Iowa is facing an SEC team for the 2nd year in a row in bowl season. The Hawkeyes travel to Orlando, Florida to play the Tennessee Volunteers in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day at Camping World Stadium.

Kirk Ferentz led his team to a 10-3 record this year. The last time that Iowa didn’t finish with a winning record under Ferentz was the 2012 season. The Hawkeyes have qualified for a bowl game every year since then.

Tennessee had a disappointing finish to 2023 after having one of its best seasons in recent memory a year ago at 11-2.

The Volunteers and Hawkeyes are similar in that they both disappeared in big games this season. Iowa struggled in the Penn State game and was shutout 31-0. Iowa then lost to Minnesota 12-10 in a B1G West matchup later this year.

Tennessee got off a 2-0 start before losing to Florida in Gainesville. The next 3 losses for the Vols were all to ranked teams in Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia. What a difference a year makes.

This pair of teams will be playing each other for the 1st time since 2015. That game did not end well for the Hawkeyes as Tennessee won 45-28.

Both teams will be able to play football in some much warmer weather in Orlando. Tennessee opens the game as a 7.5-point favorite. The over/under for the game is set at 36.5.

Here are 5 things to know about the Volunteers:

Vols have plenty of history

Tennessee was one of the more dominant teams of the 1990s and that was partly thanks to former head coach Phillip Fulmer. Fulmer finished his Tennessee tenure with a 151-52 record and led the Volunteers to a national title during the 1998 season after beating Florida State.

Tennessee has one of the highest winning percentages in SEC history at 67.5%, which is 3rd in the conference all-time. The only 2 programs with a higher winning percentage are Georgia (68.6%) and Alabama (75.8%).

The Volunteers claim 6 national titles in football (1938, 1940, 1950, 1951, 1967, and 1998).

HC Josh Heupel was a Heisman runner-up

Josh Heupel used to play quarterback for Oklahoma from 1999-2000. He ended up losing the Heisman to former Florida State QB Chris Weinke in the 2000 season.

Heupel had 3,392 yards passing with 27 total touchdowns that season. He would eventually go on to lead the Sooners to the Orange Bowl, where they beat Florida State 13-2

The Tennessee head coach had the best season of his time with the Volunteers last year, leading them to an 11-2 record. Heupel was the head coach at UCF before heading to Knoxville in 2021.

Running game the specialty for Tennessee offense

If it were last season things would be different on offense with how Tennessee’s passing game performed. This year, Tennessee has had one of the best running games in the SEC.

The Vols average 202.6 yards on the ground per game which is 2nd in the SEC behind LSU (213.5). Touches in the Tennessee backfield are shared by 3 different running backs, but Jaylen Wright leads the way. Wright has 1,013 yards rushing with 4 touchdowns coming into the Citrus Bowl.

The other running backs who compete for touches are Jabari Small and Dylan Sampson.

It should be a great matchup of Tennessee’s running game and Iowa’s rush defense. The Hawkeyes allowed the 4th-fewest rushing yards per game (102.5) in the B1G this season.

Tennessee’s secondary is a weakness

The secondary on Rocky Top has not been great this year. The team lost one of its better corners in Kamal Hadden to a season-ending injury he suffered in the Alabama loss earlier this year.

Hadden had 19 total tackles and 3 interceptions before going down with the injury. He is currently tied for the lead in interceptions with defensive back Jaylen McCollough.

Tennessee’s pass defense has been the issue this season, allowing 234.9 yards per game which ranks 10th in the SEC.

Iowa isn’t really known for its passing game, however. The Hawkeyes average the fewest passing yards per game in the B1G (123.2) but might be able to create things against the porous Tennessee secondary.

Watch out for Tennessee’s pass rush

The Tennessee defense isn’t perfect by any means, but one area it excels at is pressuring quarterbacks.

Tennessee’s leader in sacks is sophomore James Pearce Jr., who has 8.5 sacks heading in the bowl game. Iowa’s offensive line should also be on the lookout for Tyler Baron (6 sacks) and Omarr Norman-Lott (5.5 sacks). However, Norman-Lott hasn’t played since the loss to Georgia.

Deacon Hill might have to run for his life against a Tennessee pass rush that has the 3rd-most sacks (36) in the SEC this year.


Tennessee’s offense has been inconsistent at times, but Iowa may not have enough weapons on that side of the ball to keep up no matter if Joe Milton III or Nico Iamaleava suits up at quarterback.

It has been nearly 10 years since Tennessee and Iowa last played football, but this game could end up being a repeat of the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl. Expect Tennessee to repeat history and beat the Hawkeyes by 2 or 3 scores in Orlando as both programs look to continue building for the future.

Tennessee 31, Iowa 14