For the 16th time under Kirk Ferentz, Hawkeyes play the underdog card in a bowl game

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

ORLANDO, Fla. — Either Iowa or Kentucky will make program history on Saturday afternoon by winning a fourth consecutive bowl game.

In its 33-game bowl history, Iowa has twice managed to win three in a row — from the 2008 to 2010 seasons and the active streak that begin in 2017 (and was delayed by last year’s COVID-19 cancellation of the Music City Bowl). Hayden Fry's longest bowl winning streak was only two games, believe it or not.

Kentucky, meanwhile, has achieved three straight bowl wins three times, including its current run, but never gotten a fourth.

Iowa 23rd-year coach Kirk Ferentz, who has a 9-8 record in bowls, wasn’t aware of that notable stat Friday morning.

But Ferentz did have his own little history tidbit inside his suit pocket at a joint press conference with Kentucky’s Mark Stoops.

More:Leistikow: Hawkeyes in an appreciative mood ahead of Citrus Bowl matchup vs. Kentucky

“I’ll throw a stat back at you,” Ferentz responded. “I think this is correct: We’ve been (under)dogs in all but two … in 18 bowls. It just seems to be the world we live in.”

Stoops interjected: “Don’t take our role. That’s usually us.”

Kirk Ferentz has won seven bowl games as an underdog and nine overall as Iowa's head coach.

The Hawkeyes (10-3) enjoy playing the underdog card in bowl games, and they get to do it again in Saturday’s noon (central) matchup against 3-point favorite Kentucky (9-3).

According to, Ferentz’s data is correct. Iowa has been an underdog in 15 of 17 bowl games in the Ferentz era; Saturday will make it 16 of 18. The two exceptions: the 2009 Outback Bowl against South Carolina (Iowa won, 31-10, as a 3½-point favorite) and the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl vs. Boston College (Iowa won, 27-20, as a 2½-point favorite).

More:Leistikow's Iowa-Kentucky prediction: Five key matchups that will decide the 2022 Citrus Bowl

Iowa is 11-6 against the spread in bowl games under Ferentz and has won straight-up as an underdog seven times:

  • In the 2001 Alamo Bowl over Texas Tech (plus-1½).
  • In the 2004 Outback Bowl over Florida (plus-3½).
  • In the 2005 Capital One Bowl over LSU (plus-7½).
  • In the 2010 Orange Bowl over Georgia Tech (plus-6).
  • In the 2010 Insight Bowl over Missouri (plus-3).
  • In the 2019 Outback Bowl over Mississippi State (plus-7).
  • And in the 2019 Holiday Bowl over USC (plus-1).

That's an impressive list. And maybe it's fitting that Iowa's most unlikely win of all was the last time it was here in Orlando, when Drew Tate hit Warren Holloway on a miracle 56-yard touchdown as time expired to beat Nick Saban-coached LSU, 30-25, on Jan. 1, 2005.

There are a few reasons why Iowa is so often an underdog in bowl games.

No. 1, the Hawkeyes don't generate a lot of national excitement and are often playing a more glamorous opponent (in perception). Betting lines reflect the public perception of teams more than an actual predicted result.

No. 2, Iowa often gets the benefit of the doubt from bowl games because its fan base travels so well. That results in Iowa "playing up" from time to time.

A few other notable tidbits from the Ferentz/Stoops news conference:

Ferentz keeping quarterback decision quiet

Asked one more time whether Spencer Petras or Alex Padilla will be Iowa’s starting quarterback at Camping World Stadium, Ferentz decided to let us wait a little longer.

“I guess you'll know at one o'clock (eastern) — probably before that, actually (in pregame warmups),” Ferentz said. “I really don't think it's that big a deal. I know it is to everybody … but we have faith in both guys. Both guys have done a great job.”

If it’s really not a big deal, why not say?

Hey, nothing wrong with a little pregame drama.

“Ultimately, it's about how our team plays, quite frankly,” Ferentz said. “And that's our goal, is to play good team offense and hopefully be able to move the ball and score some points.”

Iowa's permanent captains for 2021 have been decided

A team vote determines who goes down as captains for each season. The five players honored: center Tyler Linderbaum on offense; linebacker Jack Campbell, safety Jack Koerner and cornerback Matt Hankins on defense; and kicker Caleb Shudak on special teams.

Ferentz listed three players as out Saturday: Hankins and fellow cornerbacks Terry Roberts and Xavior Williams.

“Otherwise, our entire team will be out there,” Ferentz said. 

(That might be against the rules, coach.)

Is Iowa’s offensive lineup for the challenge?

Predictably, Ferentz was asked about Iowa’s reputation as having a strong offensive line. The questioner probably wasn’t aware that the O-line has been at or near the top of the list of reasons why the Hawkeye offense has struggled. A while back in a postgame press conference, Ferentz said the best-case scenario was that the line would have things figured out by the Hawkeyes’ bowl game.

More:Leistikow: Is Iowa football's offense too complex? A conversation about identity ahead of Citrus Bowl

Well, that time is here. We’ll see. Based on Tuesday’s practice lineup, the first team would be Mason Richman, Cody Ince, Linderbaum, Connor Colby and Jack Plumb.

“We played a lot of young guys this year. We are 13 games into it now. We should be better and should be more developed than we were back in September,” Ferentz said. “And I have seen progress each and every day with our group. And hopefully it will show tomorrow. Going to need to if we are going to have a chance in this game.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.