TAMPA, Fla. - A press conference doesn't pass here without a question about LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings. In case you've been under a rock, the true freshman will start his first college game in Wednesday's Outback Bowl against Iowa.
The answer to the questions are simple. We don't know how the Georgia product will perform until we see him in the game. He comes into it having thrown 10 passes. You can read our preview of him here.
Jennings steps in for Zach Mettenberger, who tore his ACL in the regular-season finale against Arkansas. Jennings led the No. 14 Tigers on a game-winning touchdown drive in the closing minutes of that game. It produced the only significant game film of him to study.
"We know he's an athletic quarterback," defensive end Dominic Alvis said. "We know he can make some plays with his feet. (Mettenberger) went down and he's going to be coaching the young guy up. We're not going to see the same look but we know this guy can move."
Maybe this game comes down to how Jennings plays. Perhaps it comes down to something else. Plenty of times the pre-game focus doesn't determine the contest's deciding factor.
"We've had plenty of time to prep," Iowa MLB James Morris said on Sunday. "At this point, it's just going to come down to fundamentals; lane integrity, making sure you're not running up the field and things of that nature."
The challenge for LSU Coach Les Miles will be to motivate his team to play against an Iowa team most of his players never considered during the recruiting process. The Tigers represent the mighty SEC while Iowa is located somewhere in a cornfield. At least that's the perception.
LSU is the only team to defeat Auburn, who will be playing Florida State for the national championship. Iowa lost to a MAC school at home, albeit a good one in Northern Illinois.
Can the Tigers get motivated for this matchup when they begin the season reaching for the crystal trophy or a BCS bowl?
"The Auburn game and the other games that we've played are a view of what we're capable of," Miles said. "We'd like to see how good we can be in this game. And so there's incentive to do that because we play a good Iowa team."
Much like with Jennings, it's tough to predict what we'll get from the LSU players in terms of motivation. And that could be a bigger factor than how well the Tigers quarterback plays.
Iowa is 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten. The Tigers are 9-3 and 5-3 in the SEC. LSU is ranked 14th.
Iowa holds a 1-0 advantage in a series after a 30-25, last-second win in the 2005 Capital One Bowl.
LSU opened as a seven-point choice at the Las Vegas Hilton. The number sat at eight as of Monday. The total was posted at 49.5.
-Tigers are 1-4 Against the Spread in their last 5 games overall.
-Hawkeyes are Hawkeyes are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 bowl games.
Iowa secondary v. LSU WRs Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.: The Hawkeyes have been been susceptible to giving up big plays in the back end. Some of that comes down to the front seven pressuring the quarterback, others times the secondary has broken down and missed assignments. Those things can't occur against this receiver tandem, which will be the best Iowa has faced this season.
Iowa RBs Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock, Jordan Canzeri, LeShun Daniels v. LSU Front Seven: Iowa has a reputation for running the football but the Hawkeyes only ranked seventh in the Big Ten in rushing yards during conference play (160.9 ypg, 4.3 ypc). Lowly Purdue allowed them 318 and Minnesota gave up 245 but they were under 150 in four of their other six conference games. LSU has a high-powered offense even with a green QB. Iowa must keep it off the field by running the football and controlling clock.
Tuesday, Dec. 31 from 6-9 p.m. EST at the Tampa Convention Center.
LSU - Zach Mettenberger (knee, out), Odell Beckham Jr. (hip, probable), Jerald Hawkins (knee, questionable), Corey Thompson (knee, doubtful).
Iowa - Dominic Alvis (back, probable), Michael Malloy (undisclosed, doubtful), Jake Rudock (knee, probable), Adam Cox (undislcosed, probable), Macon Plewa (back, probable).
POINTS OF INTEREST
-LSU makes its 14th straight bowl appearance, and its 45th overall.
-The Tigers are searching for a 10th win of the season, which would give LSU a new school record with four straight 10-win seasons.
-LSU leads the nation in third-down conversion percentage, converting 82-of-140 for 58.6 percent. That percentage is the best in school history.
-LSU is 5-3 in bowl games under Les Miles.
-LSU is 40-2 under Les Miles in games against non-conference opponents since 2005. LSU’s only losses during that span came to Penn State in the 2010 Capital One Bowl and to Clemson in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
-LSU opens the 2014 season against Wisconsin in the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff on Aug. 30 in Houston’s Reliant Stadium.
-Wide receiver Jarvis Landry was named the recipient of the Charles McClendon Award as LSU’s most valuable player in 2013. Landry led one of the most explosive offenses in school history by catching 75 passes for 1,172 yards and 10 touchdowns. LSU’s offense ranked among the league leaders in scoring (37.2), total offense (465.9) and passing offense (265.1).
-For the second straight year Forbes Magazine has ranked the LSU football program as the fourth most valuable team in college football with a worth of $105 million. LSU trails only Texas ($139 million), Notre Dame ($117 million) and Alabama ($110 million).
-LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr. was named the winner of the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player.
-LSU leads the nation in third down conversions, converting 82-of-140 for 58.6 percent. Louisville is No. 2 at 55.9 percent (90-of-161).
-Jarvis Landry leads the nation in third-down touchdown receptions (6), 15+ yard third-down receptions (15) and 25+ yard third-down receptions (6).
-Iowa is making its fourth appearance in the Outback Bowl. The Hawkeyes are 2-1.
-Iowa is 11-11-0 all-time against the SEC, including a 4-2 mark in bowl games.
I wish I knew what I didn't know. Namely, how Anthony Jennings will perform and if they LSU players are motivated. It makes my already questionable prognostication skills even more suspect.
All I have to go on are A) Jennings stepping into a pressure situation against Arkansas and performing well. B) The talent all over the field for the Tigers.
I really like this Iowa team and have no doubt it will be ready to go on Wednesday. I would not at all be shocked to see the Hawkeyes pull this one out.
This game feels like the 2005 season's Outback Bowl against Florida. You remember, the one Iowa lost with the help of a poor call on the on-side kick.
I think LSU is the more talented team and will need to be off and the Hawkeyes on for the upset to occur. I worry about Iowa's inability to run the ball and the Tigers putting heat on an immobile Jake Rudock.
Take comfort, Iowa fans. The Hawkeyes have been proving me wrong all season.
SCORE: LSU 27, IOWA 20