Final Thoughts from The Outback Bowl

HawkeyeNation.com's Jon Miller made it back from Tampa on Tuesday and puts some final thoughts from this year's Outback Bowl experience on paper. From the showing that the Iowa fans provided yet again, to Kirk Ferentz/NFL speculation to the officiating at the Outback Bowl, there is a little something for everyone.

Though the outcome was not what Iowa fans hoped for, the 2006 Outback Bowl experience was a lot of fun. Here are some things of note that I will remember from the trip, some having to do with football and some having to do with the great Iowa fans.

IS THIS TAMPA? NO, IT'S IOWA Iowa Hawkeye fans took over a Florida city for the fourth year in a row. Channelside, a popular entertainment destination, was all about Hawkeye fans. Even the resteraunts and night clubs catered to the bumblebees.

It doesn't hurt that there is Iowan ownership in places like Stump's Supper Club, Splittsville and Howl at the Moon, but to totally take over that popular destination; it's shocking to see.

Howl at the Moon is a dueling piano bar where fans sing along with the musicians, giving them song suggestions for a few dollars.

It was absolutely hijacked by Iowa fans. The place even had t-shirts printed up in advance, saying that Howl at the Moon was the Iowa fan's headquarters and that it was ‘the most fun that you could have with your clothes on.'

They did not have any such items catering to Gator fans.

I think the only Gator fans that stayed a few nights in town were at our hotel, the Hyatt Regency. It's a great property, that's why each year, it alternates between the Big Ten and SEC team as far as hosting.

When Iowa had 15,000 people at its Hawkeye Huddle, Florida had its event in the Hyatt Regency for a few hundred people.

On New Year's Even, Ybor City is always the popular destination for the parade. By the way, is there anything more overrated than a parade? Perhaps New Year's Eve being a holiday.

Ybor City had a smattering of Gator fans, but once again, it was all Hawkeyes.

With Rob, Jason and Bryan holding down the fort with the press conference that day, I went ahead to a location called Adobe Gilles, located in the heart of Ybor City. It's a second level open air bar that provides a great view of the parade route. That was at 2:30, and the parade began at 5:30. I got the last table available, and the place was entirely made up of Iowa fans.

Iowa State's bowl game was on TV, and Iowa fans were openly and loudly cheering the action…unanimously in favor of Texas Christian, I must say. It was comical to say the least.

Going back to Howl at the Moon, a few Iowa players made their way there late in the evening after their game. They were in good spirits, though they were very disappointed that they lost the game…and how they lost it. They were very appreciative of the Iowa fans that supported them through thick and thin.

"Let's Go Hawks" chants were audible all over Raymond James Stadium after the game, as the Hawkeye faithful were mighty proud that their favorite team did not lay down and die after trailing 31-7 into the fourth quarter.

These things illustrate why Iowa was selected over Michigan for this game, and why a 7-5 record this year included a trip to another New Year's Day bowl game. That might be a stat to look up; who was the last team to play in a New Years bowl game that wound up with more than four losses.

That might sound like a dubious honor, but it is an honor and a testament to the Iowa fans; YOU were the reason that we were able to enjoy several days of 70 degree weather.

RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM: What a great venue. It's the best venue that Iowa plays in with regards to the Big Ten's bowl arrangements. The new stadium in Arizona that will play host to the Insight.com Bowl and Fiesta Bowls will probably move to the top of the list, only because it's brand new.

The Citrus Bowl, the stadium that plays host to the Cap One Bowl and the Champps Sports Bowl that the Big Ten will be affiliated with next year, is not a good stadium.

To remind you, this was the last year that the Big Ten was affiliated with the Music City Bowl and the Sun Bowl. Starting next year, here is the order of selection for the bowl games the Big Ten is involved with:

1. Rose Bowl
2. Capital One Bowl
3. Outback Bowl
4/5: Alamo Bowl/Champps Sports Bowl (they will alternate every other year with the fourth and fifth selections)
6: Insight.com Bowl
7. Motor City Bowl

Also keep in mind that starting next year there will be a fifth BCS bowl game. It will be played at the site that will host the national title game. The Fiesta hosts that game next year, so the new stadium for the Arizona Cardinals will host both contests. The extra BCS game will be on January 1st with the national title game coming a week later on January 8th.

KIRK FERENTZ & THE NFL: I know, it's a worn out topic. But each year at this time, ESPN NFL analyst Chris Mortensen has some bit of information he believes is accurate as it relates to Kirk Ferentz and his ‘interest' in an NFL gig.

Recently, he has said that unlike previous years, Ferentz will listen to NFL offers this year. Ferentz listened to the Jacksonville Jaguars after the 2002 season, so Mortsenson must have forgotten about that.

Make no mistake about it; pro teams will be contacting Ferentz's agent Neil Cornrich in the coming days if they haven't done so already.

What that does is put Ferentz in line for a raise at Iowa, especially in light of Minnesota inking Glen Mason to a contract extension worth $1.6 million per year with another $750,000 per year attainable through incentives. That is exactly what Ferentz makes with regards to the base if you factor in the $400,000 longevity bonus he gets each year he is Iowa's head coach.

What has Mason done to deserve that? Or rather, Ferentz certainly deserves more than what Glen Mason makes.

However, Ferentz's last deal that was signed in November of 2004 had a provision in it stating that there would be a three-year moratorium on restructuring the next contract, but contracts are partly made of the same stuff that is on a roll on your bathroom wall.

It's difficult to imagine Iowa opening it's 2006 season in the fully refurbished Kinnick Stadium with anyone but Ferentz at the helm.

There will be a lot of chatter in the coming days and weeks regarding Ferentz with this NFL team or that NFL team. This is also a year where there are a lot of NFL job openings and some plum job openings. Green Bay and Kansas City are great examples. Green Bay is probably the most ‘college-like' NFL franchise in regards to fan loyalty.

If Ferentz ever truly wants to go to the NFL, he will go, as Iowa cannot compete with the money being thrown around. An NFL assistant coach recently signed a three-year, $8 million dollar deal. AN ASSISTANT! That is more money per year than Ferentz can make at Iowa, and that is not even head coaching money.

The perfect ownership-management situation would have to be in place, too. Perhaps Iowa avoided a ‘hypothetical bullet' when the Cleveland Browns chose to replace their President and not their GM; Phil Savage is their GM was rumored to be on the chopping block. By the way, it was ESPN's Mortensen that reported that Savage would be fired.

Savage and Ferentz are very close friends and had Savage been on the market, that might have been a serious factor to consider. Savage was named the Jacksonville GM the same year that they took a run at Ferentz.

But Kirk has repeatedly denied interest in the NFL and has always reaffirmed that he is happy at Iowa.

I guess what I am saying is that you can never say never, but don't worry about it. If it happens, I will be just as shocked as you will be. But until then, I will operate under the assumption that what Ferentz has repeatedly told the media about his contentment at Iowa is true.

OFFICIATING OFFICIALLY COMMENTED ON: In THIS STORY, the head of Confernece USA Officiating admitted that the crew that worked the Iowa-Florida game made a mistake on the onside kick penalty. The managing director of NCAA football also said that he received a few hundred emails from Iowa fans shortly following the game and that officiating crews for bowl games will be on the NCAA's agenda this year for their meetings.

Bob Bowlsby went so far to say that the officiating crew for the Outback and Alamo Bowls were ‘over their heads'. If you click on the article linked above, Bowlsby said that if they were good enough to be Big Ten officials, they would be Big Ten officials.

OK, so Iowa got hosed and the officials took hope away from the Hawkeye fans by throwing the flag on that onside kick, one that was executed perfectly.

That is the shame in all of this; the kids were robbed, and so were you. The C-USA head of officials said there were five plays being reviewed from the game.

All this being said, Iowa didn't do what it needed to do in the first three quarters. For the most part, they made their own bed. Perhaps they didn't make the mountain as tall as it was due to some questionable officiating, but Iowa did allow a punt blocked for a touchdown, it did get flagged for running into the punter which gave Florida the ball back and the Gators scored a touchdown on that drive and they did drops some passes in the game that killed drives.

Iowa also benefited from a Gator turnover in the fourth quarter that set up its second touchdown of the game, though they still trailed 31-14.

We will all remember the bad call at the end of the game.

But the one thing I will take away from this game and this season is that even though things didn't go the way we all thought they would, the team never, ever quit and kept working until they had no more bullets in their gun.

That's Iowa football.

One final note on this…shortly after the game at our hotel, which as I said was also the team hotel for Florida, some Iowa fans had a picture of the onside kick printed out. One of them took it over to Florida head coach Urban Meyer when he got back to the Hyatt. Meyer told the Iowa fan that it was a very bad call, and he obliged the fan when asked to sign the piece of paper the picture was on.

Another friend of mine stayed at the hotel where the game officials were at. A fan took a copy of the picture and thrust it in the face of one of the officials…security was quickly called.


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