By Pat Harty
Nothing against the state of California or the West Coast in general, but they seem to bring out the worst in the Iowa football team, the 2016 Rose Bowl debacle against Stanford the latest example of that.
Stanford scored on its first play from scrimmage and cruised to a 45-16 victory, handing Iowa its fourth consecutive loss in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Florida, on the other hand, mostly has been good to the Hawkeyes.
The 2015 Tax Slayer Bowl was certainly a disaster, but the good in Florida still outweighs the bad where Iowa football is concerned.
From historic bowl wins to producing key recruits, Florida has been a place where Iowa has prospered on the playing field and in living rooms across the state.
The Hawkeyes will hope to achieve another milestone moment in Florida when they face the Florida Gators in the Outback Bowl on Monday at noon in Tampa.
I was reminded of Iowa’s success in Florida after seeing a tweet from former Iowa and NFL defensive lineman Colin Cole. The Fort Lauderdale native posted a picture of himself and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema standing side by side, friends for life.
“In 1999, I de-committed from VATech to UIowa thanks to this guy,” Cole said of Bielema on Twitter.
Cole was offering his support to Bielema in preparation for the Belk Bowl, which has Arkansas facing Virginia Tech on Thursday afternoon.
Their friendship started nearly two decades ago when Bielema was an Iowa assistant coach under the newly hired Kirk Ferentz.
The Iowa coaches had to scramble to fill the 1999 recruiting class after Ferentz was hired to replace Hayden Fry in early December 1998.
Bielema, a former walk-on defensive lineman at Iowa, played a huge role in building the class by tapping a pipeline to Florida where Division I football players are as plentiful as the sunshine and palm trees.
Bielema didn’t land any so-called blue chippers, but he convinced players like Cole, linebacker Fred Barr and cornerback Antwan Allen to sign with Iowa at a time when it was perceived as a risk to do so.
Cole switched his commitment from Virginia Tech despite the Hokies being a national power at the time, while Iowa was coming off a 3-8 season in Fry’s last season.
Cole lost 18 of his first 20 games as a Hawkeye, but he stayed the course and was rewarded for his patience, persistence and loyalty.
Iowa finished 1-10 in Cole’s first season in 1999 and 11-2 in his senior season in 2002.
Cole was part of a Florida contingent that played a significant role in the initial rebuild under Ferentz.
Some of the others include quarterback Brad Banks, linebacker Abdul Hodge and receivers Maurice Brown, and C.J. Jones.
Banks finished runner-up for the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 2002, while Hodge made all-Big Ten three times. Brown and Jones also rank among the most explosive receivers under Ferentz.
“They just want me to come up there and do some quarterbacking and other stuff,” Banks said shortly after committing to Iowa in 2001.
That quote always has stood out to me because it shows that Banks had no sense of entitlement when he arrived at Iowa, much like the other players from Florida. He just wanted an opportunity to play Big Ten football and Ferentz gave him that opportunity.
Iowa’s pipeline to Florida hasn’t always flowed during the Ferentz era as there are just two Florida natives on the current roster. But the Florida pipeline helped to lay a foundation that still is sturdy to this day.
Iowa is bowl eligible for the 15th time under Ferentz and has won six bowl games since 2001. Only Ohio State has more bowl wins (8) than Iowa since 2001.
Four of Iowa’s six bowl wins since 2001 have come in Florida, including victories in the Outback Bowl after the 2003 and 2008 seasons.
Iowa also defeated Louisiana State 30-25 in the 2005 Capital One Bowl in Orlando and Georgia Tech 24-14 in the 2010 Orange Bowl in Miami.
The victory over LSU ranks among the greatest in school history, mostly because of how it ended with quarterback Drew Tate throwing a 56-yard touchdown pass to seldom-used senior receiver Warren Holloway as time expired.
It was Holloway’s only touchdown as a Hawkeye and it came in Nick Saban’s final game as the LSU coach.
Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script.
Florida isn’t all sunshine, though, as we saw in the 2015 Tax Slayer Bowl in Jacksonville when Tennessee crushed the Hawkeyes 45-28 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate.
But even that game had a positive effect because it caused Ferentz to make what proved to be some beneficial changes, including switching from Jake Rudock to C.J. Beathard at quarterback shortly after the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Beathard now has a 21-6 record as Iowa’s starting quarterback and his .777 winning percentage is No. 1 all-time among Iowa quarterbacks with at least 20 career starts.
“It’s crazy how fast it goes by,” Beathard said. “That’s why you’ve really got to try as much as you can, as tough as it is, to just enjoy it and cherish each moment and just take it all in.”
Oddly enough, Iowa played its first bowl game in Florida in sub-freezing temperatures at the 1983 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, losing to the Florida Gators, 14-6. Iowa then went nearly two decades without playing in another Florida bowl game.
Monday's appearance in the Outback Bowl will be Iowa's fifth in that bowl since the 2003 season.
The Iowa players made winning a bowl game for the first time one of the top three goals heading into the season. Iowa hasn't won a bowl game since defeating Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl when some of the current playere were in junior high.
"That is something they want to do and it's like anything, you know, it's going to come with a price," Ferentz said. "It's going to be tough to accomplish. We seem to have a habit of being underdogs in bowl games and that's going to be the case in this one. It's realistic.
"We're going to have to really play a good game. I gave our seniors all the credit in the world for what happened down the stretch in November. And to me, I'm very confident they will do all they can to put us in position, at least in this game."
It would be fitting if Iowa's bowl misery ended in Florida because the Sunshine State has been good to the Hawkeyes and vice versa.
Iowa's bowl history in Florida
1983 Gator Bowl – Florida 13, Iowa 9
2003 Orange Bowl – Southern California 38-17
2004 Outback Bowl – Iowa 37, Florida 17
2005 Capital One Bowl – Iowa 30, Louisiana State 25
2006 Outback Bowl – Florida 31, Iowa 24
2009 Outback Bowl – Iowa 31, South Carolina 10
2010 Orange Bowl – Iowa 24, Georgia Tech 14
2014 Outback Bowl – Louisiana State 21, Iowa 14
2015 TaxSlayer Bowl – Tennessee 45, Iowa 28