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Ahead of Friday's Holiday Bowl, Helton says the Hawkeyes have one of the best defenses they'll face. Hawk Central

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SAN DIEGO — Iowa football fans shouldn’t get used to these West Coast trips.

Coach Kirk Ferentz made that clear Thursday when asked about a Holiday Bowl matchup that will pit the Hawkeyes of the Big Ten Conference against USC of the Pac-12.

Ferentz, in his 21st season at the helm, said traveling to the Pacific time zone is fine for postseason matchups, but he wants no part of it during the regular season.

“If they want to come to our place, that's fine,” Ferentz said when asked about the tradition of Big Ten and Pac-12 meetings. “But traveling out here and doing the time change — and then, you know, we had a two-hour rain delay or whatever it was at Arizona State — we're not going down that road again, I can assure you that.”

Ferentz was referencing a 2004 game in which the Sun Devils pummeled a very good Iowa team 44-7. The last time Iowa played on the West Coast was the 2016 Rose Bowl, a 45-16 loss to Stanford. You can understand Ferentz’s reluctance to head west.

But the Hawkeyes have been in San Diego since Saturday to prepare for Friday’s 7 p.m. Holiday Bowl on FS1. That does make a difference, Ferentz said.

“Bowl game is a whole different deal because you have a chance to get out there and get acclimated a little bit,” he said.

USC coach Clay Helton was a little more enthusiastic about a Big Ten/Pac-12 showdown. Especially one in which both teams are ranked (Iowa is 19 and USC 23).

“With these types of fan bases that do travel, let's all live in the moment — because the moment is going to be fun,” Helton said.

Iowa healthy; USC minus one running back

The Trojans (8-4) have picked up 72% of their yards through the air. So losing one of their top four running backs may not seem significant.

But Helton said Thursday that Markese Stepp won’t be able to make it back for the bowl game after October ankle surgery. Stepp, a 235-pound redshirt freshman, played in only six games this season, leading USC with 6.4 yards per carry. His absence will be felt.

Iowa (9-3), meanwhile, is the healthiest it’s been in a long time, Ferentz said. All of its starters should be in uniform, including wide receiver Brandon Smith, who missed four games after his own leg injury.

“I don't know if he's full speed, but he's pretty close,” Ferentz said of Smith.

“We had a couple bumps in the road earlier in the week, but looks like both those guys will be fine. They have been back, working and, hopefully, make it to the gate here without any more drama.”

Helton feeling secure in job

Helton is wrapping up his fourth season as the Trojans’ head coach, with some fans clamoring for it to be his last. He went 10-3, 11-3 and 5-7 in his first three years.

These are not the expectations fans have for the Trojans, who claim 11 national championships in their storied history. So when USC hired Mike Bohn as athletic director Nov. 11, there was hope in some corners that a change was coming for the football team.

Bohn decided to stick with Helton. And Helton said Thursday he feels supported by Bohn and university president Carol Folt.

“For them to be able to evaluate a season and say, ‘Hey, Coach Helton is our guy, we want to give him the tools and resources and support needed to be able to take that next step from a top 25 team to a national championship team’ is one that, as a head coach, you're very appreciative for,” Helton said.

“You looked at the first steps of being able to keep a Graham Harrell here, who I think is one of the top offensive coordinators in the country, and to extend his contract was an initial statement right off the bat.”

Big Ten players can run too

Ferentz bristled a little when asked if USC is the fastest team the Hawkeyes have seen this season.

“The myth about the Big Ten, I think, gets a little blown out of proportion,” Ferentz said. “You line up against Michigan — they have some guys that can move around pretty good and disrupt you at every position — and I think probably a similar comparison there.”

Iowa fans had better hope that comparison isn’t completely accurate. The Wolverines beat the Hawkeyes 10-3 in October.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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