Every bowl game has some kind of narrative, particularly with so much time between the end of the regular season and the kickoff of the bowl. The narrative for the Music City Bowl is centered on the point total. Kentucky and Iowa, two already ugly offenses without some key pieces, might score more points defensively than offensively in what should be one of the most chaotic games on the bowl schedule.
Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks and predictions for Saturday’s Music City Bowl in Nashville.
Kentucky vs. Iowa Odds
Iowa enters as a 2-point favorite, sitting at -130 on the moneyline. The over/under is set at 31 points.
I’m tempted to say the over/under is too high for these two teams, unless the defenses go wild and score some points on their own. Kentucky would almost certainly be favored if Will Levis and Chris Rodriguez Jr. hadn’t opted-out, but the total lack of offense for Iowa will keep the door open for the Wildcats even with their undermanned unit.
Kentucky vs. Iowa Prediction & Pick
While you should never underestimate the inept play-calling of Brian Ferentz, he and his father are still employed because Iowa has won games like this for years. Kentucky may be an SEC team, but without Levis and Rodriguez, the Wildcats’ offense is pretty close to the Big Ten West offenses the Hawkeyes are used to facing.
Iowa’s running game is positioned to at least put the offense in position for some points here and there in what should be a very low-scoring game. The two unknowns at quarterback make this a difficult game to gauge, but Iowa’s defense should be strong enough to eke out the victory. With the line under a field goal, Iowa -2 is the better bet.
Five of Iowa’s 12 games this season have come in under 31 points. Considering the state of Kentucky’s offense, under 31 points might be the better bet in what could be a comical game.
Kentucky vs. Iowa Key Matchups
It’s a matchup of completely inexperienced quarterbacks, which doesn’t make this the safest game to bet. I’m more concerned about what will happen to Kentucky’s offense without Levis. While Levis was mistake-prone this season, dropping from a legitimate NFL prospect to a quarterback (Destin Wade) making his first collegiate start is bad news against Iowa’s defense.
We can make fun of the Hawkeyes’ offense all day long, but they keep showing up in bowl games because their defense is serious. Iowa’s pass defense ranks 12th in the nation, albeit against Big Ten West offenses, and the run defense is 16th in the nation despite some great ground games in the Big Ten.
As much as the Wildcats might want to take some of the pressure off Wade, the absence of Chris Rodriguez Jr. and the strength of Iowa’s run defense will make running the ball a real challenge. It’ll be on Wade and top receiver Barion Brown to produce against the slightly weaker area of the Hawkeyes’ defense.
Kentucky’s pass defense ranks 11th in the FBS despite going up against SEC competition. That should temper expectations, as if there were any, for new Iowa quarterback Joe Labas. At least we’ve seen Iowa win games without a passing game. Even the ugliest game from Labas wouldn’t be much of a dropoff from what Iowa is used to dealing with.
That will, however, make the running game critical. Kentucky’s run defense is a shaky unit, and Labas apparently has some mobility. Kaleb Johnson ran the ball efficiently out of the Hawkeyes’ backfield this season and will be relied upon even more with such an inexperienced quarterback at the helm.