This is a great reason to be together. I want to start out by apologizing that if I offended anyone on the eggnog front, I didn't mean to. Anderson Erickson was very kind, they sent us a month's load of eggnog, which is upstairs in our refrigerator and everyone is enjoying that. It's not that I hate that, it's that I don't want to be sitting here in Iowa drinking it.
We are thrilled and feel very honored and appreciative to get an invitation from the Outback folks. It's a tremendous bowl. The hospitality down there is first class. Everyone that has made the trip from our end has had a great experience and we have had nothing but positive things for our fans, and our players and staff feel the same way. We are thrilled and honored to be invited. Secondly, our team is excited about the opportunity to play another game. There has been a lot of speculation where we might go, different possibilities there. The one thing we all knew a week ago was that we could not lose. They were all great opportunities, and we knew we would play an outstanding opponent.
We are thrilled to play South Carolina. I don't know much about them right now, or any SEC teams, other than it's a very outstanding conference. They will be tough and talented and coach Spurrier has had a great career. It will be a great task. At the end of the day, we are excited to be named to the bowl game and exited about the fact that this is our fifth January Bowl in seven years, and we are proud of that. The credit goes to our players. They did a great job this year, starting back last January. They worked hard and stayed positive. It's great to see their efforts and their attitude be rewarded in such a nice way. I speak for our entire staff that we are proud and happy for our guys.
Q: You started out 3-3, and your team kept improving. Now you are rewarded with a January Bowl game. What does that mean for these players?
Kirk Ferentz: I don't think many people would have predicted that coming out of East Lansing. I don't think any of us coaches were thinking that far ahead. Our thoughts were about next week, and our next step. When you are in sports, that is how you have to look at it. You have to worry about what is right in front of you. Now, it makes things more significant or sweeter for us, to finish as strong as we did. Those things didn't happen by accident. They had a great attitude and work ethic. They refused to get down on themselves or let anyone bring them down. They stayed the course, kept their thoughts positive and most importantly, they worked at being successful.
Q: Is this a bit of redemption for not making a bowl last year?
Ferentz: It is. We had our opportunities a year ago. We were bowl eligible. Ironically, we would have gone to a bowl this year with the same record. You can't take things for granted or assume that anything will happen. It's like a player missing a year, they appreciate their opportunities more. For us to be back in a great bowl, that will make it that much better for us, so we are thrilled.
Q: Have you ever crossed paths with Steve Spurrier?
Ferentz: Just from afar. I wandered through there in the summer of 1997 or 1998. I worked out a couple players there. Bob Stoops was still there. Watched some spring ball and practice. That is as close as I have come, but I have seen their teams on TV and know he has had a tremendous career. They will be well coached and they have talent. We will be eager to learn more about them the next couple weeks.
Q: What does Coach Kazenski say?
Ferentz: Not a lot. I told the team that Kaz worked there and they have a famous head coach, but outside of that nothing else. But they are an SEC team, they are talented.
Q: Can you talk about the awards and accolades that have come Shonn's way?
Ferentz: It's like our team; it's been nice to watch recognition come his way, because he has earned it the old fashioned way. He has worked extremely hard, and he has persevered and stayed the course. For a 12 month period, he had to do it on his own. He did what he had to do to get back in good standing academically, then he had hard work to get back physically, after missing a year of training. To see him accomplish what he has been able to do, is amazing. It's a real credit to his attitude, the hard work that he has put in and it's not a fluke. If you have seen him play, it's the same thing every time. He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. I have been impressed with his response to his new fame, he has been very humble and appreciative and he has handled it well. I am real happy for him and the way he has handled this success.
Q: Do you have a favorite Shonn Greene moment?
Ferentz: Oh, boy. The shorter toughdown run against Purdue was pretty good. The 20 yarder or whatever it was. He did OK at Minnesota, too. They have all been pretty good, but that Purdue one sticks out a little bit. Up in Minnesota when he knocked Koulianos around was pretty good. Maybe knocked some sense into Derrell, too; stay out of the way.
Q: Is it a relief to have this out of the way?
Ferentz: I wasn't too worried about it. I don't know how the players felt. One thing we knew a week ago that we were going to go to a good bowl. San Antonio, Orlando or Tampa, you can't go wrong. We know that first hand. We were pretty sure it would be one of those three destinations. We knew it would be a good team, that goes hand in hand with those destinations. No sense worrying about it. It's nice to know, as opposed to a year ago that we would have a good outcome.
Q: How important is that extra month of practice?
Ferentz: It's a great side benefit of going to a bowl game. We missed that last year. It's great for the team to be together for another month, that is a real positive. You talk about the value of having younger players around, guys like Kroul, King, Bruggmen and Shonn Greene, that is powerful. It's hard to find anything bad about bowl games. Bill Brashier said there is no such thing as a bad bowl. You can say that about the experience in general.
Q: The Iowa fans have helped you get into the last few bowls you have gone to. Does it feel this year that the team was picked more than just the fans traveling reputation?
Ferentz: My guess is that it's both. Our fan support, I know that is a real plus for us. It's a great benefit. We are very unique in that regard. We appreciate it; we don't take it for granted. That helped us, but I also feel for anybody who selected us, it w0ouldnt be hard to sell this team, mainly how we finished. We played well the second half of the season. We demonstrated improvement, something we didn't do two years ago. We have some players that are interesting to take a look at. No one has to be embarrassed to pick us.
Q: Did you think you guys would be at this point?
Ferentz: You have faith in the people around you. I have always said, great faith in our coaching staff. They do a great job. The support staff has been first class. As I have said all along, we have had a great feel about this team, going back to march when we were not very good. Our last scrimmage in April, I don't think we were a top 55 team. The team had a great attitude and we felt we had a chance to develop into a good football team. The attitude of the team, the work ethic never changed, despite what was going on on the field. We had to work through some disappointments, but we got that straightened out and got good production the last part of the season. I have always gauged teams on their attitudes and what they do away from the building and this team has done a credible job in that regard and they have been fun to coach.
Q: Will Wes Aeschelman
Ferentz: He will be able to dress out. He can run a bit, to play might be a stretch. Andy Kuempel we will wait and see, he reinjured himself a bit this week.
Q: Of the players that were suspended, are they back on the team?
Ferentz: I think we only had two. James is back with us; he has served his penance if you will. Harold right now, based on where his situation is, it hasn't changed since the incident. He is still under suspension.
Q: Do you anticipate everything being OK academically?
Ferentz: I can't foresee anything. I should address that. I did hear a rumor the other day that one of our notable players isn't going to class. If he is not then our academic support folks are way off base. We had a meeting on that before Thanksgiving and had great reports that. That one might go in the same category that he was up to 280 or 300 at one point. Put those in the same box.
Q: Does Shonn have a strong case for the Doak Walker?
Ferentz: I am biased, but it's a no brainer. All you have to do is look at the game in, game out production. I have said this before; I thought his best performance was against Penn State. I think if you look statistically, I am pretty sure that was his lowest yards per carry in any game. I think he was 4.5 that game. On the sideline, it felt like Royster outgained him, but that is not how it panned out. That is a salty defense. The holes closed quick. I thought he was a huge part of our win in that game and that was his toughest performance but he had a lot of good ones. With all due respect to the other backs, if you look at it game to game, I imagine if you look at the bottom line, I think it's pretty academic. That is just me talking. I usually don't go too far out on a limb. If he is not the guy, then that is like Bob Sanders not being an All American. I am still trying to figure out how that happened. I am sure there is a good reason somewhere.
Q: Are you surprised that Shonn hasn't garnered much attention for the Heisman?
Ferentz: No, because of the quarterback situation. This is an unusual year. He picked a bad year to be a good running back. You can't argue that. I saw the end of the Oklahoma game last night, good luck figuring out the best quarterback. I saw the end of the Florida game. What a tremendous player Tebow is. Bradford, the two guys from Texas. The bottom line is, we all know everyone defers to quarterbacks. That is how it goes. Those guys are great players and I think Shonn has distinguished himself.
Q: What would your pick for the Heisman be?
Ferentz: I am glad I don't have to vote. How do you separate those guys? Best thing since Carson and Banks, right? That was a good one, too.
Q: How will you pace practice?
Ferentz: We have a plan in place, and it's similar to what we have done in the past. We spoke to the team about it. It's not rocket science. It's not what we do, but how we do it. We did the same thing in 2002, 2003, 2004. Our attitude was lousy in 2002, and it showed in the game and that is my fault. If we practice well we will be ready, if we don't it will be a tough day.
Q: Do you think it will be odd to face a Steve Spurrier coached team that has struggled quite a bit in the passing game?
Ferentz: I wouldn't have predicted that. I just saw the tail end of their Vanderbilt game. It must have been a Thursday night game. I really don't know much about them. I know that he knows how to coach, he knows offense and they will be ready to go.
Q: How much do the players get to enjoy the periphery trappings of a bowl game?
Ferentz: It's important that the players get to enjoy it. Bowls games are great for coaches families and visitors and things like that. They are the hardest on coaches and players. We want our players to enjoy those things. The Outback Bowl does a great job of not overburdening the players. They provide real nice opportunities. Our guys have handled those things well in the past, and that is an important part of the trip. You want them to focus on the game, but to relax and have fun and focus on the area. We will figure that out and that comes back to the maturity of the team. We have good leadership and the older guys will help the younger guys.
Q: Is there anything that you are looking forward to in Tampa outside of practice and the game?
Ferentz: It's pretty simple; when we win bowl games, that was a great week. When you lose, it's not so good. We have had a good experience and one that wasn't so good on the field. The people down there are hospitable. Everything is great, the proximity. It feels like a Midwestern venue. We will enjoy it. I enjoy every part of it.