Jacksonville, FL - - The New Year arrived in B1G style in 2015, with the Big Ten Conference winning three of four bowl games, including the top three match-ups.
Ohio State defeated Alabama 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl in the nightcap game to join Oregon, winner of the Rose Bowl, in the first CFP Championship Game on January 12th.
The Big Ten won two of three games against SEC opponents on New Year's Day to take a 5-4 record into the final B1G bowl game. The SEC is now 5-5.
The Iowa Hawkeyes (7-5) and Tennessee Volunteers (6-6) meet in the TaxSlayer Bowl today at 2:20 p.m. (CT) at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. The game is televised on ESPN, in the final bowl match-up for each conference, in another B1G vs. SEC game.
For Tennessee it's like taking a trip down memory lane. For Iowa it has become very familiar. But neither school is taking it for granted.
The Hawkeyes are making their 12 bowl game appearance in the last 14 years under head coach Kirk Ferentz. They won games this season, the sixth time in the last seven seasons they've done so, and they're competing in January for the 12th time in program history.
"(Any bowl game) is a great experience," said Ferentz. "It's a chance to be together as a team for another four or five weeks, and to me it's all great."
Even greater has been Iowa's success in bowl games. Since Ferentz defeated Texas Tech at the 2001 Alamo Bowl, no Big Ten team has more bowl wins than Iowa.
"To me it's really about how you approach the month, or in some cases six weeks," said Ferentz. "You have to have a plan, execute that, and communicate that (plan) with your players."
Standing in Iowa's way of its seventh bowl win since 2001 is a Tennessee team that won three of its last four games to reach bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010.
The Volunteers are playing in their 50th bowl game in program history -- only Alabama, Texas, and Georgia have appeared in as many -- but they are playing today in the postseason for the first time since a double overtime loss to North Carolina at 2010 Music City Bowl.
That's four years and three days between bowl appearances for a school that is tied with Florida State for sixth all-time with 25 bowl wins.
"Right now these individuals have never played in December or January, nor practiced," said second year Tennessee head coach Butch Jones.
"Being a part of this bowl game is very, very special."
Tennessee does not have a player on its roster with bowl experience, a detail that includes 17 seniors. Jones said he has talked to that group about today's chance to leave a legacy, but he's also reminded them it will not come easy.
Tennessee has 24 freshman playing, seven starting for the Volunteers today. Iowa has had some success against younger teams in 2014, with wins at Pittsburgh and at Purdue, two of the younger teams in College Football in 2014.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach (Ferentz) and the entire (Iowa) football program," said Jones. "This is going to be a great challenge for us. They do a great job running the football, play-action, and they can beat you with the deep ball.
"Defensively they are very sound in what they do and their players execute. At the end of the day it's all about consistency and performance, and execution by performance, and they have that."
The Hawkeyes also have a hunger for a bowl win. Iowa's 16 seniors (10 starters) are playing in their third bowl game, but they are yet to win the final game of the season, and today is their only chance to win the final game of a career.
As true freshmen, the current Iowa fifth-year seniors saw their Iowa teammates finish 8-5, with a bowl win over Missouri to cap off the 2010 season. A win today would leave Iowa with a similar record and finish in a bowl.
"It will be emotional after," said senior Mark Weisman, "but right now it just feels like another game. We'll see how it goes and reflect on it later. Right now we're just trying to get a win against a good Tennessee team."
Iowa has had trouble in trophy games in 2014 though, with four of Iowa's five losses involving a trophy. A bowl trophy will be on the line for Iowa today.
"We have one game left and we want to win it very badly, it’s as simple as that,” Iowa coach Ferentz said. “To me it’s not so much about next year. It’s about finishing for our 16 seniors. It’s important that we play well this game.”
Ferentz teams are seeking their seventh bowl trophy, since 2001. A young Tennessee team stands in the Hawkeyes way in Jacksonville.
How will the B1G vs. SEC showdown finish the 2014-15 bowl season for each conference?