Viewer's Guide: TaxSlayer Bowl


Another Big Ten-SEC matchup arrives Friday (3:20 p.m. ET, ESPN) as Iowa takes on Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. Iowa (7-5) enters with four losses in its last six games, while the Vols (6-6) won three of their final four to achieve bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. That same season marks the last time Iowa won a bowl game, while the Volunteers' most recent postseason victory came in 2007. Here’s a look at a few storylines:

Iowa QB drama: Coach Kirk Ferentz on Tuesday named junior Jake Rudock the starter against the Vols, though sophomore C.J. Beathard will play. They've battled much of the season in practice. Rudock started 11 of 12 games, but a team-wide meltdown in the season finale against Nebraska reopened all competitions. Beathard, a third-year sophomore, has indicated that he might consider a transfer this offseason. The opportunity available on Friday figures to loom large in his decision.

Burning question: Will the Hawkeyes get imaginative on offense or simply try to pound away with a stable of backs led by Mark Weisman, who is workmanlike but pedestrian in comparison to running backs Tennessee has faced this year? Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis often prefers to err on the side of conservatism. When the Hawkeyes open it up and things click, they’re dangerous. But it just hasn’t happened enough.

The future is bright: Sophomore QB Joshua Dobbs breathed life into this Tennessee season. After starter Justin Worley was injured on Oct. 18 at Ole Miss, Dobbs took over for Nathan Peterman on Oct. 25 against Alabama. The dual-threat Dobbs held the job as the Vols averaged 35 points in four November games. Against South Carolina, Dobbs became the first Tennessee player to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in a game. Tennessee struggles to protect its quarterback and Iowa’s front four forges a strong rush. Dobbs’ ability to improvise is key. He'll have to work against Iowa with injured receivers Marquez North and Jason Croom.

In the red zone: Tennessee ranks 104th nationally in red zone efficiency -- an area the Hawkeyes need to exploit. Iowa, as you might expect, is exceptionally average in the red zone, ranking 53rd in offensive efficiency. In this matchup, perhaps that will be good enough.

Sense of direction: Ferentz, in his 16th season, still seeks a formula to break from a five-year stretch in which Iowa has finished higher than fourth in its division just once. Segments of the fan base continue to grow restless. Tennessee coach Butch Jones, meanwhile, inspired hope in his second season that Tennessee has finally found its man after three coaching changes in five years.