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Call it déjà vu for Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Throughout the 2008 season, the Iowa head coach constantly drew parallels between that team and his 2001 squad. The ’01 team produced the first winning season of the Ferentz era, capping it with a 16-13 win in the Alamo Bowl over Texas Tech.

The following season in 2002 may have been the most decorated year in the history of Iowa football (not to snub the ’56, ’58, and ’85 teams) — the Hawkeyes went 11-1 overall and 8-0 in the Big Ten, the first unbeaten season Iowa had in conference play in nearly 80 years. The result was a trip to the 2003 Orange Bowl in Miami, where the Hawkeyes wound up losing, 38-17, to USC (although the Hawks were leading at halftime).

Now, fast forward to 2008. After a 3-3 start, the Hawkeyes won five of their final six and reached the Outback Bowl, in which it clobbered South Carolina, 31-10.

It only seems fitting that after a 2008 season in which Ferentz drew parallels to 2001, the 2009 campaign concluded with a return trip to the Orange Bowl. This season may not have included a Big Ten title, as in 2002, but Iowa did finish 10-2 and wound up ranked 10th nationally.

In addition to Iowa’s victory on Sept. 26 over the team that turned out to be its main competitor for the final BCS spot — Penn State — the Hawkeyes can also credit a fan base that added to its claim to fame with that trip to the 2003 Orange Bowl, when 40,000-plus Iowa fans made the trek to Miami to watch the Hawkeyes and Trojans.

“The last time down there, we had a tremendous experience,” Ferentz said. “We didn’t play nearly as well as we would have hoped to, but everything else about the trip was extremely positive. We’re all very excited.”

If the Hawkeyes are able to win the Orange Bowl this time around against the Yellow Jackets, they will finish with an identical 11-2 mark to that of the 2002 squad which featured the like of Brad Banks, Dallas Clark, Bob Sanders, and Nate Kaeding.

“We knew it would be a good bowl wherever we ended up and it would be a great venue playing against a really good team,” senior linebacker A.J. Edds said. “To get to a BCS bowl is great. To finish 10-2 and have a chance to get to 11 and be the second team in school history to do so is a huge opportunity. You can’t ask for a whole lot more.”

What makes this year’s opportunity even more intriguing is that all five BCS bowl games in January feature teams that finished in the top 10 of the final BCS standings.

For this season’s Orange Bowl, the Hawkeyes head to Miami ranked 10th in the BCS, and the Yellow Jackets are ranked ninth with a 11-2 record and an ACC championship.

Knowing the implications at stake, Iowa and Georgia Tech understand that on the evening of Jan. 5, 2010, the national stage is theirs for the taking.

“We are respected around the nation, and it is going to be a good game,” junior defensive end Adrian Clayborn said.

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