It figures to be a battle of tough hard-nosed football teams when the Tennessee Volunteers return to bowl action against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl at 2:20 pm on January 2 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Tennessee Volunteers (6-6, 3-5 SEC): Iowa Hawkeyes (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten):
Utah State W31-7 Northern Iowa W31-23
Arkansas State W34-19 Ball State W17-13
at Oklahoma L10-34 Iowa State L17-20
at Georgia L32-35 at Pittsburgh W24-20
Florida L9-10 at Purdue W24-10
Chattanooga W45-10 Indiana W45-29
at Ole Miss L3-34 at Maryland L31-38
Alabama L20-34 Northwestern W48-7
at South Carolina W45-42 (OT) at Minnesota L14-51
Kentucky W50-16 at Illinois W30-14
Missouri L21-29 Wisconsin L24-26
at Vanderbilt W24-17 Nebraska L34-37 (OT)
Pass Offense: 64th of 128 Pass Offense: 52nd of 128
Rush Offense: 95th Rush Offense: 73rd
Total Offense: 100th Total Offense: 68th
Pass Defense: 28th Pass Defense: 8th
Rush Defense: 66th Rush Defense: 59th
Total Defense: 34th Total Defense: 19th
Tennessee stood at 3-5, and down two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, on the road at South Carolina, at a crossroads. Unlike the Volunteers teams of recent years, this one did not fold, they persevered, and with that heart, and the unique talents of QB Joshua Dobbs, UT came back to win that night and carried the momentum all the way to the New Year. Waiting for them in the game long known as the Gator Bowl, is underachieving Iowa. It is a golden opportunity for Tennessee to set the foundation.
The Vols are still undermanned at times, especially with the rash of late-season injuries, but Butch Jones’ tough approach has carried the day. Tennessee looks more like a Big Ten team than a SEC one, but with a twist. Iowa has not seen a quarterback who is the kind of duel threat Dobbs is. There are many questions entering the game over who will or will not be able to play for varied reasons, the one constant is Dobbs, and the savior of the 2014 season.
While Tennessee has to be happy with their lot, Iowa cannot be. With the softest schedule of any Big Ten team in memory, the Hawkeyes staggered to 7-5, blowing a 17-point lead to Nebraska in the finale. The truth is the only team they beat with a winning record was the FCS in-state rival Northern Iowa, and they were behind into the second half that day. A refusal to update anything and inconsistent play have put Iowa here.
Iowa’s quarterbacks Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard have failed to attain any consistency as the coaching staff has failed to induce any continuity, forever switching back-and-forth. Mark Weisman is the go-to ball carrier, though a fullback type. Jordan Canzeri represents the best breakaway option, vastly under-utilized this season. Kevonte Martin-Manley is the most talented of a balanced receiving corps, so much more is possible than has been realized for this team offensively.
Iowa football is stuck in the past. Kirk Ferentz, once a hot NFL prospect, is finishing his 16th season in Iowa City. There is nothing about Iowa football that is fresh or exciting. The offense you will see is something more from 1955 than 2015. The level of athletes is not much more advanced. Tennessee hopes to build on the up-tick started in South Carolina and use this bowl game as a catapult into SEC contention in 2015. There is no reason to believe that will not happen, as long as Dobbs takes care of the ball. My pick is Tennessee 27, Iowa 17.