Though the hangover from Iowa’s 42-3 Big Ten Championship Game loss is still hovering over some of us (guilty as charged), the Hawkeyes’ Citrus Bowl matchup with Kentucky is an interesting matchup.
Firstly, the two programs have never met on the football field.
Secondly, thanks to being held quasi-hostage by the CyHawk game, this will be a rare game against an SEC team (only the fifth in the last decade) and the program’s first since the 2019 Outback Bowl win over Mississippi State.
And last, but certainly not least, Saturday will mark the Hawkeyes’ second ever trip to the Citrus Bowl and we all remember what happened the first time. . .
All-time legendary plays aside, Iowa has had a bit of an issue playing games on or after New Year’s Day since 2010. The Hawkeyes are 1-4 on January 1st/2nd in that time frame, getting outscored by a combined 163-88. They’ve gone winless (0-2) against the teams from the SEC East and split a pair of matchups (1-1) with schools from the SEC West.
The other New Year’s Day loss for Iowa was in 2016 in Pasadena or something. My apologies, I sort of blacked out after Brent Musberger’s massively condescending but appropriate “Guess who’s winning the second half?” quip.
The bottom line is that while it hasn’t been very pretty recently for the Hawkeyes against SEC teams, it has been especially brutal for the program immediately following the dawn of the new year. All this being true however, history shows that not all hope is immediately lost.
Iowa has mastered the art of bowl games recently, winning its last three postseason contests by a combined 103-66.
There was 2017's Pinstripe Bowl where the Hawkeyes were out-gained by 183 total yards (383-200) but dominated the turnover battle and ultimately pulled out a 27-20 win over Boston College on a frozen field in New York City.
There was also that uber-enjoyable night in San Diego two years ago where, in what seems like a lifetime ago, a dynamic Iowa offense racked up 356 total yards and four touchdowns in a 49-24 romp over USC in the 2019 Holiday Bowl. In adding a kickoff return for a score and a pick-six, the Hawkeyes ultimately scored six touchdowns on the night.
Is that even allowed anymore?
Fun fact: Not only was this the program's most recent bowl game, it was also the final sporting event ever held at San Diego's famous Jack Murphy Stadium.
Finally, and most pertinent to this season, there was the Hawkeyes most recent meeting with an SEC team, the aforementioned victory over the Bulldogs in the Outback Bowl three years ago.
Iowa was outgained 342-199 in total yards, turned the ball over twice, went 1/11 on third down, and rushed for -15 yards. YES, THEY HAD NEGATIVE 15 YARDS of RUSHING OFFENSE.
And yet, in one of the most Ferentz-y of Kirk Ferentz's many wins at Iowa, the Hawkeyes somehow found a way to scratch across three touchdowns, win the turnover battle (3-2), and improbably pull out a 27-22 triumph in Tampa Bay on New Year's Day 2019.
I cannot stress enough how insane it is that Iowa actually won a New Year's Day bowl game, against a quality opponent from the SEC, with -15 yards of rushing. It will never not be incredible, but when BIG HOCK is making plays like this it's a little more understandable in that this Iowa team would not be denied.
I should also add the 2020 squad seemed poised to run the bowl winning streak to four before Missouri bowed out of last season’s Music City Bowl due to COVID-19 issues.
Also, under Ferentz the Hawkeyes have been the streakiest of streaky teams in bowl games. After splitting his first two postseason games at Iowa, Ferentz’s program has put together the following runs in the bowl season:
- (2003-2004) 2 straight wins
- (2005-2006) 2 straight losses
- (2008-2010) 3 straight wins
- (2011-2016) 5 straight losses
- (2017-2019) 3 straight wins
If these numbers tell us anything it’s that if Iowa wins Saturday the current streak is obviously at four but if the Hawkeyes lose, I wouldn’t bother watching the program’s next 2-3 bowl games. Kidding aside, it’s hard not to look at these numbers and think that a loss might be the start of another long dry spell.
Regardless of what happens against the Wildcats, though, this has been a very successful season in which the Hawkeyes brought home a very meaningful trophy back to the Hayden Fry Football Complex to go along with its yearly bronze pig, CyHawk, and Heroes Trophy things.
At 10-3, Iowa finished the year ranked #15 in the CFP, is once again playing on New Year’s Day, and is the reigning king of the Big Ten West.
At times it’s been both a very fun and a not-so-very fun season. But all in all, the Hawkeyes have found a way to win a lot of things this year.
Now let’s hope they can start 2022 in Orlando doing just that.