The Iowa Hawkeyes are poised to take the field one last time this season as they face off with the Tennessee Volunteers in the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl. The matchup brings two completely different styles of football together with the Vols looking to light up the scoreboard with a hurry up style of play while Iowa, well, you know.
The folks in Vegas expect Tennessee to come out on top, but as to which style of play will win out, well that seems a bit up in the air. Our friends over at DraftKings Sportsbook opened this one at Tennessee -7 but the line got pushed up to -8 in the weeks that followed. However, since we learned that starting Volunteer QB Joe Milton will be sitting this one out, the line has fallen to Tennessee -6. The over/under has been pretty steady at 36 total points. That gives us an implied final score of 21-15 Tennessee. Not exactly lighting things up.
Here at The Pants, we think Vegas might be on to something with the style of play, but somehow, someway, we’re ready to have our hearts broken again and we are ON THE HAWKS BABY. All of us. Every single one of us is taking Iowa to win this outright. Did we start our New Year’s celebration too early? Are we still hungover from the sweets and holiday festivities? Who knows, but we’re taking Iowa to win with an average score of Iowa 15, Tennessee 10. That’s still well on the under, because ALWAYS bet the under.
Here’s a look at our individual predictions for this one.
Iowa wins solely because TN does not have enough players of merit to field a quality team that would surely beat the Hawks at full strength.
Prediction: Iowa 9, Tennessee 3
Normally, I’d be terrified of this matchup. Tennessee is a good team that lost to 2 CFP participants and a Missouri team that was selected for the NY6. Top 15 offense, top 40 defense, this matchup scared me, and then the post-season hit and the Vols lost 14 players to opt-outs or the portal.
A true freshman QB making his first start in a bowl game with a sophomore “change of pace” RB jumping to RB1 (though Dylan Sampson is no slouch) will face a pretty tough test against a salty Phil Parker defense that wants to make sure they get an 11th win. Though the defense is where they took a real hit, with 4 of their top 10 tacklers hitting the portal. Fortunately for Tennessee, they’re all in the defensive backfield, and Iowa probably still can’t pass the ball.
As it is, I think this game will be quite familiar to Iowa fans (and sickos), a rock fight that produces few points and even fewer exciting moments. Hopefully the extra practice gave Brain the opportunity to implement something in the passing game that will keep the Vols honest and give Deac passes he can complete, though I have my doubts.
I think this game will be won on short fields courtesy of Phil’s squad and Tory’s leg, but it won’t be a lot of fun to watch.
Prediction: Iowa 13, Tennessee 6
I used to be a giddy school kid for the entire month leading up to Iowa’s bowl game. It didn’t matter if it was the Granddaddy of Them All or a minor bowl game (think Minnesota Gophers but not quite that bad). I did travel to last year’s Music City Bowl with my wife and bro/sister-in-law and it was a fun trip, but non-playoff bowl games have become a “nose goes” game (the last one to touch their nose has to play). Thankfully, Iowa and Kirk Ferentz have established a culture of tough dudes who love to play football with their brothers. Iowa gains a slight advantage over most other college programs for this reason. We aren’t better than anyone else when it comes to this, but we are different. On the Vol side, they are sitting a number of excellent players. Iowa will roll with everyone who is healthy. No opt-outs for us. I have zero faith in our offense. Who does? I think there’s a decent chance we score a defensive touchdown. It may take that for us to get a win. As always, it’s great to be a Hawkeye. And... it will be fun to see if next year we can send a competent unit out there to go with our defense and special teams.
Prediction: Iowa 16 - Tennessee 13
The lead up to this game presents a stark contrast in moods and strangely enough all the questions are aimed at Tennessee. People aren’t focusing on whether or not the Iowa offense will be able to move the ball consistently, we already know the answer. And we already know Phil Parker will have his defense primed and ready to go no matter who is on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Iowa is heading into this game with the calm, cool demeanor you’d expect from a Kirk Ferentz team, while on the other side the Volunteers will have to deal with high profile opt outs on both sides of the ball, highlighted by the absence of Joe Milton III. I trust Phil Parker against any true freshman quarterback, no matter how many stars they had out of high school. On the flip side, vibes are good for the Hawkeyes who received news that both Jay Higgins and Luke Lachey will be returning next year. It also remains to be seen how motivated Tennessee will be for this game. Iowa always seems to get up for their bowl games, no matter how high or low in prestige.
I’m tempted to pick Tennessee just because so far every other writer has picked Iowa, but the vibes from the Hawkeyes look to be better and they have fewer question marks.
Prediction: Iowa 16, Tennessee 14
Tennessee is one of the most athletic teams Iowa has faced this season and has the athletes on the perimeter to challenge an Iowa secondary that will miss Cooper DeJean in this game. But Phil Parker going against a freshman backup quarterback is a recipe for success for the Hawkeyes, no matter how documented that quarterback is. Iowa’s offense will struggle against a formidable Volunteer pass rush, but expect the defense to make enough plays to give the Hawkeyes the edge.
Prediction: Iowa 16, Tennessee 13
Perhaps it’s just the time that’s passed since I last was forced to watch the Iowa offense, or perhaps it’s all the opt outs at Tennessee, but my views on this one have shifted dramatically since we first learned the Hawkeyes would be facing the Vols on Monday. Phil Parker’s defense is damn good and not a one of those guys is choosing not to play in this one. The offense is the offense but this just feels like one of those games like we saw a season ago where the defense does the whole damn thing.
Nico Iamaleava looks like he might be a great QB one day, but on Monday he’s a true freshman making his first collegiate start against Parker’s defense and in my view that’s good for at least two turnovers. If Deacon Hill can simply avoid fumbling away the game, the offense doesn’t need to do much beyond hand the ball off 45 times. And if they do opt to throw it, I have no idea who from Tennessee plans on trying to defend Kaleb Brown given there are essentially no scholarship defensive backs playing in this one.
WHY AM I OPTIMISTIC I’M GOING TO BE HURT AGAIN!?!
Prediction: Iowa 17, Tennessee 13
So yeah, we’re drinking the black and gold kool-aid. How do you see this one playing out Hawkeye fans?
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.