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B1G 2016: Iowa Hawkeyes Cocktail Party Preview

Last year, the Iowa Hawkeyes found themselves in rarefied waters. They won the B1G West, and went 12-0 in regular season play. The problem is the Hawkeyes are not the Buckeyes. It is highly, highly, highly unlikely that they will match last year's undefeated record. In fact, it's fairly unlikely they'll do it again in my lifetime. So where do the Hawkeyes go from here?

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Just to put last year in perspective, Iowa football, post-WWII, has gone undefeated in the regular season exactly this many times: 0.

Since the end of WWII, the following non-Ohio State B1G teams, while in the B1G, have gone undefeated in the regular season:

  • Illinois: 1951*
  • Michigan: 1947, 1948, 1973*, 1992*, 1997
  • Michigan State: 1966*
  • Penn State: 1994

* : The team in question had at least one tie en route to an undefeated regular season.

That means outside of Ohio State, Iowa is the first B1G team to go undefeated in the regular season in almost 20 years.

It also means that it's probably not happening again in 2016. With that in mind, what does an Iowa fan shoot for this year? Where is the soft spot between "In New Kirk We Trust" and "Fire Ferentz"? What is a reasonable expectation for an Iowa fan in 2016? [EDITOR'S NOTE:  Keep your predictions until Thursday]

We kick off Iowa week by helping to clarify those expectations.

About Last Season...

The Good News

  • Iowa went 12-0 in the regular season.
  • Iowa won all its trophy games. The last time that happened was 2009.
  • Iowa won the B1G West.
  • Iowa was two inches away from winning the B1G Championship.
  • Brett Greenwood
  • The "New" Kirk Ferentz. This means very little to football fans who don't actually watch Iowa games, but New Kirk is decidedly, if subtly, different. More on this tomorrow.
  • Some of Ferentz's best seasons seemed to require a lot of luck. 2004 and 2009 most prominently come to mind. 2015 required some breaks here and there, as any successful season does, but most of the games were solid wins that rarely came down to the wire or needed two blocked field goals in a row or a pinball interception. Credit that to "New Kirk" who was more inclined to put games away rather than relying on a lucky bounce or waiting for the other team to screw up (Joel Stave, notwithstanding).
  • With that said...
  • ROSE BOWL!!!!

The Bad News

  • After about 17 years of twiddling their thumbs, the B1G and the NCAA denied Drew Ott an extra year of eligibility.
  • Giving up a 22-play drive to lose the B1G Championship game by 2 inches.
  • Christian McCaffrey as a running back
  • Christian McCaffrey as a receiver out of the backfield
  • Christian McCaffrey as a punt returner
  • That's four bowl losses in a row, and the last two have been embarrassing.
  • The frigging Rose Bowl

About the Offense...

The Good News

  • Iowa scored over thirty points-per-game for the first time since 2008 and for just the fourth time in Kirk Ferentz's tenure.
  • Junior quarterback C.J. Beathard won all-conference honors despite being hobbled for most of the conference slate. He'll be back this season, presumably healthy after off-season sports hernia surgery.
  • Iowa has five returning offensive linemen with starting experience as well as two running backs with starting experience.
  • Yeah, I know Iowa had a weak schedule, but the Hawkeyes put up 40 points on a pretty good Northwestern defense (5th in S&P+, and 7th in FEI), and that was without their top two running backs and multiple offensive linemen.
  • Historically under Ferentz, Iowa's running game has been inside zone, outside zone, and stretch play, which, after a while, is easy to defend; just watch which direction the quarterback turns after the snap and go there. Last year, Iowa threw in some power blocking, pin-and-pulls and counters, and the versatility paid off. The Hawkeyes had their most successful ground game (in terms of total yards) since 2002. And that was without a marquee running back.
  • For all the criticism he has taken, Greg Davis's Iowa offenses have scored more points each successive season he has been in Iowa City. As previously mentioned, he has the quarterback to make it four years in a row of tangible improvement.

The Bad News

  • Iowa returns a lot of linemen with starting experience, but only one of them (junior center/guard Sean Welsh) has started for more than a year or even started every game for one full season. In fact, according to Phil Steele, the Iowa offensive line has only 52 combined career starts to its credit. That makes it one of the least experienced lines in the conference.  Add on to that, they really struggled in pass protection last season.
  • As with the linemen, Iowa has two running backs who have started games, but only here and there. Senior LeShun Daniels seems to be made of glass, and junior Akrum Wadley has had trouble keeping weight on and has had fumbling issues. After Daniels and Wadley, it's back into the pool of unknowns. And even if both Daniels and Wadley prove reliable, can they handle a combined 30-plus carries a game?
  • In terms of proven wide receivers, there is senior Matt VandeBerg and...
  • Tight end depth? None. Senior George Kittle is the starter, and he is probably backed up by very little experience (RS JR Jon Wisnieski missed his entire RS FR year and saw very little playing time last year; after him it'll be true freshman). And Iowa uses two tight end sets for at least one-third of its offensive plays, which is a conservative estimate.

About the Defense...

The Good News

  • Desmond King became the first Hawkeye to win the Jim Thorpe Award which is given to the nation's best defensive back. He then shunned hearing his name called in the first round of the NFL Draft in order to stay at Iowa for his senior year, making him the only Thorpe award winner to ever return to the college game after winning.
  • With fellow returning cornerback, and two-year starter, Greg Mabin, as well as returning strong safety, Miles Taylor, the Hawkeyes will have one of the top secondaries in the country.
  • Were there times last year when No. 43, junior middle linebacker Josey Jewell, looked a lot like former Hawkeye and Colt Pat Angerer? They both not only share the same number and position but Jewell plays just like Angerer, both on the field, and off (Josey Jewell's epic slip and slideUnited State of Iowa - Angerer)
  • Good Iowa defenses start by plugging up the middle. Iowa returns both of its defensive tackles as well as Jewell and Taylor. One of those defensive tackles—senior Jaleel Johnson—can vault himself into the second round of the draft with a strong season.
  • Since 2001, the Iowa defense has allowed more than 23 points-per-game just twice (2011 and 2014). There are no reasons to think this defense will be unable to stay under that number.
  • Matt Nelson is a large human being. The RS SO DE is now listed at 6'8" 283 lbs. Watch for him to push for All-Conference honors.

The Bad News

  • Only one team scored more than 20 points on Iowa (Pitt with 24 points) over the first eight games. Two teams did it during the final four. One of them was Indiana—okay—but 35 points to Minnesota? 22.5 points-per-game Minnesota?
  • 24 sacks over the course of the first eight games. Three in the final four.
  • Speaking of which, Iowa has to find a pass rush whether it's organic or via creative blitzing. And it needs to find depth at the end. Much of the reason the sack numbers fell was because the line, which rarely substituted, was gassed by the end of the season. Right now, the backup ends are two untested, moderately heralded redshirt freshmen.
  • While the starters in the secondary make them quite formidable, the depth there is questionable, at best.

About the Special Teams...

The Good News

  • Ferentz put a dynamic return man back there in Desmond King. He then allowed King to make plays, and it paid off. In 2012, Ferentz had Micah Hyde to return punts. You know, that guy who's currently returning punts for the Packers? And Hyde only had just over seven yards-per-return because he was handcuffed. Last year, King, who is solid but not the return man Hyde is, had 14.18 yards-per-return.
  • Ferentz has historically complained about the NCAA's rules regarding punt coverage. And he obstinately refused to adjust his punt formation to those NCAA rules. After one in a string of successful fakes against him, Ferentz (sort of) joked, via Yahoo! Sports, that he would just stop having his team return punts. Last year, Ferentz finally made some changes to his punting units.

The Bad News

  • There is no punter
  • There is no kicker
  • In the B1G, and especially in the B1G West, punting is winning, and Iowa tends to often find itself in tight games that come down to a field goal.

The Schedule

9/3: vs. Miami (OH), 2:30pm (ESPNU)

9/10: vs. Iowa State, 6:30pm (BTN)

9/17: vs. North Dakota State (FCS), 11:00am (ESPN/ESPN2)

9/24: at Rutgers (TBA)

10/1: vs. Northwestern, 11:00am

10/8: at Minnesota (TBA)

10/15: at Purdue, 11:00am

10/22: vs. Wisconsin (TBA)

10/29: OFF

11/5: at Penn State, 6:30pm (BTN)

11/12: vs. Michigan, 7:00pm (ABC/ESPN/2)

11/19: at Illinois (TBA)

11/25 (Friday): vs. Nebraska (TBA)

The Good News

The Bad News

  • I do not give a single fuck if Gary Barta is an alumnus, scheduling FCS powerhouse, and noted FBS killer, North Dakota State Bison was idiotic.
  • Iowa State Cyclones, hello, I hate that you're on the schedule, every fucking year.
  • Why the hell did Barta schedule a home-and-home out of conference series with an AAC school?

If You're Talking to an Iowa Fan...

Do Mention

  • "Who Hates Iowa?" Who cares, our trophy case is full.
  • Uber-recruits A.J. Espenesa, Eno Benjamin and Chevin Calloway. It isn't often Iowa gets recruits also offered by Bama, Ohio State and Texas.
  • Desmond King's cowboy hat
  • The new football practice facility
  • ROSE BOWL!!!!

Don't Mention

  • The schedule
  • Christian McCaffery ("whoops, there he goes again...")
  • 22-play drives
  • That they canceled the ROSE BOWL.

RIP Bob Brooks, Kyle Calloway and Tyler Sash