Vols selected to face Iowa in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day

AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee's Dee Williams (3) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown on a punt return during the Volunteers' home win against Texas A&M on Oct. 14. The Vols learned Sunday that they will face Iowa in the Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day in Orlando, Fla.
AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee's Dee Williams (3) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown on a punt return during the Volunteers' home win against Texas A&M on Oct. 14. The Vols learned Sunday that they will face Iowa in the Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day in Orlando, Fla.

Tennessee is heading to the Citrus Bowl, which will revive some recent memories for coach Josh Heupel and some more distant memories for Volunteers fans.

The Vols received an invitation Sunday afternoon to visit the tourist hot spot of Orlando, where they will face Iowa on New Year’s Day. Orlando is also the home of the University of Central Florida, where Heupel coached from 2018-20 before taking over in Knoxville.

Four Tennessee assistant coaches — offensive coordinator Joey Halzle, offensive line coach Glen Elarbee, tight ends coach Alec Abeln and secondary coach Willie Martinez — worked with Heupel at UCF.

“Our entire program is so excited to have the opportunity to come to the city of Orlando and represent Tennessee football and our university on New Year’s Day,” Heupel said Sunday night on a Zoom call. “This is a huge opportunity for us. For myself, it’s an area I’m familiar with, and my family is as well.

“We absolutely loved our time there. It’s a great city, and it’s an opportunity for us to get back to an area we love.”

The Vols first played in the Citrus Bowl in 1983, defeating Maryland 30-23, and then made four trips in the nine-season stretch from 1993-2001. They went 3-1 in those contests, losing to Penn State (31-13) after the 1993 season but then beating Ohio State (20-14) after the 1995 season, Northwestern (48-28) following the 1996 season and Michigan (45-17) after the 2001 season.

Peyton Manning was Tennessee’s quarterback for the wins over Ohio State and Northwestern.

The Vols will be facing Iowa for a third time in the postseason, having lost to the Hawkeyes 28-22 in the Peach Bowl after the 1982 season and having demolished them 45-28 in the Gator Bowl after the 2014 season. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, who is in his 25th season in Iowa City to lead all active Football Bowl Subdivision coaches in duration at one school, was offensive line coach for the Hawkeyes in 1982.

“They had Reggie White, and they had Mike Cofer, who was an outside linebacker,” Ferentz said. “Those were two pretty good players on defense, and I think (Jimmy) Colquitt was their punter. The receiver was the sprinter — Willie Gault. That’s embarrassing I couldn’t pull that name up.

“They had some pretty good players, and we had a great game with them.”

While No. 21 Tennessee posted an 8-4 regular season in the Southeastern Conference, Ferentz’s No. 17 Hawkeyes went 10-2 and earned the Big Ten’s West Division title. Iowa advanced to Saturday night’s Big Ten title game in Indianapolis but was blanked by Michigan, 26-0.

Iowa’s 10 wins this season have transpired with an offense that ranks last among all FBS teams with just 238.8 yards per game.

“Coach Ferentz has done an unbelievable job over his tenure there,” Heupel said. “They’ve won their division two of the last three years, and they’re one of the best in college football defensively. It’s a program that prides itself on playing hard and playing smart.”

Tennessee is 29-25 in bowl games and 1-1 under Heupel, having lost to Purdue 48-45 in overtime at the 2021 Music City Bowl and having defeated Clemson 31-14 in last year’s Orange Bowl. The Vols defeated the Tigers last December despite receivers Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman and linebacker Jeremy Banks opting out of the game.

Heupel doesn’t expect opt-out announcements this time around taking place any time soon.

“That’s something that typically happens as they get closer to finalizing their decision,” he said. “Last year, we had a good bulk of guys who were going to be in the draft who ultimately participated in the Orange Bowl. This is a great game against a great opponent, and I certainly hope we get a bulk of our guys who are going to help us be ready to play.”

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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