Hoosiers heading to the Gator Bowl

As the Hoosiers awaited their bowl destination, it was tough to sit back and wait.

“I was on Twitter, refreshing. A lot,” Indiana senior Reakwon Jones said, smiling.

It took a while for a mess of information to sort itself out. After the College Football Playoff and the New Year’s Six bowls were revealed — the latter placing Wisconsin in the Rose and Penn State in the Cotton — it was almost certain the Hoosiers were heading for the Gator Bowl.

But the opponent wasn’t so straightforward. National college football writers were tweeting about IU-Kentucky as the matchup. But then there were reports about the Southeastern Conference making a switch to Tennessee.

“I saw all the predictions, then I saw it was us versus Kentucky,” Jones said. “Kind of baffled by that. Then, finally, Tennessee. I’m just thankful to play any SEC team.”

The confusion finally settled onto a date and time set in stone — 7 p.m., Jan. 2, in Jacksonville, Fla.

And it’s all the Hoosiers could really ask for.

It will be one last opportunity for seniors like Jones to put a stamp on the program after an eight-win regular season, the first since 1993. It’s also a chance for a rising young core to further accelerate the program’s growth.

“It is a national stage that you get to play on against a nationally recognized football program and a nationally recognized bowl,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “All of those things combined, and the time of year … when we have a chance to be the one thing that everybody is watching.”

It took some help from IU’s fellow Big Ten teams to get there. In a Big Ten packed with eight-, nine-, and 10-win teams, the Hoosiers needed both Wisconsin and Penn State to crack the “six.”

Wisconsin’s odds seemed better after a battle with Ohio State in the conference title game Saturday.

They were, which opened the door for IU to make its first trip to Florida for a bowl. This is IU’s first post-New Year’s game since the 1987 Peach Bowl, which happened to be against Tennessee. The Volunteers won, 27-22.

“A lot of respect for their program. Obviously, a ton of respect for that conference,” said Allen, who was a linebackers coach at Ole Miss from 2012-14. “Just understand the kind of athlete we’ll be playing against and really excited for that challenge and that opportunity.”

This Tennessee team comes into the postseason on a roll.

Winners of five straight, the 7-5 Volunteers were initially believed to be heading to the Music City Bowl in Nashville. Kentucky, on the other hand, ended up at the Belk Bowl versus Virginia Tech.

“The conference commissioner, in the end, makes the decision and asked for our preferences, and we’ve been back and forth a couple of times as to what was best,” Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer said. “In the end, I think we landed in the right place for this football team at this particular time.”

“I think Coach Fulmer and I started talking a couple weeks ago and he knew very clearly he was No. 1 on our list and we are so excited about having them,” Rick Catlett, the CEO of the Gator Bowl, said. “Indiana … has never played a bowl game in the state of Florida. How could you not have that, and wanting to see that happen, with the year they had?”

The bowl and the two programs selected hope it’s a great match. IU athletic director Fred Glass said part of the pitch to the Gator Bowl was the 23,000 IU alums who live in Florida. Of course, the Hoosiers also have 26 players on the roster from the Sunshine State, a Big Ten best.

But regardless of where they hail from, the Hoosiers were excited about their next matchup. IU senior offensive lineman Simon Stepaniak, like Jones, found himself scrolling through Twitter in the minutes leading up to the bowl announcement, anxious to learn the result.

After two years of missing out on bowls, the Hoosiers were more than ready for this one.

“I was on my Twitter all day. Just reloading, refreshing, refreshing,” Stepaniak said. “At first it was Kentucky, and then I was like ‘OK, that’s good.’ And then it was officially Tennessee. I was like ‘Awesome.’

“You can’t beat an SEC opponent. It’s exciting to have that opportunity versus another great conference.”

With three-plus weeks until kickoff, the Hoosiers don’t have to be hasty about their prep. Allen even mentioned taking it slow during their first few days of prep, focusing mostly on technique and development, because game-planning can get “stale” if the coaches get too specific too early.

But the players don’t want to wait too long to turn their sights on Tennessee.

“I’ll probably relax the rest of the day and just be happy with the opportunity we have in front of us,” Stepaniak said. “But the next couple of days, I’ll definitely be getting on the film and getting ready to prep for them, because we want to give it our best shot.”

18 comments

  1. Beating an SEC team in a bowl game played in Florida will go a long way to further enhancing IU’s reputation and recruiting in the southeast. But TN won’t be an easy win and their fans travel very well!

  2. Vol fans are renowned for their bowl travel. Having seen them in person in several bowl games, I can verify this, along with their penchant for being “omnibibulous”. And they weren’t particularly fun drunks. If you know any 1987 Hoosier players, they can probably share a few stories of their sportsmanship.

  3. IU has landed in a good Bowl for recruiting and playing a good opponent. It gives our Florida players a chance to play in front of more of their families and friends. It will also get IU’s name out there in Florida even more. Hopefully the defense can heal up and improve with the extra practices so they can perform better along with the rest of the team. I like that they will play in the Gator Bowl and gives them the stage with it played on Jan 2.

  4. The biggest challenge for I U’s Athletic Department will be selling IU’s ticket allotment to the bowl game, let’s hope the I U Fans travel better to Florida in numbers, than they do for games in Bloomington.

  5. Congrats to CTA, the kids and the program in general. This game, opponent, date and time could not be better. THIS is THE ‘Breakthrough’ OPPORTUNITY that has been referenced probably going back to ’91. Regarding exposure, setting, a beatable SEC foe….fabulous. As for enthusiasm and IU fan attendance? About 1/3 million Indiana ex-patriots now reside in the sunshine state. About 8,000 of them were in Tampa for the Colts game Sunday. The support will be sizeable.

  6. Noticed Tennessee was destroyed by Florida, Georgia and Alabama….Appears they are a worthy Indiana opponent.
    BigTen and SCC certainly have their ‘haves and ‘have-nots’ ….There’s the ‘Big’ three or four in each conference…and then there’s everyone else playing tiddlywinks and a pretend game of ‘breakthrough’ and relevancy (though the generating of cash and making of cash is great for some).

    The goal is never becoming any of the top three or four…The goal is merely to get at the cash….cash…and more cash. Bowls, bowls, bowls…Pretend, pretend, pretend.

    1. 3.9 million per year and whatever rest of staff gets…after it is all said and done….the pinnacle of IU head coach football will be successful improvement over its past IF the IU head coach can win 1 more game overall than is lost…and win one more game in big ten than is lost…and 1 more win in any bowl game than is lost….after IU head coach career has ended. (TA is already down in big ten loss column and has quite a bit of ground to make up). It doesn’t sound like much but that’s as good as it gets for IU football. That would be (though expensive) improvement over the past.
      All the IU football strategies and talk vs all the other football programs strategies and talk from top to bottom.
      If IU beats Tennessee…will it be the first win of the season for IU over a team with a winning record?

  7. Is it true that kids that are enrolling at IU in the spring can practice during the break, but can’t suit up for the bowl game? I have heard other schools do this, but confirming that it is a normal practice.

  8. From your fingers to God’s ear, Brad. Let’s hope the Hoosier Nation’s turnout is better than ever.

    If I was a student at IU, I’d be changing my plans for spring break to the semester break and finding a way to get to the Gator Bowl.

    1. Don’t miss with your fingers “to God’s ear,” Brad.
      You could hit a nostril booger and cause an inadvertent “breakthrough” landslide of sorts upon Memorial.

  9. Is anyone who frequents this board and posts going to go to the game? I haven’t seen the Hoosiers in person for a few years and the last bowl game I attended with my wife and youngest son was the Fiesta Bowl in 2008. I just ordered 8 tickets through IU this morning and plan to take my wife, three sons, one daughter-in-law, and two grandkids to the game. The Hyatt was booked, so made reservations for 3 rooms for 2 nights at the Doubletree downtown.

    Would be fun meeting up with other posters in Jacksonville.

    All the UT fans down here in Knoxville think this should be an easy win for UT. I think 7 of my group will be wearing red, but my oldest son who graduated from UT Law School said he is wearing orange! Maybe I’ll sell his ticket!!

  10. Good for you guys. I’d love to go to the game, but our daughter is getting married this spring and all of our disposable income (and then some) will be spent on that “celebration.” I tried to bribe my daughter and future son-in-law into eloping, but that idea did not go over well with either my wife or my daughter.

    I warned my future son-in-law that once they’re married, “what’s hers is hers and what’s yours is hers. And if you accept that, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.”

  11. When I checked out UTenn’s record and saw that they had won their five most recent, I got a little nervous, but thirty-three days off after the last regular season game is a long time and a lot can happen. I think the long hiatus is why some supposedly even bowl match-ups result in some remarkable blowouts; the team of late November is often not the team of the first week of January. Let’s hope the IUFB brain trust knows what to do with an entire month of prep time.

    And I’m really bummed out that the game is Jan. 2; my children have school. Dec. 30 in Nashville would have been doable. I guess I could head off to the game in Florida anyhow and leave my family here, the shores of Lake Michigan are so beautiful when they are all frozen over. Any advice on that?

    1. Come to the game by yourself! My oldest son is leaving his wife and 2 children (6 & 8) back in Knoxville while my middle son, a retired AF pilot and current airline pilot, is postponing a family ski trip to fly to the game with his family from DC. He graduated from the AF Academy, but is still an IU fan from growing up with me. My two older sons remember the 1979 Holiday Bowl the year after we moved to Knoxville. That was before we had cable, so I rented a hotel room that evening so we could watch the game. I remember going crazy during Tim Wilbur’s punt return and jumping up and down on one of the beds. When the game was over, we checked out and went home!

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