Gators, Hawkeyes Set to Square Off in Outback Bowl

Tampa Bay will host the College Football Playoff Final in a few weeks, certainly an important event for the growing Bay Area economy, but don’t forget about the annual bowl that takes place at Raymond James Stadium, this year on Jan. 2 for the first time since 2012.

The Florida Gators find themselves back in the Outback Bowl for the first time since 2010.
The Florida Gators find themselves back in the Outback Bowl for the first time since 2010. Photo courtesy of UF Communications.

The 2017 Outback Bowl will feature the Iowa Hawkeyes of the Big Ten and the Florida Gators of the SEC, continuing the trend of Big Ten-SEC matchups.

To get there, both teams finished 8-4 on the regular season, while Florida took the SEC East title – Iowa finishing third in the Big Ten West behind Wisconsin and Nebraska. Geographically speaking, Florida takes a short two-hour trip down I-75 to Ray Jay, while Iowa takes a much longer, 1,271 mile trip to the game.

Florida comes in ranked as the 17th best team in the country according to the final College Football Playoff poll, while Iowa comes in unranked according to the committee, however they are ranked 21st by The Associated Press. The Gators are ranked 20th in the same poll.

Last season, Tennessee overwhelmed Northwestern 45-6 in the game, which was the largest margin of victory since Michigan’s 42-7 victory over NC State in 1993. Big Ten representatives are 11-16 in the history of the game, while SEC representatives are 15-11. Since 2010, the SEC have taken it four times to the Big Ten’s two.

This will be both Florida’s and Iowa’s fifth appearance in the Outback Bowl, tying them with Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin for the most all-time. Both are 2-2 going into the affair. Florida’s most recent appearance was 2010, when they defeated Penn State 37-24. Iowa’s last appearance was 2013, losing to LSU 21-14.

Iowa and Florida have met twice in the Outback Bowl, taking one game a piece in the series. Their other meeting was in the 1983 Gator Bowl, Florida taking a 14-6 victory, setting them apart with a 2-1 series lead.

Both teams are towards the bottom in total offense this season, UF at 115th (345.1) in the FBS, Iowa at 120th (333.3).

A running back has been named as the MVP for each of the previous three contests, starting with Jeremy Hill of LSU in 2014, Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin in 2015, and Jalen Hurd of Tennessee in 2016. Jordan Scarlett leads the Gators in rushing yards with 795 with six touchdowns. LeShaun Daniels leads the Hawkeyes with 1,013 and Akrum Wadley follows close behind with 966 yards. Daniels had over 150 rushing yards in his last two games of the season, so the trend of RB MVPs may continue, if the Hawkeyes win.

Even with the two rushers mentioned, the Hawkeyes come in 71st in the FBS in rushing offense with 171.9 a game. Florida comes in 113th.

Florida QB Luke Del Rio will be back in action according to reports – he’s been out since the Gators played Arkansas in early November when they were 6-1, under backup Austin Appleby, Florida went 2-3. Del Rio is currently 114-of-201 with 1,358 passing yards and eight touchdowns.

Iowa QB C.J. Beathard comes in at 163-of-278 with 1,874 yards and 17 touchdowns. Riley McCarron enters with 41 of those receptions and 506 of those yards.

Defense has saved both’s poor offensive stats – Florida is sixth in the country in total defense (298.6) and Iowa is 24th (352.8). This could possibly be a defensive game, especially since Iowa has allowed only 23 points in their last three games after giving up 41 to Penn State earlier in the season. The Gators defense will try to regroup after allowing Alabama to score 54 points in the SEC Championship, and then allowing 31 to Florida State the previous Saturday.

In their eight wins, UF has given up 7.6 points per game. The Hawkeyes have given up 12 in their eight wins. This could be quite the defensive battle.

Jalen Tabor has four interceptions for the Gators, while nobody for Iowa has more than two. Iowa has four players with over 60 tackles, Florida has only one.

Ticket information can be found here. The Outback Bowl will kickoff at 1 p.m. on Jan. 2 from Raymond James Stadium at 4201 N Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, FL 33607.