For both the LSU Tigers and Iowa Hawkeyes, winning seasons culminated in a noteworthy bowl game to finish out the year—or start the new one. With both teams finishing 5-3 in their respective conferences, it is a matchup of two of the top-tier teams in the SEC and Big Ten this season.
LSU had another good year, finishing out the regular season at 9-3 and ranked 16th in the country. Hiccups against Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama all led to the Tigers falling out of contention in the conference, but five wins in the SEC is still a huge feat for any team.
As for Iowa, the Hawkeyes won eight games, thanks to a three-game winning streak to close out the season. Their struggles against top competition, however, spoiled an otherwise great season and has the Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl rather than a higher bowl game.
While they may not share much in common, the two teams do share a common bond of loving food, as they took care of a huge feast at Outback while getting prepped for the game, according to Jared Aarons of KGAN/KFXA TV.
Here's a look at the 2014 Outback Bowl and a final prediction for the game played on New Year's Day.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. EST
Where: Raymond James Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.
Spread: LSU -7.5 (Vegas Insider)
Over/Under: 49 points
Team Injury Reports (via USA Today)
|Odell Beckham Jr||WR||Hip||Questionable|
Which Team Has the Better Defense?
Neither Iowa nor LSU has an explosive offense, and the Tigers are even more shorthanded without Zach Mettenberger, who ended his collegiate career with a knee injury. For both teams, however, the defense has been the catalyst for their success throughout the season, which could lead to a low-scoring affair.
For LSU, this year was seen as somewhat of a setback from prior seasons in which the team dominated the SEC. After holding opponents to 21 points or fewer in six games this season, though, the Tigers are still one of the best defenses in the country.
One of the Tigers' most notable defensive performances came against Auburn. In its fourth game of the season, LSU handed Auburn its only defeat of the season, with a 35-21 win against the No. 1 rushing offense in the country. The eventual No. 2 team is headed to the BCS National Championship Game.
The Tigers have a defense that doesn't boast many star individual players, but the team has still had success this season. Guys such as Lamin Barrow (86 tackles) and Anthony Johnson (seven tackles for loss, three sacks) have been huge but their modest numbers certainly don't strike fear into opponents.
With a huge question mark on the offensive side of the ball after the loss of Mettenberger, LSU's defense will need to step up if it plans on defeating Iowa and finishing the season with 10 wins.
On the Iowa side, Anthony Hitchens has been the best player on the field.
The Hawkeyes' durable linebacker has tallied 102 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception on the season.
Hitchens is one of many defensive playmakers for an Iowa team that has James Morris (98 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, four interceptions) roaming the field beside him.
The Hawkeyes have allowed just 303.2 total yards of offense per game and rank 11th in the country in scoring defense, surrendering just 18.8 points per game. Unfortunately, they haven't fared as well in their losses.
In the four games Iowa has lost this season, the Hawkeyes have allowed 29.5 points per game. Two of those losses came against Top 25 opponents—Northern Illinois and a Michigan State team that, while it wasn't ranked in the Top 25 at the time they played, earned a Rose Bowl berth after claiming the Big Ten title.
If the Hawkeyes expect to pull out their first win over a Top 25 opponent this season in the Outback Bowl, they will need the defense to reverse its woes against top competition. With no Mettenberger on the field, however, stopping Jeremy Hill (1,185 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns) could pay huge dividends.
While oddsmakers see the Tigers still claiming a win in the Outback Bowl, the loss of Mettenberger is one that could be a game-changer. Coach Les Miles spoke to The Sports Network about his former quarterback:
We are very disappointed for Zach. He's been a tremendous leader for our team and he's as competitive a guy as I have ever been around. He's had a great impact on our program.
The loss of Mettenberger forces the Tigers to turn to freshman Anthony Jennings, who has thrown 10 passes in his collegiate career.
With one of the Tigers' best receivers in Odell Beckham (57 receptions, 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns) listed as questionable for the game, his status could also be huge for LSU's success with a freshman signal-caller.
Hill could certainly carry the Tigers on his back to a win. Against an Iowa defense, though, that will be loading the box with rush defense as the top priority, expecting Hill to be the only offense could doom LSU.
Instead of LSU running up the score like it could have done with Mettenberger behind center, expect quarterback Jake Rudock (2,281 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions) to do just enough to lead his team past the Tigers in the Outback Bowl.
Prediction: Hawkeyes 23, Tigers 17