Like points? If so, then the 2022 TransPerfect Music City Bowl isn’t for you.

Iowa (7-5) and Kentucky (7-5) square off in the 24th game in the Nashville bowl’s history. Normally, points are a dime a dozen in this game. In 14 of the previous game’s played, the winning team finished with 28 or more. Last year’s back-and-forth doozy between Purdue and Tennessee ended with the Boilers taking home a 48-45 OT win in thrilling fashion.

But this year’s matchup, which kicks off at noon ET Saturday (ABC), looks much different. Kentucky enters with the No. 107-ranked offense. Iowa is worse, ranking No. 130 out of 131 FBS teams. The Hawkeyes are down to 3rd string QB Joey Labas with Spencer Petras (shoulder) injured and Alex Padilla having entered the portal. Labas will be taking his first snaps as a collegiate QB.

True freshman QB for Cats

Iowa won’t be the only team with a novice behind center. With Kentucky’s Will Levis (2,046 passing yards, 19 TDs) having declared for the 2023 NFL Draft and opting out of the bowl game, a true freshman appears to be in line to get the nod.

Destin Wade, who hasn’t taken a snap all year, looks to make his 1st start against a nasty Hawks’ defense. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops knows he’ll be throwing Wade into the fire, and plans to use a pair of other QBs in Kaiya Sheron and Iowa transfer Deuce Hogan as well.

Regardless of the Cats’ starter and how many QBs they use, gaining real estate will be a huge challenge against the nation’s No. 6 scoring defense. Iowa surrenders just over 14 points per game.

Opt-outs on both sides = low Vegas total

Tis the season for bowl game opt-outs. Both that Cats and Hawks have their fair share. In addition to the starting QBs not playing, a few other key guys are skipping the game.

For Iowa, it likely will miss All-America safety and team captain Kaevon Merriweather the most. Merriweather announced in mid-December he’d be forgoing the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft. He amassed 118 tackles and 4 interceptions during his time in Iowa City. The Hawks are hoping Cooper DeJean is back healthy after leaving the Nebraska game with an injury. His availability would soften the blow of losing Merriweather.

Kentucky will be short its top 2 leading rushers in Christopher Rodriguez Jr. and Kavosiey Smoke. Rodriguez led the way with 904 yards and 6 TDs. Smoke added 277 yards and a score.

With all the absences, Vegas isn’t messing around. Most books have hung an absurd number of 31.5 points for the total. That’s low for NFL standards, and virtually unheard of in college. Defense should rule the day.

Big names on defensive side of the ball

With plenty of fresh faces on offense for each team, there are some regulars on the defensive side that should make major impacts.

Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell had a phenomenal season, leading the Hawks with 118 tackles, and was named B1G Defensive Player of the Year. While Campbell is headed to the NFL, he’s playing 1 final game for the Hawkeyes and looks to go out with a win.

Kentucky linebacker Jordan Wright finished with 58 tackles, with 8.5 of those being TFLs. He’ll look to slow down Iowa’s ground game and force Labas to throw.

It’s likely a scenario of “1st team to 14 will win.” Iowa enters averaging 17.4 ppg, while the Wildcats, who finished 3-5 in SEC play, scored just 17.5.

Coaching records, bowl history

Kentucky will be making its 5th Music Bowl appearance since 2006. Nashville is basically a 2nd home for Stoops’ Wildcats, and they should be comfortable with the surroundings of Nissan Stadium.

Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz can make history with a win. Ferentz is currently tied with legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno with 9 bowl wins by a B1G coach. A win would move Ferentz’s bowl record to 10-9 and put the Dean of B1G coaches atop the list.

The game is a rematch of last year’s Citrus Bowl won by Kentucky 20-17. The Cats have won 4 straight bowl games and Iowa, up until last year’s loss, had won its previous 3.


Defense, defense and more defense.

With both offenses neutered coming in, both defenses should feast. Special teams play, turnovers and field position will be amplified.

Can Labas engineer enough drives to put Iowa in scoring position or at least give OC Brian Ferentz confidence to take a few shots? Will Ferentz, with having a month to prepare, throw in a few offensive wrinkles?

Where will Kentucky’s offense come from? Levis steered the ship all season, and with a rendition of musical chairs expected at QB, Campbell and the Iowa defense should have their way. Iowa is plus-4 this season in turnover margin, while Kentucky is even. Taking care of the football and not turning it over will be vital for the Wildcats.

It’s easier to trust Iowa’s defense and running game a bit more. The Hawks also have Drew Stevens at kicker, who’s been stellar. Stevens is 16-of-18 on field goals (88.9%) and perfect on PATs. Kentucky’s Matt Rufolo has missed 8 FGs.

Finally, revenge from last year’s Citrus Bowl loss has to be on the minds of Ferentz and his players. Iowa would love nothing more than to return the favor and end 2022 on a high note. I say it happens.

Iowa 19, Kentucky 13