Anthony Jennings takes reins as LSU heads to Outback Bowl

LSU Tigers quarterback Anthony Jennings (10) scrambles against Arkansas in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Friday, Nov. 29, 2013. LSU defeated Arkansas 31-27. (AP Photo/Bill Haber) Show caption
LSU Tigers quarterback Anthony Jennings (10) scrambles against Arkansas in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Friday, Nov. 29, 2013. LSU defeated Arkansas 31-27. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

As Oklahoma State’s coach in 2005, Les Miles watched LSU’s last-second loss to Iowa in the 2005 Capital One Bowl.

He wanted a peek at his future team.

Nine years later, Miles’ Tigers — not Nick Saban’s — will meet Iowa on New Year’s Day in the Outback Bowl, the program’s first trip to the destination in 25 years.

“The Tigers,” Miles said Sunday night, “are looking forward to coming.”

Kickoff is set for noon Jan. 1 at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. LSU will have its first bowl practice Dec. 16 and will arrive at the bowl Dec. 26.

“I think our guys will enjoy a time in a place that’s a destination in and of itself in Tampa,” Miles said.

It’s a new one, too.

No. 14 LSU (9-3, 5-3) will make just its second appearance in the Outback Bowl and first since losing to Syracuse following the 1988 season. The bowl, matching the No. 3 SEC team with the third-best Big Ten squad, normally plucks SEC Eastern Division squads.

For just the second time in the previous 16 years, the Outback chose a Western team.

The event will get one with a good storyline.

The Tigers will start true freshman backup quarterback Anthony Jennings in the bowl, Miles confirmed Sunday night.

Jennings will make his first career start in place of senior Zach Mettenberger, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season finale against Arkansas. Jennings led the Tigers on a 99-yard, game-winning drive over the Razorbacks.

Mettenberger tore his ACL, ESPN reported. Miles would not confirm that Sunday, only saying the injury is “a simple repair” and that “no long-term significant damage” occurred.

Mettenberger, expected to have surgery in the next two weeks, will rehab in Baton Rouge and will “be around” the team during bowl practice, Miles said. He may even travel with the squad to Tampa.

But this is now Jennings’ offense to command, and Miles said he doesn’t expect many changes.

“He’s a very accurate thrower,” the coach said. “I think he fits the offense that Zach was running. ... We will run our offense just the way it is.”

Jennings will go against a defense ranked seventh in the nation and a team that LSU fans probably want revenge against after the 2005 debacle in the Capital One Bowl.

Iowa quarterback Drew Tate completed a 56-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Warren Holloway as time expired to send LSU and then-coach Saban to a 30-25 loss.

It was Saban’s final game as LSU’s coach. News broke hours after the game that Miles would replace Saban, who left for the Miami Dolphins.

“I was kind of following it because there was some preliminary conversation” with LSU about the job, Miles said. “I wanted to know how that had finished.”

Nine years later, the teams square off again in an unlikely place.

The Outback shares the third pick, after the BCS and Capital One Bowl, of SEC teams with the Cotton Bowl but gets first preference for SEC Eastern Division teams.

Just three SEC Western Division teams have been invited to the Outback Bowl since the league split into divisions in 1992: LSU, Alabama and Auburn.

The new setting is a draw, Miles said.

“I think our fans and friends will travel there because there’s so much to do and certainly the weather’s great for the holidays,” Miles said. “I think all of the new sights present a lure to our team that we’ll look forward to.”

Iowa’s more used to the setting of Raymond James Stadium, a 65,000-seat venue known for the massive pirate ship that overlooks the field from one end zone.

Making its fourth appearance in the Outback, Iowa (8-4, 5-3) finished tied with Nebraska for second place in the Big Ten’s Legends Division, which Rose Bowl-bound Michigan State won.

The Hawkeyes — or Nebraska — were thought to land here.

Speculation for LSU’s bowl destination has swirled for the past couple of weeks.

On Sunday morning, the Cotton, Outback and Gator bowls seemed the most likely spots.

After the BCS took its two SEC teams — Auburn to the title game and Alabama to the Sugar — the Capital One chose South Carolina over Missouri, the SEC Championship Game loser.

That put the decision in the Outback’s hands.

The bowl passed on Missouri and took LSU over Texas A&M and Georgia. The Cotton, as this year’s safety net for the SEC title game loser, was contractually obligated to invite Missouri once the Outback declined.

LSU fans traveling to Tampa could get to see a first.

If the Tigers win the Outback Bowl to finish 10-3, it will be their fourth straight season of 10 wins or more, a school record. And, of course, it would give fans who were at the 2005 game, maybe, the slightest sense of vengeance.