2019 College Football Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes

Big South Tournament

Iowa Hawkeyes

Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz

2018 Record: 9-4, 5-4 Conference

Bowl: 27-22 Win over Miss. State at Outback Bowl

Season Win Prop: 7.5 wins (O -160, U +130)

Make 4 Team Playoff: +6600

Kirk Ferentz enters his 21st season as Iowa Hawkeyes football coach, so continuity has hardly been a concern of this program. With nine wins last season, Iowa has a tough bar to jump over for improvement. Still steady, Ferentz is just the fifth coach in Big 10 history to eclipse 150 total wins, so if anything is on his side, it is history.

Offense

Nate Stanley enters his senior season as the quarterback, and his NCAA career has been illustrious.

Stanley has thrown for 5,351 passing yards in three seasons with 52 TD passes. That ranks atop Iowa all-time leaderboards, and that stability and experience will serve the Hawkeyes well again. That is to say, there are other areas of concern that rank far above the QB position.

The first of those, though, affects it: The two tight ends that caught 27 of his 52 career TD passes are both gone. Both declared for the 2019 draft. Nate Wieting enters his senior season to take over at the TE position, but he has all of three receptions to his name at the NCAA level. Also concerning, is that the Hawkeyes are just 9-9 in conference play with Stanley as a starter.

That seems to limit this team’s upside at least somewhat.

Stanley will have two talented receivers to air it out with: Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith are both very solid. Smith-Marsette averaged 15.7 yards-per-catch last year with 23 total receptions. Brandon Smith was good for 28 passes and 361 yards. Tyrone Tracy Jr. will moonlight as a third receiver sometimes from the slot, and the redshirt freshman has made strides already so keep an eye on his talents.

Iowa also returns its top-3 from its backfield. None of that trio averaged more than five yards-per-carry last year, but the offensive line is back and intact and its starting tackles, Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs are both leaders ready to guide the unit to some effective blocking and hole creation.

Defense

Iowa should be a good pass-rushing team with AJ Epenesa being perhaps the best blitz threat in the Big 10. Chauncey Golston will line up opposite of him, and he brings plenty of playmaking power in his own right. Golston is a massive 6’5” 265 pounds, and he came on strong as last year progressed. Epenesa is the headliner, but Golston will shine brightly even if he is overshadowed by his NFL-caliber teammate.

Linebacker returns a lot of experienced players, but none are standouts. Kristian Welch and Nick Niemann both will start. Djimon Colbert is also a likely starter after what transpired in spring sessions. Welch is probably going to line up at middle linebacker to spell the departed Jack Hockaday.

The secondary returns three of four players as key fixtures from last season. Amani Hooker needs to be replaced after declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft, and that is no small loss as he won the Defensive Back of the Year in the Big 10. Iowa will need someone to fill his tough role, which basically is a hybrid position of safety/linebacker. Ojemudia and redshirt freshman DJ Johnson are the top two options to do it.

Special Teams

Placekicker and punter are immediate areas of concern for Iowa. Caleb Shudak and Keith Duncan are vying to replace Miguel Recinos at kicker. Duncan has some experience, but Recinos displaced him and his confidence might be worth monitoring due to that past demotion. Colten Rastetter has started at punter the last two years, but he is mediocre at best (under 40 yards per attempt, so mediocre is generous). Michael Sleep-Dalton comes in as a graduate transfer from Arizona State and is almost certain to replace him. Smith-Marsette is a natural as a kick returner, and he will also handle punt returns. He is one of the tops in the Big Ten at the return game.

Final Word

Iowa’s biggest losses were certainly that of its two starters at tight end. Having a proven QB is a jumpstart and there is talent at the wideout positions, but this is an offense that has relied heavily on its TEs. The experience at running back also hardly hurts, though, and though the schedule is tough this is a team with a proven track record under a long-tenured coach. A Bowl game is not a lock, but a probability and this team should be at least a smidge better than national pundits are giving it credit for.

Prediction: 8 wins (over)

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