Hawkeyes look to avenge 2003 BCS loss


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Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has experienced three bowl losses during his 11-year career in Iowa City, but none more devastating, none more cringe-worthy, none more embarrassing than the 21-point drubbing handed over by USC in the 2003 Orange Bowl.

It’s not even close, Ferentz said.

That season marked his first 10-plus win season as a Hawkeye head coach. But his star-studded team failed to deliver in the program’s first trip to a Bowl Championship Series bowl game. And despite two consecutive 10-win seasons in 2003 and 2004, the Hawkeyes haven’t been seen on the nation’s premier college-bowl scene since their 38-17 loss to the Trojans.

Until now.

Ferentz and Company will square off against ACC champion Georgia Tech (11-2) in the 2010 Orange Bowl on Jan. 5 in Land Shark Stadium. This time, the Hawkeyes (10-2) hope the glare of the national spotlight won’t keep them from completing their first 11-win season since that 2002-03 team.

“I think we were just happy to be there in the ’02-03 experience,” Ferentz said on Sunday night.

“There was a lot of hoopla and all that kind of thing surrounding our team at that point. I think we probably got a little caught up in … the whole thing.”

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While Iowa may not have showed up on the field during the second half in its first BCS appearance, plenty of Black and Gold fans made the 1,500-mile trek from Iowa City to South Beach, Fla.

On Monday, Orange Bowl football committee member Larry Gautier estimated that 48,000 Iowa football die-hards made the trip to Miami in 2003. That experience, he said, greatly influenced the bowl committee’s decision to make Ferentz’s squad an at-large selection.

“We had had Iowa on our radar screen for a long time. We had a very positive experience with the Hawkeye Nation and Iowa back in our 2003 game,” Gautier said. “We anticipate that same number [of Iowa fans] or maybe more this year.”

In 2003, he admitted, the Orange Bowl was “a little overwhelmed” by their first experience with the well-traveling Iowa fans. Twenty-five thousand supporters showed up for the Hawkeye Huddle that year, far surpassing the Orange Bowl’s expectations.

This time, Gautier said, they’ll be more prepared.

“We now have that experience under our belt,” he said.

Saying that Penn State was also “in the conversation” for the Orange Bowl’s at-large spot, Gautier contended Iowa’s win in State College, Pa., put the Hawkeyes on “the front burner” for the bowl invitation.

Also, the matchup of Georgia Tech’s spread option against Iowa’s defense intrigued the bowl committee enough to make the decision an easy one. It seems that contest will stand between Ferentz’s first BCS win and another potential disappointment down in Miami.

“After [the 2003] game was over, Coach [Ferentz] basically came out and said, ‘Now I know. Now I know what it’s all about,’ ” Gautier said. “I think it has been Coach’s goal to get back to the big dance. Now, he’s got his chance again.”

Bowl tickets still available

As of Monday afternoon, the Hawkeyes had sold approximately 15,000 of their allotted 17,500 tickets before the Orange Bowl announcement was made. Pam Finke, the UI’s director of ticket operations, said the school could apply for additional tickets through the BCS.

Tickets for the game, priced at $135 each, can be purchased on hawkeyesports.com, at the Carver-Hawkeyes Arena ticket office, or by calling 1-800-IA-HAWKS.

“We want the folks from Iowa to buy from us because we want our fans to be a bloc [in the stadium],” Finke said.

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