worked hard for and I know they are excited about another opportunity to play one more game together.
Q: Are you excited to play against Chris Leak again?
Ferentz: We are not as excited about that part. He is an excellent player. We knew that during his freshmen year when we played them, he has a few more years of experience. They have a great scheme with Coach Meyer being down there; he has added a lot to the program. We are talking about a team that has beaten two BCS teams already this season, so they are an excellent football team. We will have our work cut out. They have the home field advantage. On a side note, we might have to turn them into the NCAA. Rumor has it that one of their coaches has scouted us twice this year and that is not legal. But I think that Greg Mattison has been spotted in our bleachers a couple of times. I think he had our tickets. There might be an investigation on that one.
Q: Have you seen much of them this year?
Ferentz: Not really. I watched a little bit of the Florida State game on Thanksgiving weekend. I saw bits and pieces of their Vanderbilt game and maybe a game or two along the way. When we are in season, I really don't…quite frankly, a week ago or two weeks ago when they did play Florida State, I watched a little but it was not like I thought we would be playing them. You never know how things will shake out.
Q: What are the advantages of playing in a bowl that you have already been to?
Ferentz: I think it's nice. It's like your second year on the job. You have more of an idea on what to expect and a great comfort level. The nice thing, if I am correct, we will be in the same hotel, the same practice facility and a lot of the people we met down there before are still involved with the game. It's nice, because we had such a great experience there. Our fans did, too. To me, it's a win-win situation. We are really excited to be going back there.
Q: What are your thoughts on this being a rematch of the 2004 Outback Bowl?
Ferentz: That last game is ancient history at this point. A lot of things have changed for both sides. The only think that I think is probably consistent is that they are the home team. They are not far from their campus. That gives them a little advantage that way. When you play in January, you know you will be playing a great opponent, and when you play Florida, you know they are very talented team with great coaching. We will have our work cut out.
Q: Talk about Florida Coach Urban Meyer and his reputation as an offensive guru.
Ferentz: Everywhere he has been they have moved the ball and scored a lot of points. The little that I have seen of them, they talked about the transition. Those always take a little time; that is how that goes. You beat teams like Georgia, Florida State the way they did and that last one was pretty convincing, I would say the transition has been made. Defensively, Coach Strong is still there, their defensive coordinator. I know they are going to play great defense. I know Greg Mattison, I have great respect for him not only as a person and a parent, but as a coach. He is tremendous. We except to see that from Florida.
Q: What about your offense and how it has hit its stride
Ferentz: I think our whole football team…the most important thing outside of our fan support that factored into this, is that we played our best football the last two weeks of the season. We had to play our best or we were in serious trouble. Our players grew immensely the last couple of weeks. We are proud of that. It's great to see their efforts get rewarded.
Q: Do you expect a big fan turnout from Iowa?
Ferentz: My sense is, and this goes back to my first introduction in the 1980‘s; I don't think our fans get tired of traveling. The experience was so good in Tampa, it felt like a Midwestern city if you will, except there was better weather in January. Everyone I talked with had a great time down there. I travel to different functions around the state, and everyone was very enthusiastic about that and had a great experience every place we have been, but we can expect great support down there. Our players greatly appreciate that.
Q: What does it mean for the program to be going to your fourth-straight January bowl game?
Ferentz: It's very important. One thing we talk to our guys about is consistency. A goal of ours is to play at the highest possible level in our conference. Some years work out better than others. This year, it was disappointing to lose those two games the way we did, but we felt that we were extremely close. I think that our players took that message to heart after the second loss, in particular. A lot of people were questioning our team at that point and we didn't want our players to question themselves. We had to keep our focus straight ahead and get better, and they did that. If you look a the body of work, when we were 5-4 its tougher to see the big picture. But now, over the last four years, we have played as well as anyone in our conference and that is something that our players can be proud of. I imagine that factored into the selection as well. We want to be a program tht is consistent and I think our players want to be known as guys that show up each and every week and each and every season and play well. That is always first and foremost in our minds.
Q: Is it a selling point for recruiting?
Ferentz: I think it helps. We try to put that message out there, but first you have to back it up. At 5-4, the first thing was bowl eligible. Most important was to get our players feeling good about themselves again. We were glad we were able to do that, and the way that our guys finished the season, they can feel great about that. It helps recruiting. When you do well on the field, it helps. My personal belief is that doing things the right way has its rewards and hopefully that does trickle into recruiting.
Q: How will your workout schedule be impacted by not knowing your bowl game until so late in the process?
Ferentz: What this does, the schedule is unique…we had a schedule formulated worst case being the 28th, not that it was the worst game, but the first game. It would have been a tighter squeeze to get things done. The next thing was the 30th, and we had one set for January 2nd, too. It will be foreign territory for us, and we will finish finals and still have two calendar weeks before the ball game. We won't have to do much during finals week, and you hate to do that anyway. We will still work on fundamentals up until finals and have two weeks to get ready for the ball game. We will be very careful not to over practice. There is a temptation to do that if you are not careful. You get to the middle of the second week and the guys could be tired and bored with the game plan. But I do like the way the schedule lays out. It gives us an opportunity to prepare smartly. Tentatively, we will go down on the 24th, getting down there before the holiday so we are not moving around on Christmas. At least that way we can all be together for the holiday.
Q: Does this soften any of the ‘what ifs' that might have haunted you from this season?
Ferentz: I am not great on that what if stuff. I would be lying if I said I had not done it, and I am sure that every coach and player has played that game a little bit privately, but that is counterproductive. Once that game was over, we analyzed, it was apparent what we did and did not do right after the game. Once Monday rolled around, we put our eyes forward to do something to help our situation. You get a loss, you get a loss and you have to move on and try to do what you can the reset of the season. I think our guys did a great job with that. Even now, I don't like to do that too much, is worry about it. The good news is that we have been able to rebound out of it. I cannot say enough about the way our guys finished strong. Our crowds have been great all season, but boy they were super when we came back here for the Minnesota game and our players were ready to go. Right now, we have an opportunity to hopefully win an eighth ball game, but it will be a great challenge. But the goods is that we are better equipped to take on a big challenge than we were a month ago.
Q: Do you have a concern with offensive timing with such a long layoff?
Ferentz: We learned a little bit of that in 2002 over a span of six weeks from the end of the season until the game. It's like anything else, if things don't work out the way you want you look at it. We have a better formula for getting ready for a bowl game now. We are pretty comfortable for the most part. It's unique this year with that two-week span, but it gives us a great opportunity to keep our guys sharp. At the end of the year, you have to be careful to not over practice. We have to be careful there and do what it takes to keep them sharp. We don't want them to be razor sharp on December 20th, that is not the objective. But we will try to be smart about it.
Q: Do you think the BCS got it right this year?
Ferentz: Most people could have gotten it right this time. It looks like it worked out well, at least for the 1-2 game. I don't think there is any controversy. It was a great opportunity for me to congratulate Penn State being the Big Ten champions this year. One man's opinion, I think that Penn State could play well against a lot of people. You have two undefeated teams that have earned the right to play each other. That is great. Penn State, they are a great team this year. Oregon would be the one that could argue, but you will have those debates without a playoff system. But as the system is now, in my opinion, I think we have a good system. I think it's good for the body of schools involved. I kind of like it the way that it is.
Q: How important will this month be for the younger players?
Ferentz: It's just invaluable this month. It gives us a great opportunity for guys to continue to work. It's different to have shoulder pads and helmets on as opposed to working in shorts. It's a good learning experience to see how things are supposed to be. Besides the practice time, see how all of our older guys prepare for a bowl game, those types of things. There are a lot of benefits from it. It's helpful for the development of younger players. That is a real benefit and we did not want to lose that. There are other bigger reasons to be bowl eligible.
Q: How do you keep them focused?
Ferentz: I think our guys understand when we do practice, we like to practice. Some days are designed differently. When we have a work day, we want them to work. We lost a little focus in 2002, quite frankly. I think we got caught up in our own success that year and that starts with me. I did not do a good job of keeping the team focused. I think we learned from that, and in our program, we make mistakes like everyone else and we try to learn from them. Our older guys understand. The bottom line is that you are here to play your last game, and you want to leave here feeling that you played your best game. That was the hard part of the Orange Bowl. You win some and you lose some, but we did not play the way we were capable of playing; that was hard to live with. The older guys have passed that down. Guys like Hodge and Greenway remember that as much as anyway.
Q: What was your initial reaction when you learned you were going to the Outback Bowl?
Ferentz: I was pretty happy. It looked like yesterday that Ohio State was going to be in the BCS, and we felt that way all week long. Bob knows more of those details than I do. But it looked like they were in and we could not lose. We have had great experiences in San Antonio and Tampa. For obvious reasons, playing in January and against a team like Florida, we are thrilled to death.