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Desire, pride, fear — lots of Insight Bowl motivators

Mike Hlas, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa –

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Supposedly, the great equalizer in a lot of bowl games is motivation.

How much does a team want to be at a specific bowl, especially when it thought it had much-larger fish to fry? Will it “lower itself” to the bowl it finds itself in rather than play like a team that really could have played in something bigger.

There are those who wonder if we’ll see the familiar Oklahoma Sooners football machine Friday night at the Insight Bowl, or if it will be a weary, unenthused team that plays out the string against Iowa in Sun Devil Stadium.

But if OU does lose for the fourth time this season, it probably will be more from a lack of healthy bodies at receiver and running back than a shortage of desire from the Sooners who suit up.

And as we saw here a year ago, the Hawkeyes can hang with excellent teams when they’re right. They did beat Sugar Bowl-bound Michigan, you know.

Is Oklahoma in its current state, without injured star receiver Ryan Broyles and running back Dominique Whaley, better than the Wolverines of November? Doubtful.

As for motivation, I don’t see that as a factor for either team. Players talk good games before bowls, but here’s the reality: Teams consist of a hundred players with a hundred separate agendas. But no one wants to go onto a football field and get outplayed.

“This is still a great memory in my life, another game to play against another great opponent,” said OU junior defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland. “It’s a chance to show what your team, what your defense can do. So I disagree with this being a downer or a downfall.”

There you go. National TV audience, bright lights, another chance to shine. For both teams. That’s how Iowa and Missouri approached it in last year’s Insight Bowl, and an entertaining 27-24 Hawkeyes upset win was the result. Through no letup on Mizzou’s part, mind you.

“This is a great opportunity to beat one of the best teams in the nation,” Iowa center James Ferentz said. “If you’re not trying to play the best and be the best, I’d wonder why you’re doing it.”

“We’re excited to be here,” said Hawkeye offensive tackle Riley Reiff, who could also be using this game as his final major piece of NFL audition tape before the league’s combine. “It’s a great opportunity. I’m fired up about it.”

It makes total sense that Iowa’s players would savor a chance to add some luster to a 7-5 record. Knocking off Oklahoma — especially as a 2-touchdown underdog — would be a heck of a final act to a season.

But what about the Sooners? You’re ranked No. 1 in the preseason, you win your first six games and look like a dynamo doing it, and you end up 9-3 and in the Insight Bowl? While rival Oklahoma State plays on the other side of Greater Phoenix in a few days at the Fiesta Bowl? Are you really of a mindset to let it all hang out in the Insight?

“We’re definitely not where we wanted to be,” said OU fullback Trey Millard. “We came into the year fully expecting to be national-champions. We had a lot of returning talent, and a lot of young talent that played last year. We have a great quarterback (Landry Jones) and our defense is extremely strong.

“But we still need to get this win.”

Sooner offensive guard Gabe Ikard: “You come to Oklahoma to play for the national-championship. That will be your goal every single year. That’ll never change.”

The Insight Bowl is a long way from the national-title game. They aren’t playing for all the Tostitos Friday evening.

“Being a player, you know what’s coming if you lose,” Oklahoma’s McFarland said. You’re going to hear about that until your first game next year.

“So you want to finish this season off right, and go into winter and summer workouts at least knowing you’re not getting bawled out for this game.”

On the other side of the ball, James Ferentz is in agreement.

But James Ferentz knows what’s as much at stake as capturing the Insight’s funky championship trophy.

“Fear of losing can be very motivating,” he said.

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