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Tech, Iowa in Orange

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

MIAMI -- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz vividly remembers flipping his television one night last fall and instantly becoming mesmerized by Georgia Tech's spread option offense.

"I can't imagine trying to get ready for them in a normal week," Ferentz said.

Luckily for Ferentz and the Hawkeyes, they'll have a month to prepare.

No. 10 Iowa (10-2) will face No. 9 Georgia Tech (11-2) in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 5 in South Florida, a matchup of the Hawkeyes' 11th-ranked defense against the Yellow Jackets' 11th-ranked offense, the misdirection-laden option that blew Ferentz away when he watched the Yellow Jackets romp past Miami last season.

"Little did I know, a year and a half later, we're going to be playing them in a bowl game," Ferentz said. "I've seen them a couple of times on television since that time. They've had tremendous success. Their statistics are extremely impressive and coach (Paul) Johnson's done a wonderful job everywhere he's been with the unique attack. And in this day and age especially, it gives him a heck of an edge."

At least on paper, it seems to truly be a clash of styles, an intriguing offense vs. defense matchup.

Georgia Tech has rushed for at least 205 yards in 12 of its 13 games. Iowa has allowed only one team to crack the 200-yard mark all season.

"This was our No. 1 goal to start the season, to try to get to the Orange Bowl," Georgia Tech's Johnson said. "I'm proud of our football team for making that happen. Looking forward to a great game in Miami."

Iowa and Georgia Tech have never met.

It's Georgia Tech's sixth time in the Orange Bowl, but the Yellow Jackets' first visit since 1967. Iowa's only previous appearance in the Orange Bowl was in 2003, when it fell to Southern California.

For Georgia Tech, the Orange Bowl became a lock when it beat Clemson for the ACC title on Saturday night. Iowa, meanwhile, had to sit and hope.

The Hawkeyes opened the season 9-0, reaching No. 8 in the nation at one point, but didn't do so in dominating fashion. Iowa needed fourth-quarter rallies in four of those first nine games, including digging out of a 10-point hole to escape with a win over Indiana.

But Iowa did climb to No. 4 in the BCS rankings at one time, thanks largely to road wins over Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State.

Back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Ohio State doomed Iowa's Rose Bowl shot -- maybe even a national title shot -- but the Hawkeyes closed with a 12-0 win over Minnesota.

"We're thrilled to be returning to Miami," Ferentz said. "And also, we realize it's going to be a great, great challenge."

A challenge, certainly, but it's perhaps set to become easier with quarterback Ricky Stanzi returning from a sprained ankle. Stanzi, who got hurt in the Northwestern game, was able to practice some on Saturday and should be fully ready by the time the Orange Bowl rolls around.

Georgia Tech's BCS path was much smoother.

The Yellow Jackets lost only one ACC game -- on the same field where they'll play the Orange Bowl, losing to Miami 33-17 on Sept. 17. They've scored at least 28 points in their last nine games, including Saturday when they sealed the Orange Bowl trip by beating Clemson 39-34 for the ACC title.

Thanks to that win, Johnson didn't have to sit around Sunday and wait for the BCS word. He did some recruiting instead.

"I don't think the stadium will have anything to do with our guys' mindset," Johnson said. "We did play very poorly there against a good Miami team and got handled fairly easily in that game."

Virginia Tech finally struck a BCS blow for the ACC in the Orange Bowl last season, ending an 0-for-8 conference slide in college football's biggest games by beating Cincinnati a year ago.

Johnson said Georgia Tech will enjoy carrying the ACC flag into this one.

"I think you're always representing the conference," Johnson said. "We're coming down to represent Georgia Tech, No. 1, but I think representing the ACC goes along with that. Every league is fighting for an identity, so to speak. We sit right here in the middle of the SEC so we hear about that a lot, so certainly league pride will be a big deal, I'm sure."