OUtback Bowl Pick
Some would consider the OUtback Bowl a slogfest, but Florida and Iowa are filled with NFL-level talent on the defensive side and offensive line making this Game worth a look. It’s been a battle most of the season for these teams, but they’ll try to end on a positive in Florida. Only a couple hOurs from the stadium, the Gators were -3 point favorites as seen at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
After three mediocre wins Florida was considered a small national-title contender in the early season, but then a let down against Tennessee stopped those predictions. The Gators grinded through the rest of the season managing nice wins over Georgia, South Carolina and LSU, but were also destroyed by Arkansas, Florida State and Alabama. It was hit-or-miss seemingly every week for this team.
But the same could be said about Iowa after early-season home losses to North Dakota State and Northwestern. Their best wins in the first nine Games of the year came at Minnesota and Purdue and neither were all that convincing. Even worse, they beat lowly Rutgers just 14-7, a team that gave up 37.5 points per Game. However, the Hawkeyes turned things around following a big loss at Penn State. They battled for a win over Michigan and then dominated a good Nebraska team in the finale.
Once again, Florida’s offense has been an unknown this season. They had quarterback trouble all year due to injuries and LUke Del Rio will serve as backup in this Game, but not start. Austin Appleby will be under center after throwing 8 TDs and 5 INTs in six starts. Obviously, he’s played some good defenses with Tennessee probably being the weakest one he’s faced, but Iowa is on that list of good defenses. The Gators will aim to get running back Jordan SCarlett going, but he’s also had his issues, managing just 70 combined yards against FSU and ‘Bama. He had a nice stretch after five wins in six Games, but the Florida running Game is still hard to trust.
And that’s where the Iowa defense steps in, which has looked like previous versions in recent weeks. The Hawkeyes held their final three opponents to 23 combined points, which is all that needs to be said. Desmond King leads the way in the secondary and will be a problem for Appleby, while that run defense held Michigan in check. As of note, Appleby has already seen this defense multiple times from his days in Purdue. He went 23-of-40 for 259 yards and a touchdown in a November 2015 loss.
While 14 points may be difficult for Florida, the same can be said about Iowa. However, Florida’s recent struggles may open some things up and it doesn’t help that the Gators defensive coordinator moved on to Temple so they’ll have linebackers coach Randy Shannon in charge, the former Miami head coach.
But while Iowa has turned things around late in the season, Florida’s defense has been exposed. Obviously the Gators played top talent, but Iowa’s running Game can’t be overlooked. The Hawkeyes have looked great and will likely finish with two 1,000-yard rushers between LeShun Daniels Jr. (1,013 yards, 10 TDs) and Akrum Wadley (966 yards, 10 TDs). Wadley ran for 115 yards against Michigan while Daniels had 317 yards and Four touchdowns in the final two Games. Iowa’s offensive line has gelled and turned into an elite unit that could win the Game. C.J. Beathard is an afterthought at quarterback at this point after a promising junior campaign. He hasn’t attempted more than 20 passes in the last three Games and if possible, that will be the case in this Game against Florida’s top pass defense.
The Gators haven’t covered in their last seven non-Conference Games, but are 5-2 ATS in their last seven bowls. The Hawkeyes are 5-2 ATS in their last seven Games overall, but 1-4-1 ATS in their last six neutral-site Games. Iowa has lost Four-straight bowls (two to SEC teams), while Florida lost last year 41-7 against Michigan.
Our Pick – Florida -3