TAMPA — Twenty-four hours before kickoff, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz still was being lobbed NFL questions in the wake of reports linking him to the Cleveland Browns' vacancy.
And while reiterating his happiness with his current job, which he has held for 10 years, Ferentz, 53, stopped short of saying he would not pursue an NFL post if the opportunity arose.
"(The NFL speculation) seems to be a drill right now," Ferentz said Wednesday at his bowl pregame news conference. "So be it."
The Boston Herald reported Tuesday that Browns owner Randy Lerner is prepared to make a "huge" offer to New England Patriots personnel director Scott Pioli to run the team and hire Ferentz — Pioli's first choice as coach. Pioli and Ferentz worked together in Cleveland 15 years ago.
"Basically for my first interview in Cleveland, he's the guy that got assigned to drive me back in the van to the airport. I had my tail between my legs and he said, 'You didn't do that bad,' " Ferentz said, drawing laughter.
"We've been great friends all the way through, and I have tremendous respect for Scott as a football guy. … I would just caution everybody, don't try to predict what Scott's going to do either. He's got a great job, and he's well aware of that."
Playoff stance softened?: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, one of the most outspoken advocates of a playoff while at Florida, said he's now "sort of neutral on the subject," at least until the Gamecocks get in the national title picture.
"When we get a team that's fighting for a national championship, then maybe those teams are the ones rooting for a playoff," he said. "Our goals are to try to win our division first and win an SEC and not worry about the national (title) right now."
Ferentz said he favors the status quo. "If we went to a plus-one I think that's workable," he said. "But anything beyond that is sort of unrealistic and not really in the best interest of college football. Just one person's opinion."
half-century mark: The game will be Iowa senior DT Matt Kroul's 50th consecutive start, the third longest by a Division I player, according to the school's bowl media guide. Kroul (53 tackles in 2008) set the school record for consecutive starts in the season finale at Minnesota. "(Kroul's record) is going to be tough to beat, especially in this day and age," Ferentz said. "I'd venture to say it would be very unusual for a lineman because it's just so unusual when a young lineman plays every game of his career basically."
Odds and ends: Both coaches reported no curfew violations or off-field issues as of Wednesday morning. … Spurrier, who turns 64 in April, reiterated that he intends to coach another four or five years, then hang it up. "I've been saying that the last 10 years, but I really mean it this time," he said. … South Carolina's all-time record: 528-528-44.
Spurrier quip of the day: On QB Stephen Garcia, a former Jefferson High standout: "Hopefully someday he'll give one of those (Tim) Tebow statements where he says, 'No quarterback in the nation will work harder than I will, and no quarterback will try to get his team ready to play harder than I will.' Hopefully someday Stephen can say that."
Joey Knight can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3350.