Last year was mostly a disappointment for the Iowa Hawkeyes football team, but it was nice to end that seven-year bowl winless streak even though the bowl win came in the frigid cold Pinstripe Bowl no one cares about against a mediocre Boston College team that did everything in its power to hand a seemingly over-matched Iowa team the game.
Now it’s time to put that ho-hum 8-5 season behind us and move on to what will hopefully be a successful 2018 campaign.
Consistency or Continued Inconsistency?
Which Iowa team will show up was the question mark heading into each week during the 2017 season. Would it be the squad that dropped a 55-24 smackdown on Ohio State or the one that gained just 66 yards the entire game the following week against Wisconsin?
For Iowa to win more than seven regular season games this coming season, the Hawkeyes need more consistent play from its offensive line, wide receivers, and quarterback Nate Stanley.
You can attribute some of Stanley’s inconsistent play to the mediocre receivers he had and the Swiss cheese offensive line that couldn’t hold blocks longer than it takes a virgin to ejaculate his first time having sex, but he was also partially responsible. He had numerous bad on 3rd down situations even when receivers were open.
On the surface, if you look at Stanley’s stats, you’d come away mildly impressed. He threw for 26 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions his first year under center, a great but partially misleading stat. But his 55.6-percent completion rate (51.4 percent on 3rd down) and less than 200 yards per game won’t get a woman’s panties all wet.
Stanley had a few amazing performances (Iowa State, Ohio State, and Nebraska) but was mediocre or downright pitiful in most other game. Against the Buckeyes, he threw for 226 yards and 5 touchdowns and then followed that up with one of the worst performances in Iowa history against Wisconsin (8-24-41-0-1).
For Iowa to contend in the Big Ten West, Stanley has got to be more consistent. The talent is there. He has a strong arm and doesn’t make a ton of boneheaded mistakes. But his inconsistency, especially on 3rd downs, is what held him and the team back last year.
In fairness to Stanley, he didn’t have much consistency from his wide receivers, most notably Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who dropped too many passes and seemed to disappear late in the season. Iowa desperately needs ISM to become a consistent deep threat in 2018 otherwise it’s hard to expect the quarterback to play up to his capability.
Schedule Sets Up Nicely
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Iowa is playing a weak schedule. National radio blowhard/clown Colin Cowherd goes a bit too far with his obsession with Iowa’s weak annual schedule, but in between his crybaby rants he does have a point that Kirk Ferentz has no balls when it comes to non-conference scheduling.
For the 18th time under Ferentz, Iowa plays a god awful non-conference schedule that includes a mediocre mid-major (Northern Illinois), an FCS team (Northern Iowa), and an Iowa State team that is highly overrated and will most definitely finish 6-6 at best. There’s really no excuse for the Hawkeyes to continue playing these garbage non-conference schedules. As a fan, I’d much rather see my team compete against quality major conference foes instead of the glorified high school teams Ferentz insists on playing.
The Hawkeyes are pretty much a lock to start 3-0. Iowa State doesn’t have a prayer in hell of improving on its that magical 8-5 season that got their coach Matt Campbell an extension (which, by the way, is hilarious in itself, but a topic for another day). UNI isn’t even a top 5 FCS team. Easy win there. And Northern Illinois is lousy but it should be a close game only because Iowa has four starters suspended.
The conference schedule is also weak. Iowa avoids Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State, which means there are only two other teams in the conference worth a damn (Wisconsin and Penn State). The Hawkeyes will likely take their annual beatdown at the hands of Wisconsin and lose at Penn State, but the other seven conference games are not only winnable, but Iowa will be favored in each of those.
A 10-2 season isn’t out of the question if the Hawkeyes can get more consistency from Stanley and his receivers. But I also wouldn’t be surprised with another 7-5 year as it’s never shocking when a Kirk Ferentz-coached team lays an egg against the Northwestern’s and Purdue’s of the world.
Where are the Hawkeyes’ Strengths?
When I say Iowa has a chance to go 10-2 with that schedule, it’s because of two units that I believe will be among the best in the country, if not the best: defensive line and tight ends. Starting with that potentially dominant front four that might be the second best D-line unit in the country behind Clemson.
The tackles, Cedric Lattimore and Brady Reiff (both suspended for the opener), are solid. But the real strength is going to be Iowa’s experienced pass rushers (Anthony Nelson, Parker Hesse, and AJ Epenesa). And you can’t forget about the versatile and experienced Matt Nelson.
Iowa has the potential to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks even without experience at the linebacker position. I’m excited to see the improvement of former five-star recruit AJ Epenesa in his second year.
The other major strength of the 2018 Iowa Hawekyes will be its tight ends. Most experts rank Noah Fant, a junior, the best tight end in the country after he caught 10 touchdown passes last year as a sophomore. He’s tall, athletic, and has great hands for a tight end. But it isn’t just Fant who poses a threat to opposing defenses. Junior TJ Hockenson will be good for a few big catches a game and is another solid red zone threat.
I also think the Hawkeyes will be strong at running back even though they lack much experience. Sophomore Ivory Kelly-Martin and Toren Young both have big play ability and should be one of the better rushing duos in the Big Ten. There probably isn’t a Shonn Greene in the group, but both players are capable of consistently getting four or five yards a carry.
What I’ve learned from Ferentz-coached teams is they tend to perform better when expectations are low. Not many have Iowa ranked or to compete for the Big Ten West, which means they might just end up in the top 25 or even winning the division. The schedule sets up nicely for the Hawkeyes. This team very well could be an upset win against Penn State or Wisconsin away from ending up in the Big Ten Championship Game in December.
I’ll go with a 9-3 prediction (6-3 Big Ten). Iowa will win its non-conference games, lose to Penn State and Wisconsin, and then pull a Kirk Ferentz special (lay an egg) against Northwestern or some other mediocre conference foe.
That’s my prediction and I’m sticking to it. Go Hawks!