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Iowa Football: Hawkeyes set to Face Kentucky in Music City Bowl

It’s a rematch of last year’s Citrus Bowl, but the faces will be new.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Vrbo Citrus Bowl - Iowa v Kentucky
Iowa gets a rematch from last year’s Citrus Bowl.
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Iowa Hawkeyes finished their regular season in disappointing fashion a little over a week ago, dropping their season finale at home to the Nebraska Cornhuskers and losing a shot at their second straight trip to Indianapolis in the process. But despite the ups and downs as well as the ultimate disappointment, the Hawkeyes finished the season at 7-5 and bow eligible for the 21st time under head coach Kirk Ferentz.

On Sunday, after watching the Michigan Wolverines, Georgia Bulldogs and Kansas State Wildcats win their respective conference championships on Saturday, the college football world found out the fate of each bowl eligible hopeful. For the Hawkeyes, that meant a trip to Nashville, Tennessee for a rematch with the Kentucky Wildcats in this year’s TransPerfect Music City Bowl.

The Wildcats, who finished the year at 7-5 and fourth in the SEC East, are a familiar foe for the Hawkeyes after the two programs squared off back on January 1st in last season’s VRBO Citrus Bowl. Now the two will finish the calendar year 2022 the same way they started it.

For the Hawkeyes, a key question mark will be how the offense looks after finishing the year dead last nationally among power five programs in total offense. Their woes are likely to be exacerbated for the bowl game as starting quarterback Spencer Petras was ruled out on Sunday afternoon by head coach Kirk Ferentz. While Iowa fans have been looking for potential changes at QB all season, this is not the change desired as it comes less than a week after we learned backup QB Alex Padilla has hit the transfer portal as a grad transfer, meaning he’s no longer with the program and unavailable on New Year’s Eve.

For the Hawkeyes, that means only redshirt freshman Joe Labas and true freshman Carson May are available for Iowa’s trip to Nashville. Neither have taken a live rep for the Hawkeyes and neither have cracked the two-deeps all season. As scary as that may sound, Iowa may not be the only team in this matchup facing a fresh face under center.

Kentucky’s starter Will Levis is expected to be a first round pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. As such, there’s been much speculation the Penn State transfer may opt out of the Music City Bow to preserve his health and his draft capital. That would likely leave the Wildcats with freshman Kaiya Sheron as their starting quarterback. Sheron is the only other Kentucky player to throw a pass this season, though former Hawkeye Deuce Hogan did step in for a snap earlier this season when Sheron was out and Levis lost a helmet. Hogan has been passed on the depth chart, however, and is not expected to play meaningful minutes on New Year’s Eve.

Iowa and Kentucky, Hawkeye fans will recall, faced off in last year’s Citrus Bowl in a game where the Wildcats came from behind to beat the Hawkeyes 20-17 in the final minutes. Iowa played that game without starting running back Tyler Goodson who himself opted out for the NFL Draft. That prompted the Hawkeyes to lean on youngsters Leshon and Gavin Williams. Now Iowa will be headed to Nashville without Gavin has he also announced intentions to transfer this week.

More concerning for Iowa fans than the loss of Williams, however, is the loss of both Arland Bruce and Keagan Johnson. While Johnson has been absent almost the entire season, Bruce has been a key piece of a struggling offense. Without him, Iowa will be breaking in a new QB without a reliable part of the running and passing game.

But Ferentz mentioned on Sunday that starting right end Sam LaPorta May make it back while also noting some players considering the transfer portal are not 100% with their decisions. This comes days after rumors surfaced that WR Keagan Johnson was reconsidering his announcement to enter the portal, following Iowa’s landing of former Michigan QB Cade McNamara and Nebraska interim head coach Mickey Joseph’s arrest (Joseph is a friend of the Johnson family and had been rumored to be staying on as WR coach). The next week brings with it the official opening of the transfer portal to all players and thus should make for an interesting time for Hawkeye fans.

Iowa is one of nine Big Ten teams headed to a bowl game. Michigan and Ohio State made the College Football Playoffs as the #2 and #4 seeds respectively. The Wolverines will face off with #3 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl while the Buckeyes will square off against #1 Georgia in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

Penn State, thus, will be the conference’s representative in the Rose Bowl on the Monday after New Year’s Day (January 1st falls on a Sunday, so all NYD bowls are pushed back a day). They’ll face off with PAC-12 Champion Utah. Big Ten West champ Purdue will face #17 LSU in the Fiesta Bowl while Illinois will take on #22 Mississippi State in the ReliaQuest Bowl (formerly known as the Outback Bowl) on January 2nd.

The Big Ten will kick off bowl season on December 27th as Wisconsin faces Oklahoma State in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. Minnesota will face Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl on December 29th, then Maryland takes on #23 North Carolina State in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on December 30th.

Iowa and Kentucky are set to kick off at 11am CT on December 31st in the Music City Bowl. The game will be televised on ABC.