No. 46 Iowa
Iowa took a big step back from a record 12 wins in 2015 to eight in 2016. The near-playoff appearance elevated expectations for a Ferentz-led program that typically hovers around 6-8 wins, grabs a big win (or two) and appears in a mid-level bowl game.
The Hawkeyes lost two elite defenders to the NFL but return three linebackers — including All-American candidate Josey Jewell — and one of the best offensive lines in the game.
2016 Record: 8-5 (6-3, Big Ten)
A Week 3 loss to North Dakota State ended any hope of returning to playoff contention in 2017. However, the Hawkeyes did rebound to beat both Michigan and Nebraska in November and win eight games for the ninth time under Kirk Ferentz.
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (19th year, 135-92)
With Bob Stoops' retirement, Kirk Ferentz is now the longest-tenured head coach in the FBS and it appears he'll own that title as long as he wishes.
The last time Ferentz won at least 11 games and contended for the Big Ten title and big-time bowl berth was 2009. After that 11-win season, they dropped to 8-5 in 2010, 7-6 in 2011 and a miserable 4-8 in 2012. Can the veteran head coach prevent a similar plummet this time?
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Tyler Wiegers, QB Nathan Stanley, RB Akrum Wadley, WR Matt VandeBerg, OT Ike Boettger, OT Boone Myers, G Keegan Render, G Sean Welsh, C James Daniels
Brian Ferentz — the longtime Hawkeyes' offensive line coach and son of head coach Kirk Ferentz — took over at offensive coordinator following the retirement of Greg Davis. Though the 34-year-old Ferentz will keep a similar system that relies heavily on the run and shortening the game, he is expected to open up the passing game and take more shots downfield.
Those shots will be taken by a new quarterback coached by a new quarterbacks coach, Ken O'Keefe. Tyler Wiegers and Nathan Stanley will finish their competition in camp after Ferentz did not name a starter this spring. Wiegers, a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder from Michigan, has been lauded for his accuracy, while Stanley is a 6-foot-5, 212-pounder who won the No. 2 job last year and opened spring atop the depth chart.
“They’re both sharp guys and their ability to learn and process is pretty good,’’ O’Keefe said in April. “It’s just a matter of getting reps and being able to react to how they process things that is probably going to be the thing that separates people in the end.’
Despite the loss of Leshun Daniels Jr., running back is no concern with the return of Akrum Wadley (below) after a breakout junior season — and late addition of Nevada grad transfer James Butler.
Receiver, meanwhile, is a different story. Senior Matt VandeBerg is the leader of a very inexperienced, unsettled group. And that's being kind; no one else has played meaningful snaps. VandeBerg's role is also unsettled; he missed all of spring practice after aggravating a foot injury that forced him to miss nine games in 2016.
Thankfully, their skill players will have one the best offensive lines in the Big Ten. They return all five starters — along with a good-blocking senior tight end in Peter Pekar — including senior Sean Welsh, an all-conference performer who can play all five spots.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Nathan Bazata, DE Parker Hesse, DE Anthony Nelson, DE Matt Nelson, LB Josey Jewell, LB Ben Niemann, LB Bo Bower, CB Manny Rugamba, S Miles Taylor
Iowa will miss disruptive defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson but they have a talented and deep front seven, led by three ends capable of rushing the passer, a senior tackle in Nathan Bazata and three superb linebackers.
The unit is led by All-Big Ten Second-Team linebacker Josey Jewell, a hard-hitting tackling machine who also led the team with nine passes defended. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder, who hails from nearby Decorah and who grew up herding turkeys, has a staggering 150 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, four interceptions and 15 passes defended the last two years.
“Josey plays a position where they can’t run away from him,” says Kirk Ferentz of Jewell, comparing him to former Iowa linebacker Pat Angerer. “He is a really good football player. He’s an ignitor, if you will. He’s just one of those guys. At that position, we’ve had some really good Mike linebackers, middle linebackers. He’s fallen in that path.”
The secondary lost former Jim Thorpe Award winner Desmond King to graduation and Brandon Snyder to a spring ACL injury, though they do return senior safety Miles Taylor and rising sophomore corner Manny Rugamba. As a true freshman, Rugamba intercepted a fourth-quarter pass against Michigan in his first career start.
“Hopefully, now he can take it, this experience, and roll with it,” Ferentz said in November. “Desmond kind of got into the game the same way about four years ago so a good role model that way.”
Notable Player Losses
QB C.J. Beathard, RB Leshun Daniels Jr., WR Jerminic Smith, WR Riley McCarron, TE George Kittle, DT Jaleel Johnson, CB Desmond King, S Brandon Snyder
Iowa lost many key pieces on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, two-year starting quarterback C.J. Beathard is gone after throwing for 5,562 yards and 40 touchdowns and leading them to the 2015 Big Ten Championship. His primary receiving targets are also gone — with McCarron and Kittle graduating and Jerminic Smith leaving the team in May after being suspended for academic issues — as is 1,000-yard rusher Leshun Daniels.
Defensively, Brandon Snyder is still on the roster but the junior starting safety will miss the entire season after tearing his ACL during spring practice. And all-conference selections Jaleel Johnson and Desmond King are in the NFL.
Notable Player Additions
RB James Butler, OT Alaric Jackson
With Akrum Wadley on the roster, did the Hawkeyes' really need Nevada grad transfer James Butler? Yes and no.
Though Wadley is one of the nation's best runners and could carry the load himself, look at what he and Leshun Daniels did last year: 381 carries for 2,139 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Barring an injury, redshirt freshman offensive tackle Alaric Jackson won't play meaningful snaps behind Boone Myers. However, the 6-foot-7, 285-pounder from Detroit is their future at left tackle and will be a high NFL Draft pick in the future.
Iowa gets the first look at potential top-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. The 6-foot-5, 222-pound junior went 16-for-32 for 189 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions against Nebraska last year, the Cowboys' lone meeting against a Power Five opponent.
After visiting Iowa State and hosting North Texas, their Big Ten slate kicks off with Penn State at home. Other notable conference games include back-to-back games against Ohio State (home) and Wisconsin (away).
|Saturday, Sept. 2||vs. Wyoming|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||at Iowa State|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. North Texas|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||vs. Penn State|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at Michigan State|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||vs. Illinois|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||at Northwestern|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||vs. Minnesota|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||vs. Ohio State|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||at Wisconsin|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||vs. Purdue|
|Friday, Nov. 24||at Nebraska|