A day after the New Year was rung in, the Florida Gators will battle the Iowa Hawkeyes at the Outback Bowl in Tampa. This is a game that pits two good defenses, against (let’s be kind starting 2017) “less than stellar” offenses. Here are three things to watch:
Points at a premium
Neither of these teams will be mistaken for offensive juggernaut and both have had their struggles with throwing the ball and keeping skill player healthy. Combine that with the fact that both Florida and Iowa play well on defense, this game might legitimately be: “first team to 13 points wins.”
The Gators come in ranked 6th nationally in yards allowed and 9th in points allowed per game. Plus, led by star defensive back Teez Tabor, Florida potentially has three and maybe as many as five, NFL caliber players on D.
Meanwhile, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has always been know as a defensive mind, and his Hawkeyes limited and shocked Michigan in a late season upset and held down Nebraska in their finale’. This looks like a low scoring affair.
Who QBs for the Gators?
It’s been a month since Florida was drummed by Alabama in the SEC Title Game, and that time has allowed former starting QB Luke Del Rio’s shoulder injured in November to heal up. Del Rio has been also hampered by a knee sprain that kept him out earlier in the season for a couple of games. Meanwhile, Austin Appleby has been adequate as the fill in, but Florida has clearly struggled on offense all season. Head Coach Jim McElwain has stated Appleby will start, in part, because he quarterbacked at Purdue and played against Iowa (and Ferentz’s defense) a year ago before transferring to Gainesville. Appleby also started this season in the losses at Knoxville, and Tallahassee, but was also at the helm in the low scoring win at LSU.
McElwain has been coy about whether Del Rio, who is clearly better throwing when he’s healthy, will play, how much or how soon. We’ll see, especially if Appleby is struggling early, how that part plays out.
Finally, what kind of crowd does Florida bring being 75 miles away?
It’s one of the main reasons bowl games, especially in Florida (where there a numerous ones each December and then, January) want local/regional draws. The Outback is no different. And especially this year with their game falling on Monday January 2nd, where a lot of people in West Central and North Florida are headed back to work today, schools are getting back into session, etc., being able to drive to the game and get back home easily is a big deal.
The Tampa Bay area has over 150,000 households with Gator alumni. Don’t think for a second that doesn’t play a role in helping determine who plays where. Also Gainesville, is a little over an hour or so up I-75 from Tampa. So look for a large contingent of Gator Blue and Orange coming South this a.m. and heading back North on the interstate about 5 p.m.
A source told F.F.I. that tickets sold coming into New Year’s weekend were around 40,000 in the 65,000 seat Raymond James Stadium. But, bowl organizers and ESPN, who runs most of the scheduling and televising of college football, are obviously hopeful, that there are thousands who are showing up to buy tickets today. We shall see.
We know the Hawkeyes brought 12-15 thousand out of the cold of the Midwest. Now, let’s see if Gator fans overwhelm them or not.