TAMPA, Fla. — Seniors on the Iowa football team aren’t bashful about it.
Since the summer, they’ve told anybody willing to listen that their list of goals for the 2016 season includes winning a bowl game.
It’s something no Hawkeye has done since Micah Hyde returned an interception 72 yards for a touchdown with 5 minutes, 32 seconds remaining to give Iowa a 27-24 victory over Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl.
Iowa has whiffed in four attempts to win in bowl games since, making it a logical legacy for this year’s seniors to list among their objectives.
“Nobody in our program has ever won a bowl game. We want to be the senior class that turns that around,’’ Iowa tight end George Kittle said. “It’s something that we can do the past few senior classes before us couldn’t get done. It’s a chance to leave our mark on the program and set the bar higher for the future.’’
The 21st-rated Hawkeyes will get that chance Monday, facing 20th-ranked Florida at noon in the Outback Bowl in a matchup of 8-4 teams at Raymond James Stadium.
Among the collection of T-shirts the Hawkeyes have accumulated this season is one that reminds them of the need to “leave the jersey in a better place,’’ suggesting that there is room for the Hawkeyes’ foundation to grow.
In the seasons since defeating Missouri, the Hawkeyes watched Oklahoma in the 2011 Insight Bowl, LSU in the 2014 Outback Bowl, Tennessee in the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl and Stanford in the 2016 Rose Bowl celebrate wins.
The Hawkeyes were handed 17- and 29-point losses in the last two of those games, which has only added to the sting of the season-ending setbacks.
“It’s something that has been eating at us because we haven’t won a bowl game in a while,’’ defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson said. “I guess that really adds fuel to the fire.’’
Kittle said leaving the stadium after a bowl loss “takes a little of the shine off of the season.’’
The Hawkeyes polished off a list of three goals for the season prior to the start of fall camp and handed it to coach Kirk Ferentz.
The first goal was to retain ownership of four traveling trophies, and Iowa fell a loss to Wisconsin short of recording that sweep.
Ultimately, the 17-9 loss to Badgers cost the Hawkeyes the chance to reach their second goal. Iowa seniors wanted to return to Indianapolis and the Big Ten Championship Game, but the setback to the Badgers left Iowa on the outside looking in.
The only other team goal the Hawkeyes put to paper was winning a bowl game.
“That has been one of the things they have been focused on for a long time now. It’s a positive thing that they are thinking about it so they are aware of it,’’ Ferentz said. “It’s not going to be an easy thing to accomplish, but it never is. If you get to a bowl, you’re typically going to be playing somebody pretty good.’’
Ferentz likes the way this Iowa team has responded, recovering from a thorough 41-14 loss at Penn State and a 5-4 record on Nov. 5 to win the final three regular-season games.
“I give our seniors all the credit in the world for what happened down the stretch in November,’’ Ferentz said. “They got us back up on our feet to at least help us to the next step. I’m confident they will do what they can to put us in a good position in this game.’’
Iowa has maintained a business-like approach on the practice field in the days leading up to Monday’s opportunity.
The Hawkeyes’ re-tooled practices have been efficient and focused.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard believes that has prepared Iowa well.
“We’re doing the things we need to do to get ready to put a good game together on Monday,’’ Beathard said. “We know that’s what it’s going to take. We just need to get ourselves ready to go and I feel like we are headed in that direction.’’
Linebacker Josey Jewell is only a junior, but shares those sentiments.
“The seniors on this team have been really focused on getting a bowl win. It’s been a long time for the program and they’ve set their mind on making it happen,’’ Jewell said.
“From the beginning of the year, it’s a goal that has been out there and it has been guiding us this week. We need to stay focused and be ready to make it happen.’’