Iowa Accepts Citrus Bowl Invite
The conclusion of the college football regular season brings the beginning of bowl season. The month-long, matchup mania of 84 bowl-eligible teams begins in just over a week. The Hawkeyes are rebounding after getting run out of Indianapolis by Michigan, but there is one more game to be played. This year, the Hawkeyes’ bowl season travels bring them to a familiar state, but a city they haven’t visited in nearly 17 years. Iowa accepts a Citrus Bowl invite to play Kentucky in Orlando, Florida inside Camping World Stadium.
Florida in January
In the Kirk Ferentz tenure, the Hawkeyes have become very acquainted with the state of Florida in January. This will be the 11th trip to Florida for a bowl game in Ferentz’s 23 years with the program. Iowa has won five of its 10 bowl games in the state of Florida. Though it is typically the Outback Bowl, where Iowa has played six times under Ferentz and won three, this will be the second trip to Orlando.
The Hawkeyes played in Orlando in what was then called the Capital One Bowl after the 2004 season. They matched up against Nick Saban’s defending national champion LSU Tigers. The game was played inside the same stadium as today’s Citrus bowl, but the stadium was called the Florida Citrus Bowl. Iowa won the game on a last-second deep pass from Drew Tate to Warren Holloway. The walk-off victory gave the Hawkeyes their third double-digit winning season in a row. It also marked the first time that a defending BCS national champion had lost a non-BCS bowl in the following year.
The three-year run from 2002 to 2004 was Ferentz’s most successful of such in his tenure. Iowa won 31 of 38 games with three 10-win seasons in a row. However, the current three-year run dating back to 2019 is his second best. Iowa has won 26 of 34 games since the 2019 season and has recorded two 10-win seasons in that span.
First Look at Kentucky
The Wildcats have an extension of the Hayden Fry coaching tree at head coach in Mark Stoops. He has been in Lexington since the 2013 season but started his career as a graduate assistant at Iowa under Coach Fry. The Citrus Bowl will be the first time Iowa and Kentucky will play each other. This will also be the first time that Ferentz and Stoops match up as head coaches. Their last meeting was when Stoops was the defensive coordinator at Arizona. The Arizona Wildcats traveled to Iowa City during the 2009 season, and the Hawkeyes got the victory.
Kentucky finished the 2021 season with a 9-3 record, with notable wins over Florida, LSU, and Louisville. Stoops and the Wildcats won the Citrus Bowl four years ago in January 2018 against Penn State, and are currently on a three-bowl game win streak.
The strength for Kentucky has been its offense this season. Pro Football Focus has the Wildcats as the third-best overall offense with a 93.2 grade. The team has averaged six-and-a-half yards per play and 32.8 points per game this season. Quarterback Will Levis has been good for them this year but has thrown 12 interceptions to his 23 passing touchdowns. He has added nine touchdowns on the ground. Running back Chris Rodriguez has over 1,200 yards this season with eight touchdowns but has fumbled the ball six times. The team as a whole has 16 total fumbles on the season, with 10 lost. That comes in at fifth-most in the nation. While the Kentucky offense has been explosive, it has struggled taking care of the football; an area that Iowa capitalizes on defensively. The top 25 matchup between the Kentucky Wildcats and Iowa Hawkeyes will be an intriguing SEC vs. Big Ten New Year’s Day game.