Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz
2015 Record: 12-2
2015 Bowl: 45-16 Loss to Stanford at Rose Bowl
2016 Returning Starters: 5 Offense, 8 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +8500
Odds to win 2016 Big Ten Championship: +750
Regular Season over/under: over 9.5 (+140), under 9.5 (-170)
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C.J. Beathard had a big season last year. He carried Iowa to a 12-2 mark and an appearance in the Rose Bowl against Stanford. The Hawkeyes averaged 219.6 passing yards per game while averaging 386.1 yards total offense and 30.9 points per game.
Beathard threw above 60 percent completions when the team was in third-and-10 or longer, and he was strong in the fourth quarter for the Hawkeyes, who boasted a virtual stable of capable receivers to bolster Beathard’s arm strength.
In the backfield Iowa will rotate a number of backs through as ball carriers. Senior LeShun Daniels will get 20 to 25 touches a game, and he has the strength and frame to really move the chains. Junior Akrum Wadley is quick and can make big plays.
The Hawkeyes were superb on the ground last season, rushing for 2,544 yards and 35 TDs. The OL had a lot to do with that, of course, and it returns three starters from last season’s squad.
What may be in question for the Hawkeyes is who will make the majority of the big plays, though that may be clear as the season goes on. WR Matt VandeBerg is one option for this role, and he caught 65 passes last year which was the most for a Hawkeyes WR since 2011. TE George Kittle caught 20 passes last year and six TDs, and he is a great red zone target.
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All-American CB Desmond King announced last January he would return for his senior season, and that keeps Iowa’s state big turnover forcer on the field. He had eight INTs last season and won the Jim Thorpe award as the nations’s best defensive back.
LB Josey Jewell made second-team All-Big Ten last season in his first year as a starter, and the 6’2” 235 pound junior had 126 tackles and four INTs.
DT Jaleel Johnson had 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season, while junior Nathan Bazata returns as well. He had five tackles for loss and two sacks in his first year starting in 2015. DEs Parker Hesse and Matt Nelson are going to have to be strong pass rushers this season, and Hesse had two sacks last year.
King keeps this defensive unit as one of the best in the Big Ten. Iowa held opponents to 20.4 points and 341.0 yards per game last season, ranking No. 19 and No. 22 in the nation in those categories. Given how strong the offense is, this unit should have no problem giving them the wiggle room to reel off another impressive season.
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Either sophomore Miguel Recinos or Mick Ellis will be the kicker. Colten Rasetter was the No. 1 punter in spring. King will return kicks and punts, and he finished with a 14.2 yard average per punt and a 24.4 yard average per kick return.
Iowa hosts Miami (OH), Iowa State and North Dakota State in Weeks 1 through 3. Conference play begins Week 4 at Rutgers with Northwestern at home in Week 5. The season concludes on Nov. 25 at home against Nebraska.
Iowa put itself on the map last season, though it did so in such improbable fashion in some senses. The Hawkeyes are the best team in the West division, and there is enough experience to build on last season’s momentum in a meaningful way. Beathard gives Iowa the engine to a powerful offense and its defense should still be on top with King heading that unit up. The Hawkeyes program is at a peak.
Prediction: 10 wins
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