JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – John Lowdermilk was a true freshman when Iowa played Oklahoma in the 2011 Insight Bowl. Lowdermilk got his first postseason experience on special teams.
"Oklahoma is a brand name, a big team," Lowdermilk said. "You walk out there and see those guys. They're big and athletic, and I was just a puny little freshman. I'm just like, 'Wow. ' "
Lowdermilk's heart was beating the first time he lined up for a kickoff, and he remembers racing down the field looking to hit someone. It was a touchback.
"I think I got a tackle on a kickoff in the third quarter," Lowermilk said. "I felt pretty cool. I got a tackle against Oklahoma."
Lowdermilk, now a senior and Iowa's starting strong safety, will be playing in his third bowl game when the Hawkeyes face Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla.
Seventeen of Iowa's 22 position players have bowl experience coming into this game. Center Tommy Gaul, offensive guard Sean Welsh, linebackers Bo Bower and Josey Jewell and cornerback Greg Mabin will be making their bowl debuts. Placekicker Marshall Koehn will also be a first-timer.
If experience plays a factor in the outcome, Iowa will take a decided advantage into the game. Tennessee will be playing in its first bowl game since 2010.
"We'll have only one player on our football team that has ever experienced a bowl game before," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "And that's our punter, Matt Darr (a redshirt senior). So you can tell we have a lot of questions associated with us going to our first bowl game in a number of years."
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is taking a team to a bowl game for sixth time in the last seven years, and 12th time overall. The first bowl came in his third season, when the Hawkeyes defeated Texas Tech on a late Nate Kaeding field goal 19-16.
"I remember just how excited we were about our opportunity," Ferentz said. "I sure hope our guys are equally as excited. If it ever gets old, all we have to do is look back two winters ago when we got to sit home. That wasn't much fun."
The Volunteers start five true freshmen, and 10 more redshirt freshmen are on the two-deeps. Darr was being redshirted and didn't play in the Volunteers' last bowl game, the 2010 Music City Bowl.
"We haven't had anyone play in a bowl game where we won," Ferentz said. "That's our incentive, our motivation."
Two of Iowa's old hands at bowl games, senior left tackle Brandon Scherff and wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley, were redshirt freshmen when Iowa beat Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl. Scherff still remembers getting off the plane in Phoenix, Ariz.
"There was a big pep rally," Scherff said. "When we got off the plane there was a red carpet. That just kind of opened my eyes. And we came out with a W. So that was nice."
Martin-Manley said that first trip was a great experience, "just seeing what a bowl game was like. Bright lights. ESPN. Night game, everyone was watching. I knew I wasn't going to be playing, but I appreciated the moment."
Martin-Manley said some of his teammates lost money while playing card games during that 2010 trip. There was also a pool shark who got in their pockets.
"I was the shark," Martin-Manley said.
Martin-Manley played in the 2011 Insight Bowl against Oklahoma and the 2014 Outback Bowl against LSU, and he hopes that experience pays off against Tennessee.
"It's very valuable," Martin-Manley said. "When I was a freshman, I didn't realize how hard and fast-paced the bowl game would be, compared to other games during the season. When you know that going in, and you know what to expect, it definitely helps a lot."
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.