Leistikow's Outback Bowl prediction: Can Hawkeyes take down the SEC?

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

TAMPA, Fla. — If you’ve been watching some of these college football bowl games, you’ve likely observed that the Big Ten Conference’s heads-up performance with the Southeastern Conference has been … not good.

Auburn absolutely throttled Purdue. It set a bowl record — any FBS bowl — with 56 points in the first half of a 63-14 win.

Kirk Ferentz is eyeing his first bowl win against an SEC opponent in 10 years, dating to the 2009 Outback Bowl against South Carolina. Iowa lost here to LSU in 2014 and Florida in 2017.

Florida manhandled Michigan, 41-15.

Combined, that’s SEC 104, Big Ten 29.


Iowa has the next crack at giving the Big Ten some semblance of bragging rights when it confronts No. 18 Mississippi State in Tuesday’s 11 a.m. Outback Bowl here at Raymond James Stadium. ESPN2 is airing the matchup of 8-4 teams, and the Bulldogs are 7½-point favorites.

Given we’ve known about this matchup for four weeks now, I’ve had time to look at every angle.

Where I've landed: This is a tough matchup for the Hawkeyes.

Iowa's strength, its pass-rushing defensive line, will be minimized by a run-oriented offense. Mississippi State's strength, also its defensive line, will make running the football extremely difficult for the Hawkeyes.

"Obviously," Iowa center Keegan Render said, "it’s going to come down to us in the trenches."

The best Big Ten comparison to Mississippi State is probably Penn State, both offensively (with a running threat at quarterback) and defensively (with big-time recruits everywhere).

That was the day quarterback Nate Stanley struggled with 18-for-49 passing accuracy in a 30-24 loss, in which all 24 Iowa points were scored by the defense and special teams.

And this Mississippi State defense is much, much better.

Remember what Auburn did against Purdue, one of the four teams that beat Iowa?

You know how many points Auburn scored against Mississippi State?


You know how many points Florida hung on the Bulldogs?


Mississippi State hasn’t given up a touchdown in more than 10 quarters.

It’ll take a near-flawless performance by the Hawkeyes to pull off the upset. No turnovers on offense, no big plays on defense. I think they’ll play well and represent themselves much better than they did two years ago.

I just think one of the SEC's most imposing teams will be too much.

Prediction: Mississippi State 17, Iowa 13.

Leistikow's ledger

Week 13: 6-1 against the spread (5-2 straight up)

Season: 48-47 ATS (65-32 SU)

Career: 101-88-1 ATS (137-53 SU)

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.