Iowa football team to play Kentucky in Citrus Bowl

The Hawkeyes and the Wildcats will face off in Orlando, Florida, on Jan. 1.


Grace Smith

Iowa enters the field before the Big Ten Championship game between No. 13 Iowa and No. 2 Michigan at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Iowa last appeared in the Big Ten Championship in 2015 where the Hawkeyes were defeated by Michigan State.The Wolverines became Big Ten Champions after defeating the Hawkeyes, 42-3.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

INDIANAPOLIS — The Iowa football team’s 42-3 loss to Michigan on Saturday cost the Hawkeyes a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. So, instead of Pasadena, Iowa’s postseason destination is in Orlando, Florida.

Iowa will play Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1. The game will air at noon on ABC.

“Congratulations to coach Kirk Ferentz, our football student-athletes, and the entire staff on a Big Ten West Championship, 10-win season, and our invitation to the VRBO Citrus Bowl,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said in a release. “One of the most memorable Hawkeye football moments occurred at this bowl in 2005 and I know our fans are excited to relive those experiences.  We have had wonderful Hawkeye fan support all season long and I am confident this will continue in sunny Florida. 

“We want to thank Steve Hogan and Florida Citrus Sports for the invitation to participate and we look forward to our visit to Orlando.”

The last time Iowa played a bowl game in Orlando was on Jan. 1, 2005, in what was then known as the Capital One Bowl. A 56-yard touchdown pass from Iowa quarterback Drew Tate to wide receiver Warren Holloway as time expired provided the Hawkeyes with a win over LSU, who was then coached by current Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

The Citrus Bowl is a matchup between the highest-ranked Big Ten and SEC teams not playing in New Year’s Six bowls. The Hawkeyes were ranked No. 15 in the College Football Playoff rankings released on Sunday, while the Wildcats came in at No. 22.

“We’re really excited to have this opportunity,” Ferentz said. “I’m one of the few people around here who remembers the trip [for the 2005 game]. It was such a great experience. Everyone had a great time in Orlando. We’re thrilled to be back there. It’s been quite a while. And then beyond that, the chance to play a team like Kentucky — an outstanding SEC program.”

Both Iowa (10-3 overall, 7-3 Big Ten) and Kentucky (9-3 overall, 5-3 SEC) started their seasons 6-0 before suffering their first losses.

The Hawkeyes were ranked No. 2 in the country before losing back-to-back games to Purdue and Wisconsin by double-digits. Iowa won its final four games of the regular season and, in the process, the Big Ten West. Kentucky lost three straight games to Georgia, Mississippi State, and Tennessee midway through the season. The Wildcats won their final three games of the regular season after that losing streak.

RELATED: Iowa fails to score a touchdown in blowout Big Ten Championship loss to Michigan

Kentucky is coached by Mark Stoops, an Iowa defensive back from 1986-88 who also served as a graduate assistant under former Iowa head coach Hayden Fry.

The Hawkeyes have never faced Kentucky in program history.  Iowa is 6-5 all-time in bowl games against current Southeastern Conference opponents. The Hawkeyes have lost four of their last five games against SEC opponents. Iowa did win its last matchup with an SEC team. Ferentz’s team defeated Mississippi State, 27-22, in the 2019 Outback Bowl.

Iowa enters the game having won three consecutive bowl games for the second time in program history. The 2020 Music City Bowl in which Iowa was scheduled to play in was canceled because Missouri, Iowa’s opponent, pulled out of the game because of positive COVID-19 tests within its program. The Hawkeyes are 17-15-1 all-time in bowl games.

“Being able to go home will be a good opportunity,” said first team All-Big Ten defensive back Dane Belton, who is from Tampa, Florida. “I feel like we got a good bowl. We had an opportunity to go to a better bowl, but this is a great opportunity for our team.”

The Hawkeyes will be considered the away team in this year’s Citrus Bowl. Iowa will be on the West sideline of Camping World Stadium during the game.

Brett McMurphy of The Action Network projected Kentucky as a two-point favorite over Iowa.

Iowa State will also be playing its bowl game in Orlando. The Cyclones take on Clemson in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 29.