Iowa football heading to Music City Bowl, where Hawkeyes' 2020 game was canceled by COVID

Kennington Lloyd Smith III
Des Moines Register

At the end of the 2020 college football season, Iowa football was one of the nation's top programs, riding a six-game winning streak to end the regular season.

Iowa’s 6-2 record during the COVID-shortened season earned the Hawkeyes a bid to the Music City Bowl against Missouri; however, the game was never played as Missouri pulled out due to a team outbreak.

Two years later, the Music City Bowl tabbed Iowa again and gives the Hawkeyes a chance to redeem a vacated opportunity. And there'll be a chance at redemption against the team that beat Iowa in its last bowl game.

Known officially as the TransPerfect Music City Bowl, the game played on New Year's Eve at 11 a.m. CT will feature Iowa in a showdown with an SEC opponent. Iowa (7-5) will play Kentucky (7-5) in a rematch of the 2021 Citrus Bowl, where Kentucky defeated Iowa by a 20-17 score.

Iowa's regular season ended on a sour note two weeks ago, losing 24-17 to Nebraska, a loss that cost the team a second straight Big Ten West title. Under Big Ten order of selection with bowls, Iowa drew the No. 5 slot behind (in order of selection) Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Illinois.

The Hawkeyes' bowl outlook was in doubt after a three-game losing streak during the middle of the season, but Iowa turned it around to win four of its last five games down the stretch. The team's 7-5 record fell short of expectations, but a victory over Kentucky would give the program its fourth bowl win in its last five opportunities.

More:Iowa quarterback Alex Padilla enters NCAA transfer portal

On the other side, Kentucky is a team that at one point had New Year’s Six bowl aspirations but finished the regular season in a slump. The Wildcats began the season with a 4-0 record, reaching as high as No. 7 in the rankings, but fizzled out down the stretch to finish with a 7-5 record. They finished the year in a tie for the sixth-best conference record with Arkansas.

More:Iowa football tight end Sam LaPorta named Big Ten Conference tight end of the Year

The rematch will have potential intrigue at the quarterback position. Kentucky's Will Levis is a projected first round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and hasn't decided on whether he will play in the team's bowl game. For Iowa, there's the unknown status of injured starter Spencer Petras, and two-year backup Alex Padilla announced he will enter the transfer portal and will not play in the game. The Hawkeyes haven't fared well against SEC opponents recently. They've have lost five of their six games against SEC foes. Their only win in that stretch was a 27-22 Outback Bowl win over Mississippi State in 2019.