The Iowa Hawkeyes and the No. 16 LSU Tigers are set to meet at Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 1 in the 2014 Outback Bowl in a game where both will look to find redemption for underwhelming seasons.
The Hawkeyes (8-4) faced a brutal schedule, with all four losses coming to teams that ended with a combined 45-6 record. The Tigers (9-3) managed to beat the national-championship-bound Tigers of Auburn, but dropped winnable games against Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss.
In a game of such magnitude for both schools, a handful of players will rise above the rest and prove to be worthy of an observer's attention.
Jake Rudock, QB, Iowa
Iowa sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock had a strong year with his 2,281 passing yards and 18 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. By all accounts, he is enjoying the trip back to his home state, as detailed by the team's Twitter account:
Jake Rudock on Beach Day fan support: "It’s awesome, you get off the bus & hear fans screaming ‘Let’s Go Hawks.' It’s a great environment."— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) December 30, 2013
The fun stops here for Rudock, though.
He is now tasked with posting enough points to defeat LSU, a team that scores an average of 37 points to rank in the top 25. Rudock and the Hawkeyes offense have scored more than that total just three times in 2013—two of those performances came against one-win teams (Purdue and Western Michigan).
Above all, Rudock must play at a high level and keep the ball in his team's hands in order to keep the LSU offense and the next two players off the field.
Anthony Jennings, QB, LSU
Perhaps the biggest story surrounding the Outback Bowl is the one concerning LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings.
The freshman has a lot on his plate as the man expected to take the torch after starter Zach Mettenberger went down for the year with a torn ACL. That's a daunting task for any freshman whose first career start comes in a bowl game, but coach Les Miles seems confident in his signal-caller, per the team's Twitter account:
Miles: The greatest characteristic of Anthony Jennings is poise. The confidence of the team when he goes under center doesn't change.— LSU Football (@LSUfball) December 29, 2013
Jennings will need plenty of poise against the nation's No. 10 defense that allows an average of 18.8 points per game and touts one of the country's best linebacker corps, as Dave Miller of the National Football Post illustrates:
Nice test for LSU QB Anthony Jennings in Outback Bowl. He'll face arguably the best group of sr LB's in Iowa's Morris, Kirksey and Hitchens.— Dave Miller (@Miller_Dave) January 1, 2014
With just 10 career passing attempts to his name, Jennings will need to show a big-play ability from the opening gun to overcome a vaunted defense. How he handles the pressure may very well decide the outcome of the game.
Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
Above all else, Jeremy Hill is the name to watch.
Surely a hot NFL prospect if and when he declares, Hill ran for 1,185 yards and 14 touchdowns with a superb 6.8 average as a sophomore. He will now be tasked with not only helping to mask a potential weakness under center, but also being productive in the face of an elite defense surely dialed in on stopping him.
Which player is most important to watch?
But there is a silver lining—the Hawkeyes have struggled this year against backs of Hill's caliber. Wisconsin's James White ran for 132 yards and two scores as Iowa lost, 28-9. Ohio State's Carlos Hyde saw similar success with his 149 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-24 Iowa loss.
Hill is no stranger to such days as shown by his six games with more than 100 yards rushing—four of which came in at 143 or more.
Can Hill succeed and carry the Tigers with a defense's game plan surely focused on him? The answer is one fans should not miss.