FOOTBALL IS BACK. Well, kind of. Not for us, anyway. But if you like #Pac12AfterDark, the Cal Golden Bears and the Hawaii RAINBOW WARRIORS (best name ever) square off tonight in the season’s first game. It’s being played in Sydney. Syndey, Australia. Those guys are gonna be so confused when it’s not rugby. It’s at 9pm God’s Time on ESPN, if you’re interested in that kind of thing.
HERE AT THE PANTS, however, we still have another eight days to wait until football season. But! We thought we’d have a little fun and debate some Iowa football stuff in a sort of roundtable discussion. All of us pitched in and we discussed the Hawkeyes’ toughest game, most important game, what could be a trap game, who the MVP will be, and finally, where Iowa will finish record-wise at the end of the season. Some of us agree on some things (Iowa will be good this season! Michigan will be a tough game! CJB for president!) and some of us disagree on a lot (Trap games! ILLINOIS!). Join the debate as we try to figure all this stuff out. We’re not experts, we just pretend to be. We’re probably wrong, on a lot of stuff. Who knows. I don’t. Sorry I’ll stop now.
Dylan Dinkla: It’s Michigan and I’m not sure there is a close second. It doesn’t necessarily mean the Hawks won’t lose a game they shouldn’t (Hi Cyclones) or that they won’t beat the Fightin’ Harbaughs. But Michigan will have, at most, one loss coming into Iowa City and will likely be a top 15 team. Michigan is the only squad on the schedule that actually has more talent (on paper) than the Hawks. They have an outstanding set of receivers and athletic freak Jabrill Peppers on defense. I am hopeful C.J. and crew can slow down the game enough to let the night time Kinnick crowd take over a bit. But I am fearful for a repeat of a decade ago when Iowa hosted #1 Ohio State at night in a highly anticipated game, only to receive a smackdown from the Buckeyes.
Hawkize: The National Championship.
Jonah Parker: I’m going to take the cop out and say the Big Ten Championship game. Michigan will be tough and I think the Hawks probably lay an egg (I remember being hyped for the night game against PSU in 2012, lot of build up with the black and gold spirit game and all that jazz, then Penn St jumped up 38-0 - hope we avoid that again) and there are some others in there as well, but I think Iowa probably faces off with OSU in the title game and I think it will be brutal. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Hawkeyes and think they’ll be very good this year, but I’ve also spent a lifetime as a fan and find it easier to expect them to crap down their leg than to be thoroughly frustrated/disappointed when they do.
Max Brekke: I went back and forth between Wisconsin and Penn State. I know, I know. We have Michigan on the schedule and they should be the best team we play, but I think Iowa shows up for primetime in front of 70k+ screaming fans at Kinnick and gets it done. I think I’m going with Wisconsin in this category. Just something about this one screams slugfest to me in a repeat of last year’s game. Games against Wisconsin are generally competitive and I just think they’ll show up and give the Hawks a run for their money. Penn State will be difficult, too, especially in Beaver Stadium. But something about the Badgers makes me nervous.
Rob Donaldson: Easy. The toughest game on our schedule, without question, is at home against Michigan. The Hawks could end up dropping a game or two this season and still win that game and it wouldn't change the fact that Michigan is the most talented and well-coached team on the Hawkeyes’ schedule. When you look at that defensive line and see guys like Chris Wormley, Taco Charlton, Maurice Hurst, Bryan Mone, Ryan Glasgow, and the 2016 consensus number one overall recruit, Rashan Gary, that, in and of itself, should strike a whole lot of fear into Hawkeye fans, considering the Hawkeyes just lost star offensive guard Jordan Walsh and star center Austin Blythe to the NFL. Also, I haven’t even mentioned guys like Jourdan Lewis, Jake Butt, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, or Jabrill Peppers. The Wolverines are absolutely loaded with talent and the only way I see the Hawkeyes taking that game is if they’re able to win the turnover battle.
Danny Payne: Michigan, by default. Something about the Harbaughs makes me think they’re a year away from taking the Big Ten East crown from Ohio State or Sparty, but they’re still the best opponent Iowa will see in the regular season. The West is very ‘eh’ again, and without a serious Big Ten Title contender on the Hawkeyes’ side of the conference — except the Hawkeyes, duh — Michigan takes the cake for toughest game. That is until, of course, Gary and Kirk trick us and Stoops/Oklahoma, not Miami, walks into Kinnick for the opener.
Ben Ross: The toughest game without a doubt is Michigan. Even though they have an unproven commodity at quarterback, there’s enough talent on that team where you could suit me up under center and I would feel confident enough in myself to win 8 games for the Maize & Blue. Jimmy Harbaugh is also a QUARTERBACK WHISPERER so that point feels moot. Michigan also gets to play mid-major Maryland before coming to Iowa City, whereas Iowa will probably have its hands full in Happy Valley the week before. I firmly believe Iowa plays up and down to its competition, and this game is going to be a slugfest under the lights in the cold.
Most important game
Dylan: Nebraska but only slightly. I think it is between Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota for the West this year. Minnesota has an easier schedule and always-thorn-in-the-side Mitch Leidner at QB (oh and let’s not forget what happened last time Iowa played in Minneapolis). However, I think Iowa will wear down their defense and newish coaching staff and keep Floyd. So I think that leaves the Nebraska game as the division championship. To be sure, Nebraska does have to play at Wisconsin, at Ohio State, and at Iowa, so their margin for error may be thin. But to go back to Indy, the Hawks need to beat the Bugeaters.
Hawkize: Nebraska. If Iowa wins again, they can finally give Carter Lake back to Nebraska.
Jonah: I think this one has to be Nebraska, just in terms of the stakes. Everyone wants to win the rivalry games and nobody wants the embarrassment of losing to Iowa State, but in reality that game has no implications for conference standings. If things go according to plan most of the year, Nebraska should be the final roadblock between Iowa and a second straight trip to Indy and the BTCG. Add in the fact that Nebby will likely be in the hunt as well and that they share a border with us and there’s plenty on the line.
Max: I’m actually going to go with the game against North Dakota State. The Bison have won their last five games against FBS schools and also have won the last five FCS Championship games. Iowa should be better than a lot of the teams they’ve played previously (I’m looking at you, Iowa State), but regardless, Iowa needs to win this one to be taken seriously. If they win this one, I could easily see them being 7-0 going into a home date with the Badgers. If they lose, I’m not so sure they’ll be able to recover in the rankings despite NDSU’s reputation.
Rob: I could make the argument for both Michigan and Nebraska here, but with the way I see the season playing out, I’m going to go with Nebraska. In my opinion, the Big Ten West this season will likely come down to four teams: Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Minnesota. And, in my opinion, Nebraska and Iowa will be the teams to emerge from that list. With that said, the game against Nebraska, at home on the last week of the regular season, may end up deciding the winner of the Big Ten West and which team will end up playing in the Big Ten Championship Game. Also, it’s always a lot more fun on social media when the Hawkeyes are able to beat the Cornhuskers.
Danny: Northwestern, again by default. This is because Tommy Armstrong’s again quarterbacking Nebraska and Wisconsin is seemingly going to have a down year. The ‘Cats have one of the best linebackers in the country, and a solid quarterback returning. It doesn’t have to be a blowout like the last two years, but a win over Northwestern puts Kirk and Company in the driver’s seat headed into the meat of the divisional race.
Ben: It’s Northwestern, and it’s not even close. Quite frankly, I have an impossible time understanding why no one is talking about the Wildcats this year to win the West. Wisconsin literally just named its starting quarterback for week one. The Badgers will also struggle after losing their best offensive lineman and defensive coordinator this year, and Corey Clement is overrated. Nebraska still has Tommy Armstrong under center. Minnesota still has Mitch Leidner under center. Northwestern has a potential all-American linebacker in Anthony Walker and let’s not forget quarterback Clayton Thorson who won 10 games as a freshman last year. Iowa has absolutely dominated the Wildcats the last two years, and that makes Pat Fitzgerald angry. I have seen Pat Fitzgerald angry, and it’s not pretty. Even though this game is on Oct. 1, the winner of the West will be decided here. There, I said it.
Dylan: North Dakota State. I also thought about Rutgers, but the Hawkeyes will be coming off an emotional game against the Cyclones, playing at 11 am against an FCS team, etc. Of course, this is no ordinary FCS team (and they have the absolute cockiest fanbase anywhere to prove it) and if the Hawks don’t show up, they become FBS victim #6 for the Bison (FYI their last FBS win was a drubbing of our friends in Ames).
Hawkize: Miami of Ohio, but only because Ben Roethlisberger gets confused and suits up for the RedHawks again.
Jonah: There are a few on the schedule that I think could give Iowa a scare (ISU and NDSU come to mind), but I’m going to go with a game I don’t think many others would consider a trap game: PSU. I know, I know. Name brand program, quality opponent, night game on the road. All that jazz and the team should be going in eyes wide open. But look at the schedule. See that one right after PSU? Yeah, that’s a date with Michigan in Kinnick at night the following weekend. I could see the Hawkeyes eyeing that one in a potential top 10 (dare I say top 5 if both get to that point unscathed?) matchup and look right past a very solid Penn State which will be ready for Iowa. I think the bye week leading into this one helps keep the Hawks focused and they escape with a victory, but I could see them stubbing their toe here.
Max: Going with the game against the Fighting Illini on November 19th. Iowa will just be finishing up a stretch where they play a night game against Penn State and one against Michigan before they travel to one of the worst cities in the Big Ten, Champaign. They follow that up with a short week before they travel back home to play the Bugeaters outta Nebraska. Not saying they will look ahead, since Kirk is generally pretty good about not getting ahead of himself, but if any game is a trap, it’s this one. Sandwiched between two of the most difficult games of the season against a mediocre opponent… Be on upset alert. Maybe. I dunno.
Rob: A lot of people are probably going to say North Dakota State here because of their track record against Division I opponents. However, I’m not too worried about that game in all honesty, as they’ve lost star left tackle Joe Haeg, star wide receiver Zach Vraa, and second overall draft pick Carson Wentz in one offseason. Instead, the biggest trap game, in my opinion, comes on the road against Illinois. A lot of fans like to forget, but until Jordan Canzeri busted off a 50 plus yard touchdown run, last year’s game against Illinois was actually fairly close. In addition, the Fighting Illini return both defensive end Dawuane Smoot, and defensive tackle Jarrod “Chunky” Clements. Two players who caused Iowa a lot of havoc in last year’s contest.
Danny: Week seven against Purdue. Purdue isn’t good, but is an easily overlook-able game. The Hawks take on Northwestern and Minnesota the weeks prior, with Wisconsin sandwiched between the Boilermakers and the bye. The winner of the West will be determined in that stretch, Darrell Hazell would love to pick up the first meaningful win of his career — in what is a ‘we’re not going to buy you out so you’re coaching for your pride’ year — by playing spoiler against the Hawks.
Ben: North Dakota State. I don’t care how many starters they lost, the Bison are masters at reloading. You don’t win five straight championships while posting a 71-5 record (and five straight wins over FBS schools) without rebuilding here and there. This is NDSU’s first game of the season, they’re gonna be all jacked up, and Iowa will be reeling after a close win over Iowa State the week before.
Dylan: The easy answer is CJB or Desmond King. We both know what we get with those guys. But I will go with Josey Jewell. The great Hawkeye teams of Ferentz were designed around stout defenses, which were built around solid linebacker crews (Steen-Greenway-Hodge, Edds-Angerer-Tarpinian). The defense goes as the man in the middle goes. Jewell will be many running backs’ worst nightmare this year. Not only that, but he will have to pick up some of the workload while the WLB position gets sorted out between Aaron Mends and Bo Bower.
Hawkize: C.J. Beathard, because you can't win the Heisman and not be MVP.
Jonah: I’m going to shock the world and go with CJB. Des is fantastic, so is his cowboy hat, and I think he has a great chance to repeat as an All-American. But CJ is the heart and soul of this team. If he goes down, Iowa isn’t even close to the same team. I fully expect big contributions from numerous others, including Jewell on the D and a couple of the RBs, but CJB is the only answer that makes any sense here.
Max: Akrum Wadley. Iowa’s offenses always depend on great running back play to supplement a great quarterback. Brad Banks had Fred Russell, Tate didn’t really have anybody in 2004 due to injuries, Stanzi had Shonn Greene and Adam Robinson, and Beathard had Canzeri/Wadley/Daniels last year. This year, with Canzeri gone, I expect Wadley to get the bulk of the snaps. Yeah, yeah, too small and whatever, but Daniels is very ineffective from time to time and I expect Wadley to take advantage of that and parlay it into like 1,500 yards from scrimmage. Wadley 4 prez.
Rob: The popular answer here is probably going to Desmond King, which is understandable, but I’m going to flip the script a little bit here and take “The Outlaw” Josey Jewell. Although I think King will be as lockdown as he was last season, I do expect there to be a drop off in interceptions, which, all things considered, is a reasonable thing to expect. Last season, Jewell was able up to rack up 126 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 4 interceptions while also receiving all-Big Ten honors. Looking ahead, there’s no reason to expect a drop off — except in regards to the interceptions — as he’s one of the most talented linebackers to ever play under Kirk Ferentz.
Danny: It’s C.J., but for argument’s sake (read: I put this off until the 11th hour and don’t want to copy anyone) I’m going with Sean Welsh, the leader and best player of the unit that’s going to be tasked with keeping Beathard, and Iowa’s hopes at the Big Ten Title alive. Welsh, like James Daniels and perhaps others in Brian Ferentz’s group, can and probably will play all five positions on the line this year. One guy has seemingly inherited the leadership of this group, with Welsh being as pivotal to the success of 2016’s line as Austin Blythe was to 2015’s unit. I think I just kind of talked myself into this? He’s not an MVP, but he’s near the top of that list.
Ben: LeShun Daniels. I leaned towards Akrum Wadley getting a large amount of carries in my offensive preview earlier this week, but the more and more I think about, the more I realized that Daniels is the quintessential Iowa back. He’s 6-0, 225. Shonn Greene was 5-11, 220. Marcus Coker was 6-0, 230. Daniels is a punishing runner who can turn on the jets once or twice a game. I think he’s is going to have one of the better seasons a Hawkeye running back has had in recent memory, and is the X factor in more than one game this season for the Hawkeyes. Also, watching Daniels in this video helped make my decision for me.
Dylan: Unfortunately, 12-0 isn’t happening again. You can hate me for this statement, but the Hawkeyes caught some pretty amazing breaks last year and going 7-0 in games decided in the 4th quarter is not a feat they can likely repeat. The Hawkeyes will be a better team with a worse record. I see the Hawks losing at Happy Valley and home against Michigan for a 10-2 record and a West Division title. Unfortunately, Ohio State and JT Barrett leave no doubt in the B1G championship. However, the Hawkeyes reverse course of the previous few years and win the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. 11-3.
Hawkize: 15-0, 16-0 if you count the Senior Bowl which CJB will most definitely dominate.
Jonah: 10-2 in the regular season. I’m not going to pretend to be smart enough to call every game, but I think there’s a solid chance Iowa blows it against Michigan. I just see that as the classic example of the hype building and the national media finally getting on board with Iowa, an opportunity to really grab some headlines and turn the corner and Iowa lays an absolute egg. The media poo-poos everything Iowa has done to this point (remember Stanford?) and the Hawkeyes go on taking care of business after the gaffe. I think there’s a really good chance they drop another one somewhere. Top candidates for me are Iowa State (puke; despite their claims it’s still their super bowl), Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State and Nebraska. It’s possible they drop 2 of them and fall to 9-3, but I think this team is better than that. From there, I see Iowa losing the the BTCG yet again, but finally figuring out this bowl prep thing and winning the Outback Bowl to end the year at 11-3.
Max: 9-3. I think that Iowa loses to either Wisconsin or Penn State (or maybe both) and I just feel as though there’s a letdown in here. Maybe it’s against NDSU. Maybe against Illinois. Michigan will be a challenge, too. I think this is a nice, tempered idea of where they might land and don’t think they’ll do any worse than this. I think they’ll beat NDSU and Illinois. I think they’ll rout Michigan at home. To hell with it, they’ll beat Wisconsin and Penn State, too. 12-0 y’all. Mark it down.
Rob: Expectations are high around the Iowa football program right now, and deservedly so. However, back-to-back 12-0 starts just isn’t something that I foresee happening. There’s no question that Iowa’s schedule has added some tougher match-ups with the Harbaugh-led Wolverines and the Saquon Barkley-led Nittany Lions, along with the regulars: Northwestern, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. Projecting records is extremely difficult because things can change rapidly as the season progresses, but, as of now, I think the Hawkeyes finish the regular season 10-2 with losses at home against Michigan and Wisconsin; the Badgers just always seem to play the Hawks close, no matter what. After winning the West division title, I project that the Hawks will move on to play Big Ten East champions, Michigan, in a rematch for the ages, which includes a late-game drive from Iowa to seal it, while Jim Harbaugh simultaneously loses any and all sanity he has left on the sideline. To cap off the revenge tour, the Hawkeyes will then travel to the Rose Bowl where they’ll meet David Shaw and the Stanford Cardinal and surprise the college football world by holding Christian McCaffrey to under 40 all-purpose yards … in a losing effort. Final record: 11-3.
Danny: 10-2 in the regular season, with a West title. After that, it’s all up in the air — a bowl win would be nice, wouldn’t it? I see a loss to Penn State or Michigan, and a really stupid, frustrating game against Minnesota or Wisconsin. Look, the only team better (again, still not totally sold here) than Iowa on its schedule is Michigan, but running the table is really hard to do, as we saw last year. Iowa was a damn fine team outside of the final 69ish (Editor’s note from Max: nice) minutes of the year, but maybe if Nebraska didn’t hand Iowa its 12th win on a silver platter, or Northwestern had anything resembling stones, or C.J.’s injury caused him to miss a game or three, or any other thing that went unbelievably in favor of the Hawkeyes in the regular season went a different direction, 12-0 perhaps wouldn’t have happened. It’s going to be fun and agonizing at the same time, but a return trip to Indy can and should — emphasis on should — happen.
Ben: 9-3. We lose three games, two of which will be in spectacularly poor fashion to an inferior team (looking at you, NDSU and Minnesota). I think Iowa beats Michigan at home as a nice cherry on the season, but then lose in Nebraska. Iowa still wins the West, because it has the head to head over Wisconsin and Northwestern while Nebraska and Minnesota lost like five conference games apiece, but there’s no chance this team runs the table again.