IOWA CITY - Kirk Ferentz has led the University of Iowa football program to two Outback Bowl games and he can't wait for trip No. 3.
The Hawkeye head coach said that his staff knew following a 55-0 thumping of Minnesota on Nov. 22, that eight victories (five of them against Big Ten Conference competition), would send the black and gold to either the Alamo, Capital One, Champs Sports or Outback bowl.
"We knew we were going to a good bowl," Ferentz said Sunday evening at a media conference inside the Hayden Fry Football Complex. "When you talk about San Antonio, Orlando or Tampa, you can't go wrong and we know that first-hand. We knew we would be playing a good opponent, that comes hand-in-hand with those destinations. It's nice to know this was going to have a good outcome and we're thrilled to death with the way it turned out."
An understandably upbeat Ferentz opened Sunday's conference with a reference to a tongue-in-cheek comment he made Nov. 11 about his disdain for the holiday drink egg nog.
"I want to start out by apologizing if I offended anybody on the egg nog front last month," Ferentz said. "I didn't mean to. Anderson-Erickson was very kind. They sent us probably a months-load of egg nog which is upstairs in our refrigerator and everyone in our office has been enjoying that. It's not that I hate egg nog, believe me. It's just that I didn't want to sit around drinking it in Iowa, so maybe I'll have a glass when we're down in Tampa."
The Hawkeyes are playing in their fifth January bowl game in seven seasons. Kickoff against South Carolina will be 10 a.m. (Iowa time) on Thursday, Jan. 1 from Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"The people down there are hospitable and everything about the Outback Bowl is great," Ferentz said. "We'll enjoy it. It's nice to be down there. The Outback Bowl does a great job of not over-burdening the players, but they provide real nice opportunities. You want the guys to enjoy the experience, you want them to focus when they have to and get their work done, but also to have the chance to relax and have fun, too, and enjoy the area a little bit."
Iowa is 3-3 in bowl games under Ferentz. The Hawkeyes defeated Florida 37-17 in the 2004 Outback Bowl (following the 2003 season) and dropped a controversial 31-24 decision to the Gators in 2006 (following the 2005 season).
Much has been made of Iowa's young team and qualifying for a bowl game provides an invaluable chance for an extra month of practice.
"That's great side benefit of going to a bowl game," Ferentz said. "We missed out on that opportunity last year. It's great for the team to be together for another month. You talk about the value of having younger players around guys like (Matt) Kroul, (Mitch) King, (Rob) Bruggeman, Shonn Greene -- that's a pretty powerful thing. It's hard to find anything bad about bowl games. I always go back to what (former UI defensive coordinator) Bill Brashier said: `There's no such thing as a bad bowl. Some are better than others, but there is no such thing as a bad one.' I think you can say that about the experience in general. We would have been thrilled to go anywhere."
The bowl-seasoned Hawkeye players will also be counted on to show the bowl rookies the proper way to approach the postseason festivities.
"The older guys will help the younger guys understand what they need to do," Ferentz said.
Sunday was not an opportunity for the media to receive loads of information about the Gamecocks. UI defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski was offensive line and wide receivers coach at South Carolina from 1999-2001.
"I know Kaczenski worked there and I know they have a famous head coach (Steve Spurrier)," Ferentz said. "Outside of that, I don't know much else. Being a (Southeastern Conference) team, I know they're going to be extremely talented and there's a reason Coach Spurrier has won that many games there. They're going to be ready to go."
Last season the Hawkeyes were bowl-eligible with a 6-6 record, but were not invited to a bowl game. Ferentz said that adds extra significance this season.
"It's like a player missing a year," he said. "I think they appreciate their opportunities a little more. Certainly for us to be back and playing in a great bowl, that's going to make it that much better for us, so we're thrilled."
As he has done many times throughout the season, Ferentz emphasized that his staff and the Hawkeye players do not take their incredible fan support for granted. Ferentz said the Hawkeye fans always impress the bowl scouts and combining that with the Hawkeye performance on the football field makes for a noteworthy combination.
"I know having our fan support is a real plus for us," Ferentz said. "That helped us, but I also feel like for anybody who selected us, it wasn't going to be hard to sell this team, mainly because of the way we finished. Then we have a few players who are interesting for people to take a look at. I don't think anybody has to be embarrassed about picking us and we're certainly not embarrassed about the season we put together this year."
Iowa won its final three games and five of its last six to finish the regular season 8-4 overall.
The entire media conference wasn't spent talking about the Outback Bowl or South Carolina. After being asked if any current student-athletes could become academic casualties at semester, Ferentz put an end to gossip that has been circulating of late.
"I did hear a rumor the other day that one of our notable players wasn't going to class," he said. "If he's not, then our academic support folks are way off base. We just had an academic meeting the Monday before Thanksgiving and got great reports there. That one might go into the same category that he was up to 280 or 300 (pounds) at one point. I think you can put both those in the same box."