IOWA CITY | Gary Barta had a hunch Iowa football fans would warm to the idea of the Hawkeyes returning to the Outback Bowl this year.

The Iowa director of athletics sensed that during conversations in the week leading up to the Hawkeyes being invited to face LSU at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium and he is now watching that play out as fans purchase tickets to the game.

One week after Iowa accepted an invitation to spend New Year’s Day at the Outback Bowl for the fourth time in the last 11 years, the school has moved around 10,000 tickets from its allotment of 11,500 for the game.

“In talking with fans in Des Moines before the (Big Four Classic) basketball game, Tampa was the place they were most excited about among our possible destinations,’’ Barta said.

In the days since, Hawkeye fans have backed that up with ticket purchases.

Pam Finke, the University of Iowa ticket manager, said sales have been steady on a daily basis since the match-up against the Tigers was announced.

They reached 9,200 early on Friday and Finke believes Iowa has a chance to move nearly all of the tickets it is required to purchase as part of the Big Ten’s agreement with the bowl.

“It has been going well for us,’’ Finke said. “There is good interest in this game.’’

By comparison, Iowa sold 5,411 tickets from an allotment of 11,000 for its 2011 Insight Bowl game against Oklahoma, a year after the Hawkeyes moved 4,255 tickets to the same game in Tempe, Ariz., for a match-up between Iowa and Missouri.

Barta joined Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron – pinch hitting for Tigers coach Les Miles so he could watch his son participate in a Louisiana state high school playoff game – a bowl contract-signing event last Thursday in Tampa.

He said he believed that Iowa’s strong finish, with victories over Michigan and Nebraska during the final two games of an 8-4 regular season, combined with the disappointment of a 4-8 season that left the Hawkeyes at home for the holidays a year ago have energized the team’s fan base.

“We didn’t have the opportunity to go a year ago in all of my conversations with fans, I get the sense they are ready to go,’’ Barta said. “In my conversations with Jim McVay (the Outback Bowl president since 1988), the past few weeks, I told him that and I relayed to him that Tampa was the place they were most enthusiastic about. We’ve had great experiences there a few times.’’

Iowa continued bowl preparations in Iowa City over the weekend, practices that will resume once finals week ends on Saturday.

LSU officials reportedly have said they still have more than half of their ticket allotment available.

Last week, the school announced students who had purchased tickets to three Tigers home games this season would be eligible to receive a ticket to the bowl game for free. Those tickets will be funded by a foundation which supports the school’s athletic department.

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