Iowa headed to Orange Bowl


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Since the conclusion of Iowa’s regular season two weeks ago, the Hawkeyes have been inextricably linked to the Fiesta Bowl, one of the five famed Bowl Championship Series games. In fact, until the afternoon of Dec. 5, head coach Kirk Ferentz hadn’t heard a scenario that would have landed his team in any other BCS bowl.

But on Sunday evening, the Fiesta Bowl passed on Iowa, and the Hawkeyes instead landed in the Orange Bowl, marking the program’s second trip to a BCS bowl game. Iowa (10-2) will face Georgia Tech (11-2) on Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. CST in Land Shark Stadium.

“We all thought it might be [the] Fiesta [Bowl],” senior linebacker A.J. Edds said on Sunday night. “We found out when we were watching it on TV. … Once we saw [TCU and Boise St.] were in the Fiesta, we were like, ‘Oh, I hope this works out.’ Luckily, it did.”

The Hawkeyes earned a trip to Miami by finishing second place in the Big Ten, all while playing arguably the conference’s toughest schedule. Iowa went on the road and beat Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State — three of the top-six teams in the Big Ten — and was narrowly defeated, 27-24, by conference champion Ohio State on the road.

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Athletics Director Gary Barta said he had been talking to bowl representative for “what seems like years” and Sunday’s announcement came with much relief and joy for a team “that earned this invitation.”

“If you told me at the beginning of the year that we were going to be selected to play in a BCS bowl, … I would’ve told you I’d be thrilled,” Barta said. “And I sit here [on Sunday night] saying what an honor. … It probably still hasn’t hit us yet.”

Ferentz’s first BCS bowl game came in 2003, when his team played in the Orange Bowl. That year, USC blew the Hawkeyes out of Miami, 38-17, behind Carson Palmer’s explosive passing attack.

The 2009-10 version of the Hawkeyes will now have slightly more than a month to prepare for the Yellow Jackets’ triple option rushing attack, which has averaged more than 307 yards per game on the ground this season — the second-best mark in the country.

“It was probably — not probably — it was our worst bowl performance without a doubt,” Ferentz said on Sunday night about the 2003 trip down to Miami. “Hopefully, this time, we’ll have a chance to go down and play a little bit better football game.”

The Dec. 5 conference championship action greatly influenced Iowa’s selection as an at-large BCS bid. No. 2 Texas beat No. 20 Nebraska, 13-12, after a controversial call put one second back on the game clock, giving the Longhorns time to hit a 46-yard last-second field goal.

Had Mack Brown’s team fallen to the Cornhuskers, Texas more than likely would have been rewarded one of the BCS at-large berths, with Nebraska taking the Big 12 champion’s automatic bid in the Fiesta Bowl. But with the win, the Longhorns will play No. 1 Alabama for the national championship, leaving the final at-large slot for Iowa.

“I experienced a little bit of anxiety probably like a lot of Iowa fans did [on Saturday night],” Ferentz said. “Bottom line is that it worked out, and we’re just thrilled to death.”

Coming in as the lowest-ranked BCS team, Iowa finished the regular season slotted at No. 10 in the BCS poll, and it will more than likely go into the bowl game as underdogs — a comfortable position for Hawkeye players.

But right now, no one within the program is concerned with rankings or point spreads. The Hawkeyes’ first BCS game in seven years is a month away, and this isn’t an opportunity they want to squander again.

“It’s wonderful to get a chance to play in a BCS bowl game,” junior defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. “I’m just thankful and honored, and it’s going to be fun down there … but we’ve got to prepare because we’re going there to win the game.”

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