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Citrus Bowl Prediction and Preview: Iowa vs. Kentucky

Vrbo Citrus Bowl Prediction and Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Kentucky Wildcats

Hawkeyes, Wildcats meet for the first time ever with both teams looking to start the new year off with a win in Orlando

The Vrbo Citrus Bowl is serving up another Big Ten vs. SEC clash to help bring in the new year as the Kentucky Wildcats square off with the Iowa Hawkeyes in Orlando on New Year's Day. And they certainly found different ways of getting to Orlando this season, with Iowa relying on their turnover-hungry defense and the Wildcats getting comfortable outscoring their opponents. This all makes for quite the contrast in the Citrus Bowl.

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Kentucky was one of the more entertaining teams to watch in the SEC East this season, although the Wildcats showed just how far they have to go at times. And Iowa played its way out of a grinding Big Ten West to play for the conference championship, although the Hawkeyes were flattened by College Football Playoff-bound Michigan in dominant fashion.

Vrbo Citrus Bowl: No. 15 Iowa (10-3) vs. No. 22 Kentucky (9-3)

Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Camping World Stadium (Orlando, Fla.)
Spread: Kentucky -3

When Iowa Has the Ball

For an offense that never really overwhelmed anyone with much pizazz, the Hawkeyes may have to find some ways to pull a few tricks out of their sleeves in this one. Iowa's best player, running back Tyler Goodson, has opted out of the game and will begin preparing for the NFL, which leaves Iowa's offense in need of somebody, anybody, to step up and make some plays.

Gavin Williams, Iowa's second-leading rusher, should see a bigger role in the offense now, but it will be up to Iowa's offensive line to have a solid performance in front of him if that is going to lead to some big gains. Iowa's passing game has also been lacking this season no matter if it was Spencer Petras or Alex Padilla throwing the ball.

Kentucky's defense hasn't been stellar, but it may be good enough to win some big battles at key points against this Iowa offense. The Wildcats will be unlikely to force many turnovers, though, as they tied for 123rd nationally with nine takeaways while Iowa only gave up the ball 16 times (t-53rd).

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When Kentucky Has the Ball

The addition of Penn State transfer quarterback Will Levis paid off in a big way for the Wildcats this season. Finally getting a chance to be the main quarterback, Levis took advantage of the opportunity by passing for 2,579 yards and 23 touchdowns during the regular season, and he added 387 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns to his stats line in his first year in Lexington (and he'll be back for more in 2022).

Levis quickly connected with another former Big Ten player, wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson, from Nebraska. Robinson enters this game with 94 receptions for 1,178 yards and seven touchdowns.

Iowa's pass defense has been able to create plenty of turnovers this season, and Levis has been picked off 12 times. Iowa enters the Citrus Bowl with a nation-leading 24 interceptions, including two in the Big Ten Championship Game loss to Michigan.

Kentucky also has gotten plenty of production from junior running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., who has rushed for 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns.

Final Analysis

Kentucky doesn't have to play a 100-percent clean game, but it must avoid getting caught up in the turnover department against this Iowa defense. The Hawkeyes will keep things tight and give the offense a chance to win, but Iowa's offense lacks the confidence needed to take advantage of those opportunities. The Wildcats start 2022 on a winning note with a victory in Orlando.

Prediction: Kentucky 26, Iowa 20

Podcast: CFB Playoff Breakdown and Predictions

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB, on Instagram, and Like him on Facebook.