In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 38 Iowa
Another year, another not-bad-not-great preseason ranking for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes were smoked by departures at nearly every level on both sides of the ball, losing two All-Americans on defense and two good interior linemen on offense. They do, however, return a rising quarterback in Nate Stanley, arguably the nation's best tight end in Noah Fant and a couple of defensive ends capable of improving an unreliable pass rush.
2017 Record: 8-5 (4-5, Big Ten)
Iowa posted a third straight season with at least eight wins (and their fifth straight with at least seven wins), beat Iowa State for a third straight season and won their first bowl game since 2010.
It was, however, disappointing. They whiffed on several opportunities. They fell to Penn State on the final play (capping a 12-play drive with 102 seconds remaining), couldn't move the ball in a seven-point loss to Michigan State and couldn't score in overtime vs. Northwestern.
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (20th Year, 143-97)
In September 2016, Kirk Ferentz signed a contract extension that runs through the 2025 season, which could ultimately prove to be the "retirement contract" he and Iowa discussed earlier that summer. While the 62-year-old hasn't won a Big Ten title since 2004, he has led them to 28 wins the last three seasons and averaged 8.2 wins over the last 17 years.
RB Akrum Wadley, G Sean Welsh, C James Daniels, DT Nathan Bazata, LB Josey Jewell, LB Ben Niemann, LB Bo Bower, CB Josh Jackson
Seven of Iowa's 10 all-conference selections are gone, a group highlighted by All-Americans Josey Jewell and Josh Jackson. Sean Welsh exhausted his eligibility, while James Daniels passed on his final season for the NFL Draft.
Also gone is three-year starting linebacker Ben Niemann, who had 15.5 tackles for loss the last three years, and two-time 1,000-yard rusher Akrum Wadley.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Nate Stanley, RB Toren Young, RB Ivory Kelly-Martin, TE Noah Fant, TE T.J. Hockenson, WR Nick Easley, OT Tristan Wirfs, OT Alaric Jackson
Aside from the 55-point outburst vs. Ohio State, Iowa's offense was inefficient and inconsistent for most of the season. They were terrible in the red zone (94th in the FBS) and on third downs (104th), couldn't score in the first half (11.8 points), averaged five yards per play (3.8 yards per rush attempt) and committed 0.6 more turnovers per game.
Brian Ferentz's pro-style offense was too often stale and predictable, leading to several three-and-outs, runs against nine-man boxes and struggles throwing the ball downfield. When he diversified the play-calling against Ohio State, the Nate Stanley-led attack thrived.
Stanley took heat for his play in losses to Michigan State, Purdue, and Wisconsin — which he deserved; he was awful (40-for-88, 401 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions — but had a decent, efficient season, averaging a respectable seven yards per attempt while posting a 4.3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
"Probably being a little bit more decisive, a little quicker in everything he does," Kirk Ferentz said of improvements Stanley needs to make this season.
The return of tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson — whom they use often in two-tight end sets — will help, as will security-blanket receiver Nick Easley. Welsh and Daniels are gone but the offensive line returns two young tackles in sophomores Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson. They rotated at both tackle spots throughout the spring.
"You watch these guys on film, there are a lot of things they did pretty well last year but a lot things they're going to do better in the future," Ferentz said in March, "they have good attitudes and ample experience."
Returning Defensive Players
DE Anthony Nelson, DE Parker Hesse, DE A.J. Epenesa, LB Amani Jones, LB Kristian Welch, S Amani Hooker, S Jake Gervase, S Brandon Snyder
Iowa forced a bunch of turnovers (two per game), held opposing quarterbacks to 10.8 yards per completion, allowed only 0.275 points per play, and prevented opponents from scoring on 20.5 percent of red-zone opportunities.
Now they get to do it again but without two All-Americans and a dozen other key players. There is, however, optimism, led by defensive ends Anthony Nelson (below) — the best No. 98 in college football — and Parker Hesse. Nelson (below) led the team in sacks (7.5) as a junior.
“There are definitely flashes of stuff that I did well," he said after leading the team in sacks (7.5) last year. "The biggest thing I want to work on and I’ve been working on is just making those good plays more consistently,” he said.
All three starting linebackers are gone, leaving a bunch of inexperienced upperclassmen to fill their shoes, among them Kristian Welch, a 6-foot-3, 238-pounder who's spent the last two years in a reserve and special-teams role. Amani Jones is also a player to watch closely. He only had nine tackles last year but earned a starting spot during spring practice.
“Commitment and the way he puts his effort and the time in, watching film, preparation, the energy and the excitement that he brings to the field," defensive coordinator Phil Parker said of Jones. And then obviously when he finishes plays, I mean, he likes to go after guys, and he does a good job of tackling guys,” Parker said. “We just like his enthusiasm.”
Corner is in rough shape but they have some talent and experience at safety, including junior Amani Hooker, an elite athlete who had 56 tackles and two interceptions last year.
QB Peyton Mansell, QB Spencer Petras, RB Mekhi Sargent, WR Kyle Groeneweg
Nate Stanley is the unquestioned starter for 2018 (and, barring a nightmare season, 2019) but they have a couple freshman to watch: Redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell and true freshman Spencer Petras are competing for the backup job.
“Petras has kind of surprised us a little bit,” Ferentz said of the three-star recruit who flipped from Oregon State late and enrolled at Iowa early. “He has caught on to things a little quicker than you might imagine. So we’ll see what happens there. Those guys have done some good things.”
JUCO All-American Mekhi Sargent and Division-II transfer Kyle Groeneweg will add depth at running back at receiver, respectively.
Iowa doesn't leave Iowa City until an Oct. 6 trip to Minnesota, but the Hawkeyes don't have an easy September schedule. Northern Illinois is improved, Iowa State proved last year they can beat anyone, Northern Iowa is always terrifying, and Wisconsin is a playoff contender.
The great news: They miss Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State from the East.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||vs. Northern Illinois|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||vs. Iowa State|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||vs. Northern Iowa|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||vs. Wisconsin|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||at Minnesota|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||at Indiana|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||vs. Maryland|
|Saturday, Oct. 27||at Penn State|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||at Purdue|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||vs. Northwestern|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||at Illinois|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||vs. Nebraska|