Cheez-It Citrus Bowl: Iowa vs Tennessee

By Will Bateman

Welcome to Bowl Season! 84 teams, 42 matchups, 35 different cities; if you thought the College Football postseason was restricted to the four teams in the playoffs, think again. In this game preview, we turn our attention to the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl matchup between the Iowa Hawkeyes and Tennessee Volunteers:

Where and When

Cheez-It Citrus Bowl

Location: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL

Date: 1st January 2024

Time: 1:00pm (ET)

The Story So Far...

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The Citrus Bowl, now officially known as the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl, is one of the oldest college bowl games; beginning in 1947 it was quickly dubbed the ‘Little Bowl with the Big Heart’ because all the proceedings from the game were donated to charity, since then we’ve gone through a few sponsors from Capital One to Buffalo Wild Wings.

As far as seasons go, both the Hawkeyes and Volunteers have had good ones; Iowa finished the regular season with a 10-3 record, they finished top of the B1G West and strode into the Big Ten Championship game where they lost 26-0 to the Michigan vs. The World juggernaut.

This being said, the Hawkeyes are a very odd one, their season has been very good by most measures, but they also have literally the worst offense in college football where they are ranked 133rd of 133 teams, so while Iowa do look focused on the bowl game in hand, some eyes are on outgoing Offensive Coordinator (and the Head Coach’s son) Brian Ferentz who has, unsurprisingly, been relieved of his duties after this game.

Tennessee find themselves in the Citrus Bowl for the sixth time (tied for the most invitations in this bowl’s history) following a creditable 8-4 season. Despite an unexpected early season loss to Florida in Gainesville, the Vols finished third in the SEC East with big-ish losses to Missouri and Georgia and a mega second-half Crimson Tide comeback in Tuscaloosa the only blots on their scorecard.

The Quarterbacks

As above, the Hawkeyes have a pretty horrible time of things offensively speaking and Deacon Hill starts in the pocket for this one. After beginning the season as a third-stringer, Hill came into the starting spot following Cade McNamara’s season ending injury; this year Hill has thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions in an anemic Hawkeyes offense.

With Joe Milton III declaring for the draft earlier this week and therefore bidding farewell to Tennessee football, much-hyped freshman Nico Iamaleava will be making his first college start; recruited last year as a five-star prospect, Iamaleava was ranked as the second-best quarterback of the 2023 class so there’s lots for Vols to be excited about as the 19-year-old takes center stage on New Year’s Day.

Prospects To Watch

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With Iowa’s offensive struggles well documented (both here and on the field), their highlights have predominantly been on the defensive front and so this section was going to mainly filled with words about Defensive Back Cooper Dejean, a unanimous 1st team All American. But with him out injured we’ll go with Safety Xavier Nwankpa. After Dejean, Nwanka is a big talent in this Hawkeyes defense, a five-star prospect in the 2022 class and is likely NFL bound.

With Joe Milton III and Running Back Jabari Small declaring for the draft, alongside a hefty number of opt-outs, injuries and transfer portal entries, the Vols look a lot lighter on the ground than normal – but incoming QB Nico Iamaleava is bringing a lot of buzz. Rocky Top expect a lot from their quarterbacks and it’s a tough ask for anyone especially a 19-year-old making their first start; but Nico is a much heralded five-star recruit, so time will tell if he lives up to the hype.


Few seem to be predicting a lot of points in this game; while Iowa’s defense is solid, their offense is far from the most threatening. On the other sideline, the Vols have a potential star at Quarterback, but their depleted numbers make it tricky to predict what this team will look like on the field on game day – so I’m going with the Hawkeyes by a hair!

Iowa 14 – 13 Tennessee

Will Bateman


Will works in communications and is a relatively new convert to College Football. Alongside the Minnesota Gophers, he’s an avid fan of the Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Phillies and Tottenham Hotspur. Follow him on Twitter @ItsWillBateman