Ferentz happy his Hawkeyes may get 10 more days together, thanks to Music City Bowl invite

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz, speaking to reporters Sunday while in isolation due to a COVID-19 diagnosis, said his team accepted a bowl bid in order to get 10 more days together at the tail end of a season that has been more challenging off the field than on it.

"It's been a scary world out there since March, so that's not new," Ferentz said after his No. 15 Hawkeyes (6-2) were selected to play in the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee. "We all made this decision. We're committed to it. Everything we've talked about program-wise is that we're all going to make the sacrifices in our personal lives.

"We'll look forward to getting back at it and have a chance to play one more time. The biggest thing is for us to be together enjoying each other's company."

The Hawkeyes will be seeking a fourth consecutive bowl-game victory, which would be their best postseason stretch. In their way is a middling Missouri team that sits at 5-5. The game is scheduled for a 3 p.m. kickoff and will be televised on ESPN.

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras is scheduled to make his first bowl-game start when the Hawkeyes take on Missouri.

The trip to Nashville, where Iowa has never played, has long been on the wish list for Hawkeye fans. However, there will be limited attendance at the Music City Bowl this year, organizers have said, without specifying a number. The NFL's Tennessee Titans have been allowing 14,000 fans into the stadium.

More:Leistikow's thoughts on Iowa's Music City bid vs. Missouri: Deserved better bowl fate

All ticket sales will be handled through the bowl game's web site at musiccitybowl.com, not through the individual schools.

Ferentz was diagnosed with the new coronavirus Thursday and will isolate until Dec. 27. He will handle his coaching duties, including daily meetings with the players, remotely until then.

Like everything in this year of COVID-19, it's rash to make any assumptions that the game will be played. Both teams must avoid any outbreaks of the coronavirus in the meantime.

Ferentz even hinted at the difficulties ahead. Iowa has avoided any COVID-19 pauses this season, playing eight games in eight weeks before Saturday's home contest with Michigan was called off because of coronavirus issues with the Wolverines.

But, when that announcement happened last Tuesday, Ferentz allowed his players a week off to return home if they wished. The daily COVID-19 testing won't resume until the Hawkeyes resume practices this Tuesday.

"It can happen anywhere, anytime," Ferentz said of a rash of COVID-19 cases. "So if it happens to us, it happens to us. Hopefully, we can get through here 10 day more days."

Many Big Ten Conference schools have decided not to participate in bowl games this winter, after the strain of trying to get nine games played in nine weeks. Nebraska, Penn State, Minnesota, Michigan State, Maryland and Rutgers made that announcement Sunday. Michigan, which missed its final three games of the season after a COVID-19 outbreak, also is expected to sit out the bowl season.

Ferentz said his players, who are on a six-game winning streak that has placed them among the hottest teams in the nation, want to compete one last time. He said he didn't anticipate any Hawkeye choosing to opt out of playing in the game, although he conceded nothing surprises him, either.

Iowa's bowl destination was the result of a ripple effect caused by Indiana being left out of the New Year's Six games despite having only one loss, against No. 3 Ohio State. The Citrus Bowl also bypassed the Hoosiers to surprisingly take a two-loss Northwestern team. That dropped the Hoosiers to the Outback Bowl and put the Hawkeyes in the Music City.

Ferentz said the plan is to treat this as more of a traditional road game rather than the usual extended bowl trips. None of the traditional festivities surrounding the bowl game are occurring anyway. Iowa will travel to Nashville on Dec. 29.

He was happy to learn that some fans can attend the game, since that has not been allowed by the Big Ten Conference during league play.

"It's easier access to families as well as fans," Ferentz said. "They can get in their car and drive there."

Iowa's football facility will be closed to anyone except players and staff members leading up to the game. They will gather in smaller groups for a Christmas meal and the usual gift exchange.

Ferentz said he is planning to coach the game in person since his isolation period should be over by then.

It will be his 18th bowl game in 22 seasons as Iowa's head coach. He has a 9-8 record and noted that: "Typically, we're the underdogs. It's a tough, challenging draw, that's for sure."

Except this time the Hawkeyes are two-touchdown favorites to beat Missouri, which plays in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers have given up 148 points in their past three games, two of them losses. Iowa has allowed only 128 points all year.

Missouri is coached by Eliah Drinkwitz, who is in his first season. The Tigers are quarterbacked by freshman Connor Bazelak, who has just seven touchdown passes against six interceptions this season.

The Hawkeyes have a 6-7 record all-time against the Tigers, but the teams didn't meet between 1910 and 2010. That most recent meeting was also in a bowl game, the Insight, with the Hawkeyes winning 27-24

The Music City Bowl is in its 23rd year.

Iowa's last three bowl games were victories over Boston College in the Pinstripe, over Mississippi State in the Outback and over USC in the Holiday.

More:Holiday Bowl analysis: Hawkeye star A.J. Epenesa makes game-turning play

"We've enjoyed each and every chance to go out and compete," Ferentz said of the Hawkeyes, who were the only Big Ten West school to get in all eight regular-season games.

"The camaraderie's been great. The support of each other has been great. I think all of us feel extremely fortunate we've been able to get eight games. We're not taking one day for granted moving forward."

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.