Iowa Hawkeyes (7-5 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (6-6 SU, 6-6 ATS)
Date and Time: Friday, January 2, 2015, 3:20 pm EST
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
TV: ESPN, DirecTV 206
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: IOWA +3.5/TENN. -3.5
Over/Under Total: 51
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The Iowa Hawkeyes did everything they could down the stretch to play their way out of getting into a bowl game, while the Tennessee Volunteers played like hell just to try and get bowl eligible in their finale, so it should be interesting to watch how these two matchup when they go head-to-head in the Taxslayer Bowl on January 2nd at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.
There were many inside and outside of the Big Ten that were more than surprised when Iowa was given a chance to play in a January bowl game, considering the Hawkeyes lost three of their last four games of the season and four of their last six in conference play. But with down years out of Big Ten programs like Michigan and Northwestern, the folks associated with the Taxslayer Bowl had little choice but to bring the Hawkeyes down to Jacksonville and hand them a second chance at redemption.
Meanwhile, a Volunteers team comprised of mostly impact sophomores and freshman won three of their last four regular season games in the ultra-tough SEC in order to get to the magic six-win mark, including a program-building, 24-17, win over in-state rival Vanderbilt on the road in the finale just to get a chance at a bowl invite. Second-year head coach Butch Jones appears to have the Tennessee faithful on his side, and with a young team that is clearly hungry to keep climbing the ladder back to national prominence the Volunteers could be a tough task for the Hawkeyes to face on January 2nd.
Just about everyone seems to agree that the Volunteers are the team to beat in this matchup, since oddsmakers opened the game with Tennessee as mild 3-point favorites for the neutral site game. The early betting public also seems to like a winner, as they have taken the side of Tennessee strongly enough to cause most sportsbooks to raise the point spread up to Tennessee minus -3.5 at most sportsbooks with a few minus -4 mixed in here and there.
The over/under total opened at 52 and it has actually gone in the opposite direction, dropping down but only slightly to 51.5 at most books. Although there are still a few sportsbooks with 52 still listed up on their board.
If youre looking for big offensive numbers you better keep looking at other bowl games because youre just not going to find it in this game. Tennessee clearly has more talent, especially at quarterback where Joshua Dobbs who is a dual threat (1,077 yards, 8 TD passing; 393 yards, 6TD rushing) that has only played in seven game when senior Justin Worley was lost for the season to injury. However, Dobbs will have to throw the ball against the Iowa secondary that finished as the 8th-ranked best defense against the pass allowing a meager 176 yards a game. The Hawkeyes defense finished the season as the 19th-best overall in yards allowed, so the young Volunteers offense will certainly have to earn every first down they can get.
Iowa has an offense that has a solid upperclassmen core of talented players, but none of them are exactly flashy. Senior running back Mark Weisman is a workhorse, but with only 802 yards and 14 TDs on the season hes not going to be confused with being a game-changer. Most of Weismans yards come when he runs behind senior lineman Brandon Scherff, who won the Outland Trophy this season as college footballs best interior lineman. Senior receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley needs just three catches to set a new career reception mark at Iowa, but much like Weisman hes not really a game-changer with breakaway speed, and QB Jake Rudock is very inconsistent so getting him the ball seems to be a challenge most of the time. The Tennessee defense has given up their share of yards on the ground (allow 162 ypg 66th), so I would expect a pretty vanilla approach on offense with Weisman getting plenty of work.
Tennessee beat Iowa in these two schools only other previous meeting, back in 1987, in a narrow, 23-22, game that was played in a totally different era. Otherwise, history and betting trends, like in most bowl games, means little to nothing for this one.
Iowa is 5-1 ATS in their last six bowl games, 6-2 ATS in neutral site games and 4-1 ATS against the SEC, so coach Kirk Ferentz certainly knows how to get his team prepared even though it may not look like they are very capable this year. Tennessee on the other hand is 3-8 ATS in their last 11 non-conference games, and its hard to find much that this young Volunteers team does well when it relates to betting at the window.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Jones has the Volunteers going in the right direction, and the players at Tennessee will likely be much better in the years to come. But theres something about a senior-led team, playing in a game that nobody but the Hawkeyes themselves think they should be playing in that makes me go with my gut. Plus, the line is moving in my favor because the public perception is that Iowa doesnt belong here. Im taking the Hawkeyes plus the +3.5 points.