The University of Iowa might have the Big Ten’s hottest football team but the Hawkeyes are going to have to take their cooling from the bowl selectors as a disease-ravaged season has climaxed in an invitation to the low-luster Music City Bowl in Nashville the afternoon of Dec. 30

The 6-2 Hawkeyes, winners of six straight, are also going to have to find the motivation to play where they can, because the 5-5 Missouri Tigers, the third-place team in the SEC East, are going to be marshaled and ready to go on the torn-up turf at Nissan Stadium.

Just days after the Hawkeye’s ninth game was called off due to Covid-19 cases at the University of Michigan, it was reported that head coach Kirk Ferentz had tested positive for the virus and would be staying home until at least Dec. 27.

This could be tricky for the Hawkeyes leader. The Music City Bowl is scheduled for three days after the coach’s quarantine is set to end, and there are just 10 days between Sunday’s announcement and the game itself. The  Hawkeyes may be prepared without their coach, and if the roster has any COVID flare-ups following their short break from routine, there may not be enough time or players for Iowa to compete in the game. 

Assuming everything goes to plan, here are five factors to keep in mind about the Hawkeyes and their opponent in the Music City Bowl. 

Iowa is red hot and Missouri is not

This is not necessarily to Iowa’s advantage, particularly after several weeks off to end the season and a lesser bowl game than they were expecting to get. The Hawkeyes were upset twice to start the year but reeled off six straight, clobbering opponents by an average margin of 22 points and beating all of their in-league rivals. 

The Tigers will be hungry to finish the year above five-hundred under first-year coach Eliah Drinkwitz and, in typical SEC style, doing it against a Big Ten team will be worth more. The Tigers were picked to finish near the bottom of the league but vastly exceeded expectations. The Tigers dropped their last two games in blowout fashion, including a 49-14 drubbing at home from Georgia, and a 52-31 loss to Mississippi State in Starkville

Mizzou will be hungry to score a signature victory to close the season.  

Mizzou has a negative turnover margin

The Tigers finished the year -4 in turnover margin, a dangerous number against an Iowa defense that has led the FBS in interceptions since 2017, and finished with 11 picks over eight games this season along with 7 fumble recoveries. The Hawkeyes were a robust +9 in the turnover margin, good for 8th nationally, and the defense generally can be counted on for at least one mega-play every time out. 

If Mizzou isn’t careful with the football and allows Iowa’s defense to turn them over, the Tigers are going to learn what the rest of the Big Ten has known for years, the Hawkeyes are a tough out. 

Tigers starting QB moved to safety

Remember the turnover bugaboo?

Missouri entered the season with junior quarterback Shawn Robinson expected to lead the offense, but after too much early turbulence he was replaced by redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak, the Tigers quarterback of the future.  

Bazelak ended up completing 67 percent of his passes for 2,366 yards. But he struggled with the ultimate production numbers, throwing seven touchdowns against six interceptions. Playing as a first-year starter against Iowa’s aggressive, disciplined, and veteran defense won’t be any treat, and might be one of the afternoon’s key matchups. 

The kind of attitude Robinson had when he stepped away from the offense to play defense for the first time in many years indicates the kind of team Mizzou has and why they’re going to put up a fight. 

“I love my team,” Robinson told the Kansas City Star. “I love the coaching staff. I really love Mizzou. It was just like, I’m just going to stay and play for my dawgs.”

Mizzou’s losses have been blowouts while most of the wins are close

Other than a 41-0 blowout win over a historically bad Vanderbilt team, Mizzou’s wins have come in close games. If their Commodores outlier is thrown out, the Tigers’ remaining four wins were by an average of six points. Their losses, on the other hand, were by an average of 24 points. 

The Hawkeyes have been different, dominating and winning steadily by about 22 points on average, including a 41-22 over Penn State, 35-7 over Minnesota, and 28-7 over Wisconsin. Iowa’s two losses were by a combined five points. 

It’s likely this game will be either a Hawkeyes blowout or a tight finish, and that will depend on who’s more enthusiastic about playing the game. Last time these programs met in the post-season was the 2010 Insight Bowl, a game Iowa won 27-24 on the strength of a 72-yard interception return for a touchdown by future pro bowl cornerback Micah Hyde.

Mizzou set a comeback record against Arkansas 

Mizzou has been enthusiastic under their first-year head coach. Earlier this year the Tigers set the school’s single-game record when they made up 16 points in the fourth quarter to beat Arkansas at Faurot Field in Columbia. 

The Razorbacks had scored with:43 seconds to play and, instead of opting to tie the game at 47-all and play for overtime, they went for two under first-year head coach Sam Pittman and converted, putting the Razorbacks up 48-47 and seemingly daggering the Tigers on their home lawn. But Mizzou went warp speed down the field, got within field goal range, and booted home a 32-yard kick to take it down, 50-48, as time expired.

If it’s close, Mizzou believes they have a chance.