Florida will be playing Iowa in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, on January 2, at 1:00 p.m. We’ve known this since Sunday, when all of the playoff semifinals and bowl game match-ups were announced.
It will be the fifth overall trip to the Outback Bowl for both the Gators and the Hawkeyes. The two have met in Tampa twice before - in a 2003 Iowa win and a 2006 Florida victory. The Gators and the Hawkeyes both are currently sporting 8-4 records and hoping to pick up their ninth win of the season.
So, my question is this - do y’all care about this bowl game?
Theoretically, Florida had an opportunity to position themselves in the rankings to potentially receive a bid to play in the Sugar Bowl, one of the “New Year’s Six” bowls affiliated with the College Football Playoff. To have earned this, the Gators would have needed to end up as the second highest ranked SEC team in the final committee rankings. Florida finished as the third highest ranked SEC team - behind Auburn.
The Gators’ most reasonable path to that distinction would have required Florida defeating Florida State in Tallahassee. Another possibility would have been for the Gators to win the SEC Championship Game against Alabama. Obviously, neither of those scenarios came close to fruition.
I don’t think that the Outback Bowl is a bad consolation prize. I also think that Iowa will be a more manageable opponent than Oklahoma would have been. I felt that the Citrus Bowl or Outback Bowl would be an appropriate landing spot for the Gators, given their record and ranking. And since Florida went to Orlando last year, it sits fine with me that the Gators will travel to Tampa this year.
Jim McElwain announced that Austin Appleby will start the bowl game, thus ending weeks of speculation about whether the redshirt of Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask would be burned. (Notice that I said would, not should. I’ll also note that Andy has much more on this here.)
Opinions on this are divided, but I know there is a faction of Gator fans whose excitement for this game waned when they found out that Florida would be starting graduate transfer Appleby, whose eligibility will be exhausted after this contest, and that Luke Del Rio would be available as his back-up rather than one of the freshmen.
Bowl games can be a good opportunity to get a look at some of the younger players on the team. Last year, Jim McElwain split the team up for the first week of bowl practices. He allowed seniors and early NFL Draft entrants to work on strength and conditioning while the younger players took the reps at practice. This year however, McElwain already noted that that format would not be an option for the Gators, due to the number of injures that Florida has sustained.
For some fans, a match-up between a pair of eight win teams might not be very appetizing. But I am looking forward to seeing Florida’s young players bloom and watching the outgoing Gators add another layer to their legacy at UF.
The Outback Bowl presents another opportunity to finish Florida’s season with a win after incurring two consecutive disappointing losses. A win would hopefully leave fans with something to smile about in the long offseason. I don’t know that this win would do more than that, but sending the Gators out and into the offseason with a positive feeling is certainly not a bad thing. I also personally don’t think that a bowl loss would mean that the sky was falling, but I do understand that levels of distress would be elevated for many in the event of one.
So, how do you feel about this bowl game? Are you excited about it? What are your thoughts on the match-up itself? How do you feel about which bowl the Gators are playing in? Are you excited or disappointed by some aspect of the game? Tell us in the comments!