Outback Bowl preview: Iowa takes on SEC East champ Florida

Outback Bowl preview: Iowa takes on SEC East champ Florida

This will be the third time Iowa and Florida will meet in the Outback Bowl. The teams split their first two meetings, the Hawkeyes winning to end the 2003 season and the Gators prevailing two years later. They’ve met only one other time, in 1983.

The Gators were the surprise winners of the SEC East but are coming in on a two-game slide, including a 54-16 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game that was proceeded by a 31-13 beat down by Florida State that cost the Gators a shot at the Sugar Bowl. UF ended last year with three losses in a row, falling to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. Two season-ending flame-outs in two years under Jim McElwain is no way to endear yourself to a fan base. Conversely, Iowa has won its past three games, two of those over AP Top 25 teams—including a colossal upset of Michigan.

But these teams have one thing in common: pedestrian offenses. Long story short, don’t expect a lot of points. The Gators and Iowa both rank outside the top 75 in scoring offense in the nation. And the fact each team has a good defense–both allow only 17.9 points per game—only figures to make the treading that much more troublesome for these offenses.

The Gators are a lowly 107th in scoring offense, averaging 23.4 points (13th in SEC) and 345.1 ypg (13th in SEC). QB play has been a big issue. Purdue grad transfer Austin Appleby has been the starter of late. (Fun fact: Appleby was the starter for the Boilermakers in Iowa’s C.J. Beathard’s first start for the Hawkeyes, a 24-10 win at Ross-Ade Stadium in 2014.) There is a chance Florida may rip the redshirt off one of its promising freshman quarterbacks: Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask. Stay tuned.

Iowa hasn’t won any beauty pageants on offense, as the Hawkeyes are No. 12 in the Big Ten in total offense (333.3 ypg) with the No. 13 passing attack (161.3 ypg). But Iowa will be motivated, as it hasn’t looked good in its last two bowls. The Hawkeyes got smoked by Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl in 2014 and got embarrassed in the Rose Bowl last season vs. Stanford.

Keep an eye on Iowa CB Desmond King, who could make a game-changing play in his last appearance in a Hawkeye uniform. He failed to win the Thorpe Award again but still has had a nice campaign as shutdown corner. Plus, he doubles as a deadly punt return man. Could he win the game with a big run back?

Also, here’s the full 2016-17 bowl schedule.

Iowa (8-4) vs. Florida (8-4): 1 p.m. ET, Jan. 2, Tampa, Florida

Player on the spot: Iowa QB C.J. Beathard. He hasn’t had the senior season many envisioned. Losing top target Matt VandeBerg to injury hasn’t helped. Beathard hits 58 percent of his passes for 1,874 yards with 17 TDs and seven picks. If the Hawkeye ground game can get churning, that would make Beathard’s life easier.

Best individual matchup: Iowa LB Josey Jewell vs. Florida RB Jordan Scarlett. Jewell is one of the Big Ten’s top linebackers, a sideline-to-sideline force who makes plays. Scarlett is one of the few consistent options for a middling Gator offense, averaging 4.8 yards per carry en route to 795 yards rushing. If he can get traction, it would open room for the Florida passing game to get going. And that could spell trouble for the Hawkeye defense.

Best unit matchup: Iowa offensive line vs. Florida defensive line. The Hawkeyes have had to shuffle their front a few times this season, and the unit has slowly molded into a strong group paced by guard James Daniels, center Sean Welsh and tackle Cole Croston. How good? LeShun Daniels has 1,013 yards rushing and Akrum Wadley has 966, offering the Hawkeyes are strong 1-2 punch to throw at a salty Florida defense that is led in the front seven by lineman Caleb Brantley and linebacker Jarrad Davis. If those two can get it rolling behind the Iowa line, it would make the Hawkeye pass game take flight behind C.J. Beathard and an Iowa pass catching corps that must battle stud UF DBs Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson who pace the No. 1 pass defense in the SEC (156.3 ypg).

Number: 20, combined rushing TDs for Iowa’s LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley, who also have combined for 1,979 yards rushing.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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