Taking stock Sunday night of LSU’s invitation to the Outback Bowl leaves Tigers fans little to fret over.
Unlike last season, coach Les Miles’ team wasn’t passed over in the pecking order. Instead, the No. 14 Tigers (9-3) were plucked instead of the SEC Eastern Division champion in Missouri, who landed in the safety net of the Cotton Bowl.
Twelve months ago, fans grumbled — and that’s putting it generously — about packing bags for the Chick-fil-A bowl and a fourth trip to Atlanta in five seasons. This year’s destination in Tampa, Fla., is one that hasn’t been made in 25 years.
And LSU still nets a nice check, considering South Carolina and Michigan collected $3.4 million a pop last year for their participation on New Year’s Day.
Ah, but then there’s the pesky sticking point of the opponent in the Hawkeyes (8-4), who finished as the runner-up to Michigan State in the Big Ten’s ill-named Legends (really, Western) Division.
No, this measuring stick isn’t precise, and there’s a month to break down the matchup, but the actual game against Iowa fell to the bottom of the order of topics discussed behind preparing new starting quarterback Anthony Jennings and the details of Zach Mettenberger’s torn ACL.
The subject didn’t generate many questions from reporters, and, as a result, Miles spent all of 70 seconds discussing Kirk Ferentz’s team.
“He’s been one of the most successful coaches in the Big Ten Conference for years,” Miles said. “You see the way his teams play. They’re very capable and talented.”
There’s the penetrating insight, folks.
Miles spent more time discussing his drive down I-10 on Thursday to watch his son Manny Miles quarterback University High against John Curtis in the LHSAA Division II state title game. (Apparently, Les will be sitting with the masses and not in the suite.)
Meanwhile, we’ll have to wait to find out about plans to slow Iowa running back Mark Weisman, a 6-foot, 236-pound walk-on that’s rumbled for 937 yards this season.
This year’s edition of the Hawkeyes is appropriately Midwestern: Unassuming, sturdy and modest.
What you’re left with is trying to drum up interest in an opponent who is short on glitz. The seemingly humble Hawkeyes, with the exception of Ferentz’s $3.65 million annual salary, don’t present an overwhelming enticement to snap up one of the 12,000 bowl tickets allotted to LSU fans.
Yet, this might be a fact of life moving forward.
Under the new College Football Playoff, if LSU can’t snag an elite bowl berth, a typical season might produce a familiar buffet of options in the Outback, Capitol One, Chick-fil-A and Gator bowls. So, whatever interest that can be sparked will be generated by the matchup — but still a facet limited by the slotting systems and new bylaws in different conferences.
Alas, Iowa will have to suffice.
So far, the initial response of Tigers fans is a collective yawn. Or a shrug of the shoulders. Perhaps they might trade their spot in Tampa for an invite to the Gator Bowl and a chance to play Nebraska in Jacksonville, Fla.
Who could truly blame them? Watching Huskers coach and former LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini blow his stack might be worth the price of admission and a ready-made story arc over the next month.
And then there was the possibility of drawing Michigan, who wound up in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, that proved alluring as a potential combatant in the Gator Bowl — if only to see how Miles squirm ahead of squaring off against his alma mater.
“I think it probably would have been harder on me to play Michigan,” Miles said. “I have a very strong spot and favorite spot in my heart that team, and it would be kind of hard for me to gear up.”
Right now, it’s interesting to see whether Iowa invokes a similar feeling among the LSU faithful.