Iowa vs Tennessee Prediction: Citrus Bowl Odds and Picks

Tennessee's trotting out its next-gen quarterback, and while it will be good to get him some advance reps in the Citrus Bowl, our college football picks think Iowa's stout defense will have its way at first.

Jan 1, 2024 • 11:16 ET • 4 min read
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You couldn't ask for a better contrast of styles than what will happen when No. 20 Iowa Hawkeyes and No. 25 Tennessee Volunteers meet in the Citrus Bowl.

It was a very Iowa season for the Hawkeyes, who finished with a 10-3 record, went to the Big Ten Championship, and lost to Michigan in a game where their defense did enough while the offense was predictably putrid. Tennessee came up short of its preseason college football odds; the QB play was different from what it had expected, and it never really contended with the SEC West title as it had envisioned. The Vols come into this game losers of two of their last three.

What's the best bet in this one? Find out when we look at the bowl game odds and give our free college football picks and predictions for Iowa vs. Tennessee on Monday, January 1.

For more Citrus Bowl bets, also check out our best Iowa vs. Tennessee prop picks.

Iowa vs Tennessee best odds

Iowa vs Tennessee picks and predictions

The story emerging from this game is Tennessee's sixth-year QB Joe Milton opting out. 

Depending on who you ask, this may be good or bad for the Vols. Milton never managed to live up to the hype this season, finishing the year with good but not great numbers — at least for what Vol fans have grown accustomed to expecting under head coach Josh Heupel's offense. 

However, one sure thing is that Nico Lamaleava will get his first career start under center. The credentials for Lamaleava are strong. Depending on the service used, he was the No. 1 overall ranked QB in his class, making his debut highly anticipated. 

"Listen, this game is never perfect, and we don't expect Nico to play perfect," Heupel said. "We expect him to reset and give our playmakers an opportunity to make plays."

Growing pains, growing pains — at least early. That's what I'm expecting from the young Tennessee QB. My best bet is a simple one for the second half to be the highest-scoring half at +115 at bet365.

This is centered around the Vols' newish-look offense. Tennessee has the type of athlete that can hurt Iowa. I believe that statement is even more true now that the Hawkeyes will be without their best defensive player, Cooper DeJan; he’s a superstar talent and cannot be replicated. However, it will take time for the Vols' offense to find its footing. This is a young QB making his first career start against one of the best defenses in the country; it's a defense that has done this to many QBs in their first season. Just look:

  • Penn State's Drew Allar was held to 10 points in the first half, then 21 points in the second half.

  • Wisconsin's Braedyn Locke was held to 0 points in the first half, then 6 points in the second half.

  • Iowa State's Rocco Becht was held to 0 points in the first half, then 10 points in the second half.

Lamaleava has the credentials to be better than all three players, but that illustrates a pattern of what Iowa does to opposing offenses. It confuses them early, and young QBs have, more often than not, struggled to get into the game's flow quickly. I'm not expecting anything different here. Heupel is one of the best offensive minds in college football, so he'll find a way to get his offense to execute, but it stands within reason to think that execution comes after some halftime adjustments are made.

There's not much to say about this Iowa offense, and it's unlikely it factors much into this equation. It’s well-documented how bad its offense is, and there's no use in going through the numbers. However, simple logic would tell you that if it succeeds here, it will likely come later in the game. Tennessee will be missing six starters from its secondary, and once it starts having more rotational players come in later in the game, then it gets susceptible. The "guys behind the guys" have virtually no experience at all. Iowa's offense may be horrific, but QB Deacon Hill has enough game experience to hurt them. 

My best bet: Second half most points (+115 at bet365)
Picks made at time of writing may not reflect live odds.

Iowa vs Tennessee same-game parlay

Second half most points

Squirrel White Over 51.5 receiving yards

We're pairing our best with one receiving prop from the Vols that has caught our eyes and has even more value with a freshman starting under center.

Tennessee's offense has not been the vertical threat this year that it was a season ago. It's turned into more of a perimeter screen game. That will hold even more true with a QB debut here and the test of facing the Iowa defense. The sure volume that Squirrel White will get, making plays in space, makes his Over a very attractive play.

Learn how to bet a same-game parlay with these helpful tips and strategies.

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Iowa vs Tennessee spread and Over/Under analysis

The spread opened at 8.5 points and has since seen a one-way movement towards Iowa, now hanging around 6.5 to 6. That's primarily because of Joe Milton's opt-out. I don't think opting out warranted such a significant movement, but I have no interest in the side.

Tennessee has a degree of team speed that will test Iowa, particularly without its do-it-all corner. However, I'm not ready to trust a freshman to cover around a touchdown spread with such a low total. There are better ways to attack this game.

If you're betting this total pregame, you'll likely be looking at the Under. I'm more interested in getting an in-game Over that closely aligns with my best bet handicap. 

The Iowa effect has made this total 36 at most shops. Of course, that's extremely low for a Tennessee football game, but there is a good chance it gets even lower. I suggest waiting for halftime and the offensive adjustments from Tennessee. At that point, I'll look for a two-for-one on my best bet and grab the in-game Over. 

Even with the heavily publicized offensive issues penetrating the market perception of Iowa, it's had just one single game go Over this season. This is a remarkable stat given that most of these totals have been bet down from what they opened at. The last game for Iowa to go Over its closing total came against Michigan State all the way back in September.

Iowa vs Tennessee betting trend to know

Iowa has hit the Game Total Under in 12 of their last 14 games (+9.80 Units / 64% ROI). Find more college football betting trends for Iowa vs. Tennessee.

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Iowa vs Tennessee game info

Location: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
Date: Monday, January 1, 2024
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. ET
TV: ABC

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Iowa vs Tennessee weather

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