TAMPA, Fla. — It’s become a college football cliché. Pick against teams that don’t want to be at their bowl games.
But the thing is, a lot of teams that are supposed to be disappointed in their bowls are anything but. Syracuse goes to the Texas Bowl with a 6-6 record and beats 8-4 Minnesota. Pittsburgh takes the same mark to Detroit and topples MAC champion Bowling Green.
It’s still football, and these are football players. They pracice and train year-round for this, and have for many years. Seniors want to leave a good final piece of audition tape for the NFL. Returning players want to leave a good final impression for their coaches. None of them want to go out a loser.
The story on the Outback Bowl supposedly is, yeah, LSU has great talent. But Iowa’s enthuiastic to be here in Tampa, while it’s a yawn for a Tigers program that has hunted far-bigger postseason game.
Forget that noise, LSU’s players said Saturday night at an Outback Bowl event they shared with the Hawkeyes in a Tampa bowling alley called Splitsville.
“No, indeed,” LSU starting center Elliott Porter replied when asked if being here was a comedown. “It’s blessing to be here, a big blessing. We’re excited to be here. Having the opportunity we have, it’s a beautiful thing. There’s not any kind of negative. This is a great bowl.”
“The biggest game,” said Tiger linebacker Lamin Barrow, “is the next game. This is the next game and the last game.
“People that think we’re looking past this are crazy to think that. It’s a great opportunity to play a great team.”
Besides, LSU has a two-game bowl losing streak and played last year in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which is down the SEC ladder from the Outback.
“Iowa’s record against the SEC (in bowls) is 3-1 I want to say, said LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who like Barrow was a second-team All-SEC pick this year. “One of those wins was against us.”
It’s actually 4-2, but the mark is 3-1 under Kirk Ferentz. I told Landry it sounded like one of his coaches had been drilling some information into the Tigers’ heads, but he quickly corrected me.
“I did a little research on my own,” Landry said. “It’s all about research and knowing your opponent. Me, personally, that’s my best motivational tool.”
Landry said he has watched “bits and pieces” of Iowa’s last-play win over LSU in the Capital One Bowl nine years ago.
“I didn’t really understand it then,” said Landry, who is from a 700-person Louisiana parish seat called Convent. “But now I understand what it meant to their program and also to our program.”
It’s probably a reach to call this matchup a culture clash, but the overwhelming majority of the LSU roster is from Louisiana, while Iowa has no players from that state and only a half-dozen now from neighboring Texas.
“Their offensive line is big, country, cornfed boys,” Barrow said.
So what does that make the Tigers?
“We’re a little bit more Cajun, a little bit more spice,” he said.
How that translates on a football field is unclear. But Barrow and his teammates didn’t need a translator for their comments about Iowa Saturday night. The respect is there. These guys are football players, not stage actors or snake-oil salesmen.
Porter said he had seen and heard of Hawkeye football long before this pairing was put together.
“They have a history,” Porter said. “They have a good head coach, good players.”
Landry almost whistled in admiration when he spoke of Ferentz’s 3-1 record against the SEC.
“It says a lot about that coaching staff there and the players they’re recruiting.”
If you have LSU pegged from afar as cocky SECers, well, who’s to say? Coaches and sports information directors tend to let their teams be represented by diplomatic veterans at bowl functions. Maybe the team as a whole will show up full of itself Wednesday at Raymond James Stadium, and leave itself ripe for the picking.
But it’s doubtful. If Iowa beats the Bayou Bengals, it probably will be because of just one reason: It played better.