Outback Bowl breakdown: LSU vs. Iowa
LSU (9-3) vs. Iowa (8-4)
Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: To get a glimpse of what LSU could look like next season. Senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger went down with a torn ACL in the Tigers' regular-season finale against Arkansas on Nov. 29, and true freshman backup Anthony Jennings took over and engineered a 99-yard fourth-quarter touchdown drive to help LSU secure a 31-27 victory. Now, Jennings has had a full month to prepare as the starter, and it's starting to show. "He's more comfortable with himself," junior defensive end Jermauria Rasco told The Advocate. "When you're not the main quarterback, you're just a role player. Now you have everything on your shoulders. I know that's one thing he's gained a lot these last couple of practices."
This game also provides an opportunity to watch two of the nation's most talented tailbacks. The Tigers' Jeremy Hill ran for 1,185 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Iowa's Mark Weisman rushed for 938 yards and seven scores. Still, expect the Hawkeyes to employ several backfield options: Four players had at least 60 carries in 2013.
• Keep an eye on: Iowa's linebacking corps. LSU's defense is more heralded nationally, but the Hawkeyes allowed an average of just 4.61 yards per play, seventh in the FBS. That's thanks in large part to the play of Anthony Hitchens (102 tackles), James Morris (98) and Christian Kirksey (97), all of whom rank among the top 10 tacklers in the Big Ten. Also be sure to monitor the Tigers' receiving tandem of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Though their production hinges on Jennings' proficiency, both finished the regular season with more than 1,100 receiving yards. They also have the potential to make plays like this.
• Did you know: Iowa and LSU consumed more than 5,000 pounds of food at last week's Outback Bowl banquet, including 1,650 pounds of meat alone. No word yet on if Tigers coach Les Miles has addressed the feast at a press conference. It didn't take place on Columbus Day, after all.
• Final analysis: The Hawkeyes finished the season on a roll, winning four of their final five games, including a 38-17 rout of Nebraska on Nov. 29. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock, in particular, seemed to come into his own. However, even with Mettenberger out, Miles' team boasts more talent than does Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz's. Look for the Tigers -- who convert a national-high 58.6 percent of their third downs -- to pull away after making some key plays down the stretch.
• The pick: LSU 24, Iowa 17