There’s a lot of uncertainty going into this season for the Hawkeyes - on the offensive side, we still don’t know who the quarterback will be nor do we know who will play a prominent role at wide receiver, while on defense, the secondary is the biggest question mark. Iowa is also breaking in a new offensive coordinator, if you haven’t heard, and things could get a little bumpy while he gets settled into the new job. This is really the most uncertain season that Kirk Ferentz and Co. have gone into for a short while, as no one knows what to truly expect.
This didn’t stop us at The Pants from being optimistic about this upcoming season. In this year’s edition of The Pants Predicts, everyone here picked the Hawks to be above .500 and some even think Iowa has a shot at winning as many as nine games. Outside of that, we predicted who will be the offensive and defensive players of the year for the Hawks, who will be the best newcomer, what game will be the most important/biggest game for Iowa in 2017, and we debated whether or not this will be the year the Hawkeyes finally gets the monkey off their back and win a bowl game.
Let’s get to it!
Regular Season Record (And Conference)
Ben Ross: 9-3 (6-3)
FIRE ME UP for this football season. Man, I’m normally pretty pessimistic, but I just love the way things could align for Iowa this year. The non-con should be a cakewalk, and after a minor road bump with Penn State in week four, the Hawkeyes have relatively smooth sailing until they get Ohio State and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks. Squeak out a win in Camp Randall, and you may just have your Big Ten West champions here, folks.
I really, really, really want to put this team at seven wins, but it just doesn’t sit right. I can feel it. In the plums. This is a nine-win football team.
Max Brekke: 8-4 (5-4)
I think the Hawkeyes are going to start the season undefeated in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but they sure do have a tough conference schedule ahead of them this year. At this moment in time, I see them losing four games - vs. Penn State, vs. Ohio State, at Wisconsin, and then I think there will be a game in there that they should win and will have a chance at late, but won’t be able to close it out.
This is a really, really talented team this year. There are some question marks, particularly at quarterback, wide receiver, and safety, and I think that’s all that will hold this team back. The floor should be 6 wins, while the ceiling is likely 9 or 10. I’ll put them in the middle.
Jordan Hansen: 7-5 (5-4)
The last time I predicted Iowa to win seven games, they finished 12-0 and were one stop away from playing in the playoffs. Will that happen again? Short answer — no. I’m convinced the Hawkeyes lose to That Team Out West and after a strong showing against Wyoming it will plant a seed of doubt, which pops up at various times this year.
This feels like an Iowa team that beats a good Penn State or Ohio State team and then turns around and drops a game it has absolutely no business losing. (Hi, Illinois!) I did almost put eight wins here, but I just don’t feel real great about the quarterback or wide receiver situation. This feels like a year where Iowa loses a bunch of agonizingly close games and make us ponder just why we put ourselves through this year in and year out.
But hey, maybe I’m wrong!
BoilerHawk: 7-5 (5-4)
Iowa’s going to lose to either Wyoming or ISU. The loss to a non-conference opponent, typically Iowa State, is the hallmark of a mediocre Kirk Ferentz team. That caps their ceiling at roughly 8 wins, so they’ll lose another game they shouldn’t - an under-the-radar Purdue team (@ me) - plus the obvious ones: Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State. Maybe they lose another - MSU, Northwestern, Minnesota, Nebraska are all possible - but if the run game is humming, I think they’ll hit 7 wins.
JPinIC: 8-4 (5-4)
This team reminds me a lot of the 2008 version of the Hawkeyes. They don’t look like world-beaters on paper. There are a ton of question marks, especially at QB. I fully expect that situation to be a problem much longer than it should and perhaps it will cost this team a game. But I think the strength of this team along the lines and the dynamic duo at running back is enough to get them through the non-conference slate unscathed (I’m fully aware I’ve just set myself up for a rage-filled weekend when they inevitably lose to a 3-9 ISU team). I expect losses against PSU and OSU (though I see the potential for a close game in one of those). On the road at Wisconsin is one I can see the Hawkeyes stealing. It’s late in the year and given the newcomers on this team and where the question marks lie, I think they’ll be better in November than in September. That’s (Kirk Ferentz) football, unless you’re Nebraska. Speaking of Nebraska, I think Iowa wins in Lincoln. Get some bugeaters. Like Wisconsin, I think Northwestern is a game Iowa can win, but I’m just not sure. I think the Hawks get one of those two, but likely not both. So that puts us at 3 losses. It’s Iowa and I’m a pessimist, so I think they lose one of Minnesota, MSU, Illinois and Purdue. Please don’t be Minnesota.
Hello Jerry: 9-3 (6-3)
I'm generally a positive guy. Instead of sleeping in a bed of sorrows, I choose to sleep in a bed of sports lies I tell myself. With that in mind, how could I NOT predict that the Hawkeyes will finish with a 9-3 overall record? Did you see that running back video? Did you see how confident BUTWAD was? Did you notice how LARGE Noah Fant is? Did you see some of the speed and general shiftiness from the young receivers of which I've never seen before? We have GUYS, guys! When you take all of those (hopeful) positives into consideration and sprinkle in a dash of Nathan Stanley’s Kid’s Day performance, an exciting defensive front seven that should be able to keep Wyoming/Penn State/Wisconsi/jNW/Nebraska within a score or two at the worst (keeping the the football in the hands of our RB’s) and one of the best damn offensive lines in the country, well, being pessimistic is for those clown colored birds on the other side of the state.
Matt Cabel: 7-5 (5-4)
Just like Kirk Ferentz, I’m not making this pick sexy or edgy. It’s just right. To me, there are the three obvious losses against Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State, and some potential losses against Wyoming, Nebraska and Michigan State. I have a feeling those extra two losses will be against Wyoming and Michigan State. As much as Iowa has Spartys number, so too does Sparty have ours, and I’m never willing to count out Dantonio. Pencil me in for a date with my couch for the 7th annual ‘Iowa vs. a more talented SEC team” Bowl loss in late December or early January, too.
Rob Donaldson: 7-5 (4-5)
Man … I can’t wait for this season to get rollin’. With that said, I’m tempering my expectations for a few reasons. For one, the defense took major hit this offseason with the loss of a dominating interior presence in Jaleel Johnson, a former Jim Thorpe award winner in Desmond King, a middling — yet capable — starter in Greg Mabin, and a breakout playmaker in Brandon Snyder. Last season, when Iowa’s defense needed to make a big play, there were four guys who were there to make it: Johnson, King, Snyder, and Jewell. Three of those four players won’t be lining up on defense this season for the Hawkeyes; that’s a major problem.
On the offensive side of the ball, the receiving core is still a major question although I think it may actually be an improvement over last season. In addition, the Hawkeyes are obviously transitioning to a new signal caller and, at the moment, we still don’t quite know who that’s going to be — even though the signs are pointing to Stanley. That’s not a good sign, as we sit about two weeks away from the start of the regular season.
Jordan Taylor: 9-3 (6-3)
Like Jerry, I share a borderline-MDMA- fueled optimism about this team. It has all the ingredients to be great; a nearly whole nationally recognized offensive line from a nationally recognized o-line school, a pair of top ten nationally elusive backs behind them (UNLEASH BUTWAD™) and a linebacker group sharing roughly a decade of experience.
The question marks? If quarterback play is even at an adequate level this offense should still be able to move. The concerns with wide receiver to me are minimal. Again, call me kooky, but a combination of youth and grad transfers equals a hungry, underdog squad that will look to troll the haters (plus I believe serviceable WRs are a dime a dozen). A new commitment to passing down the seam with the 83 tight ends we have will also help. My biggest concern is the defensive tackle position. Comments have been made about the great DE depth with the arrival of AJE allowing guys like the Nelsons to slide inside, but I think this shows a big weakness. Lattimore will need to step up this year quickly.
I fear that Penn State will give the Hawks a spanking this year on their way to a Big Ten Title. They feel like the team to beat with hardened, talented vets like McSorley and Barkley. Alternatively, I think the Hawkeyes have a real shot at shocking the Buckeyes in Iowa City; OSU’s youth creating a ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard’ cliché. That being said, I would predict Iowa’s three losses to be Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin all while nearly shitting the bed to Iowa State in the second half. Iowa will not lose to Wyoming, gawdammit.
Offensive Player of the Year
Ben: Akrum Wadley - This is his team, and Iowa is going to live and die by how he performs. Wadley is a legitimate Big Ten Offensive POTY candidate, and Iowa is going to ride him all year long. James Butler is another solid pick too, but Wadley is just special, man.
Max: Noah Fant - It’s easy to take one of the two horses in the backfield, but if this team is truly going to exceed expectations, a pass catcher will have to emerge this year. I’ll take a tight end - Fant has the size to be a matchup nightmare for defensive backs, but the speed to separate from linebackers. I’m going to guess he gets somewhere around 50 receptions if his blocking develops and will be the main cog in the receiving game.
BH: Akrum Wadley - No sense getting cute with this pick. Barring injury, a lot of the offense is going to rely on Wadley and what he does, even if it means he doesn’t have the ball. I’m starting to buy into Brian Ferentz leveraging the threat of a player almost as much as the skills of that player.
JPinIC: Akrum Wadley - It’s the chalk pick and I don’t care. He’s one of the most dynamic players I’ve watched in the black and gold and I have faith in Brian Ferentz finding ways to get him the ball in space. If it’s anyone other than him, the season was either a massive success or a complete failure. I don’t see any way Wadley isn’t the offensie MVP unless he’s hurt or someone else steps up in a massive, completely unforeseen way.
Matt: James Butler - Did I make this decision because everyone else chose Akrum and there’s nothing left to say? Maybe! Do I think James Butler is going to be a huge contributor to the Hawkeye offense this year? Absolutely. In reality, I think the tandem of Butler and Wadley will in reality be the Co-Offensive Players of the Year for the Hawkeyes, because, like it does every year, Iowa’s success will start and end with the running backs. It doesn’t matter what Nate Stanley does in the passing game, just so long as he can hand off the ball to BUTWAD, the two-headed dragon. 1000+ yards out of both of them is achievable, especially given how much Iowa will rely on the run, and how great the offensive line should be. Add in the prospect of them throwing and catching passes...damn. These dudes are the X-factors, folks.
Hello Jerry: Akrum Wadley - It's scary how badly I want a Brian Ferentz tattoo after a Heisman winner/Big Ten Championship. If either of those two things are to happen, it means Wadley put on a show unlike anything we've ever seen before. I’m here for that show.
Jordan H: Sean Welsh - Everyone else is picking Akrum so I’m going to go against the grain and say Sean Welsh. Yup. It me, linemen picking guy. Welsh was named to SI’s All-American list last year and is maybe the most complete lineman the Hawkeyes have.
Don’t get me wrong, James Daniels is a great player, but let’s give Welsh some credit. He’s had a tremendous career and all those Wadley runs aren’t happening without him laying someone out.
Oh and I went back later when we were compiling this and saw Max has Noah Fant. That’s not a bad choice either.
Rob: Hmmmmm…. This is very difficult choice *sarcasm* and I’m not really sure who I’m going to go with here. Oh wait! Akrum Wadley is still in an Iowa uniform.
Jordan T: James Butler - Akrum had all the highlights last year, and my gawd were they great, but LeShun did a lot of dirty work to pave the way. This year everyone will be game-planning around Akrum, especially if he starts playing the slot in two RB sets, and the slightly smaller than LeShun, but faster and shiftier Butler will be the knockout cross to Akrum’s jab in a one-two punch that I truly believe could go down as a historically memorable Iowa rushing tandem. Let me officially make this joke annoying and exclaim BUTWAD™ FOREVER.
Defensive Player of the Year
Ben: Josey Jewell - If Jewell isn’t the best defensive player for Iowa this year … then I think we’re gonna be in trouble.
Max: Manny Rugamba - If opposing quarterbacks are able to get passes off before the pass rush gets to them (which is questionable), someone is going to need to stop them. Rugamba is my pick because he was extremely solid in pass coverage last year and has big shoes to fill at Iowa’s least experienced position on defense. The linebacker corps will make the defense good, but a shutdown corner or two emerging will make them, dare I say, elite.
BH: AJ Epenesa - He is already forcing the coaches to rejigger the defensive line in less than 10 practices. He’s going to be Iowa’s best defensive lineman by the midpoint of this year, if not sooner. Having a bona fide pass rusher is going to do wonders for a defense who might struggle at the back end if their athleticism is tested. Epenesa will change the arithmetic of the QB every time he’s lined up on the edge. Bonus prediction: He follows in the footsteps of another 94:
JPinIC: Josey Jewell - He is the Outlaw. Nothing more need be said.
Matt: Josey “The Outlaw” Jewell - See above.
Hello Jerry: Fine… I’ll take him too. It’s just that he IS legitimately and figuratively the centerpiece to a defensive front that I think is going into the season extremely underrated (which is hard to do when you have the three linebackers the Hawkeyes do and some nice rushing prospects on the line). But still, he’s THE name for a reason… and it’s because he does nothing but produce. Run the Jewells.
Jordan H: Josey Jewell - I almost put Manny Rugamba here and I really do think the young cornerback will have a tremendous year, but Jewell should be chasing a first-team All-American spot this year. No, he won’t get it, but Jewell is one of the best linebackers in the country and will prove it this season.
Here’s to hoping his tremendous run of staying healthy extends one more year. *knocks on wood*
Rob: Jewell is obviously the easy choice here but I wouldn’t sleep on Manny Rugamba. In limited action last season, Rugamba flashed some incredible potential, as he’s a fluid athlete who can run with anyone and can find the ball with consistency. With that said, Jewell is just flat out fun to watch and you already know what you’re going to get from him heading into the upcoming season.
Jordan T: Josey Jewell - AJE will enter the picture and make some plays to get us, and the NFL, amped about his future but the general of this defense, and the D-MVP, will be The Outlaw. With a thin defensive line, Jewell, by necessity, will see even more action in the run game. It’s well known that he is also a well-respected leader not only by the coaches, but by his teammates. Having a smart player of his caliber will raise the entire defense’s level of play this season.
Newcomer of the Year
Ben: I’m going to say Brandon Smith, simply because I think if he’s going to be rookie of the year, that means he had a great season, and Iowa’s passing game panned out. I’m hoping the young fella can learn the system quick, and become a trusted target for whoever is quarterbacking Iowa.
Max: Ihmir Smith-Marsette - The wide receiver position is wide open in 2017 and that means that anyone can play. ISM, Max Cooper, Desmond King, perhaps even you? I’m going to pick Smith-Marsette, though, because he has something you can’t teach - speed. If he can learn the offense enough and adjust to the college game, then he could be a great contrast to the possession receivers on the team.
BH: Brian Ferentz - At times, he’ll over-rely on the run, but the creativity he’ll show in that facet of the game is going to be just what the doctor ordered. It’ll serve as the foundation for Kirk 4.0.
JPinIC: James Butler - The dude ran for 1300 yards in each of the last two seasons. He’s spent his entire career playing with a chip on his shoulder for not getting the chance to play in the Big Ten. Now he has that chance and all that’s on the line is proving he belongs to every NFL scout who will be in town to watch his backfield-mate Akrum Wadley. This. Dude. Is. Going. To. Ball.
Add to that the potential issues throwing the ball, the strength of this offensive line in run blocking and Brian’s commitment to the run game and I think Butler is poised to have a massive year at Iowa.
Matt: A.J. Epenesa - You don’t come in as a highly touted 5-star recruit to a team that doesn’t get many and not make an impact...unless you’re a huge bust. Or if you don’t get snaps. Neither of those seem likely at this point.
Hello Jerry: I’m here for Brian Ferentz for two reasons: 1.) He’s not Greg Davis. 2.) He’s brought the old gang I loved so much back together to (hopefully) add to the things he learned from Josh McDaniels and Bill O’Brien during his time in New England.
I’m ready for “Rick Rolls” in three tight end sets with Noah Fant just dominating the seam and T.J. Hockenson coming through underneath. I’m excited for BUTWAD to share the field together in possible run/pass options. I’m thrilled that KOK is back home where he belongs (sorry haters).
Jordan H: James Butler - I think we’ll see Butler get a looooot of snaps this year and with Wadley’s injury history, we might see him more than what will be expected. One of the best things for a young quarterback is to have a solid offensive line and a dependable running game in front of them.
Iowa has both and adding Butler is only going to make like easier for future Hall of Fame quarterback Nathan Stanley.
Rob: A.J. Epenesa - It’s not often that a highly talented 5-star recruit joins the Iowa football program, so that alone is a treat. However, by all accounts, Epenesa has performed very well this offseason and is looking to make a serious impact as a true freshman. Can’t wait!
Jordan T: Brian Ferentz - Everyone wants to see what Brian’s fingerprints do to this offense. With a new QB and many new faces at WR, success will hinge on his ability to create a successful offensive identity beyond the run game in the first three weeks. If he can inject the creativity needed to keep eight to nine defenders out of the box, watch out.
Game of the Year
Ben: Vs. Wyoming, Saturday, Sept. 2.
I don’t want to do coach speak, but the next game is the only one that matters, and how Iowa plays against Wyoming in the first game of the year is going to set the table for how the rest of the season pans out. If Iowa’s quarterback lays a goose egg and can’t score against a really, really bad defense, then we’re in for a loooooong season. I’m less worried about the defense, despite Josh Allen being an (overrated) sexy draft pick at QB for the Cowboys, but yeah.
If the Hawkeyes can’t put points on the board and at least occasionally stop a competent QB on the defensive side of the ball, then I don’t know what to think.
Max: At Northwestern, Saturday, October 21st.
I was torn between picking this one and the Wisconsin matchup in Camp Randall, but I’m going with the ‘Cats as the game of the year for the Hawks. They’ll be coming off a bye week and will have plenty of time to prepare for what is expected to be a good Northwestern team. This will start an absolute hellacious stretch for Iowa to end the season, and if they can win this one, it’ll be a huge confidence boost going into it.
BH: At Nebraska, Friday, November 24th.
Iowa is going to come out on fire after the “WTF?” game the week before. One thing I’ll never forget about last year is how much Nebraska had to play for at the time - a win applies pressure on Wisconsin - while all Iowa had was pride. I’ll take a prideful Iowa bunch every time until West Coast Mike Riley proves otherwise. It may not be the best game, but it will be the most memorable of 2017.
JPinIC: At Wisconsin, Saturday November 11th
The Badgers have already lost their Josey Jewell with the announcement senior LB Jack Cichy is done for the year. That bodes well for an Iowa team I expect to be playing pretty well come mid-November. This game could mean a lot depending on the outcome of a few of the earlier season games and I think this team has the mental makeup to really push things down the stretch. Wisconsin plays a similar brand of football to Iowa and all that translates to a game that should be really close and competitive.
Hello Jerry: Penn State, Saturday September 23rd
41-14. 38-14.13-3. Three straight losses since 2010 (of which the Hawkeyes offense has looked like hot vomit in a bag) after three straight exciting wins. The last two matchups have been atrocious and I expect Kirk Ferentz and company to seek some revenge, at home (hopefully under the lights), in Iowa City.
Matt: At Nebraska, Friday, November 24th.
Regardless of what Husker fans say, this is is a rivalry, and it’s one I’ve come to enjoy in the last couple years. This game will always matter, in some ways more than the ISU game, because at least Iowa State fans aren’t delusional. Oh wait, nevermind.
Anyway, this is a game that will always be important, even if both teams are 0-11 coming into it. BRAGGING RIGHTS ARE ON THE LINE. Sometimes, especially considering our bowl drought, it makes my sorrows a little better when I’m walking down the street and remember that Iowa beat them 40-10. Then I remember the 30-3 Outback Bowl and start crying.
And that’s why beating Nebraska is important.
Jordan H: Ohio State, Nov. 4th
I have two feelings about this game. One, that it will end up a night game. Two, Iowa pulls out the alternate uniforms for it. Oh, I guess I have a third feeling too. They win.
This feels like Michigan circa last year and I had less than zero confidence in the Hawkeyes winning that game.
Rob: Penn State, Saturday, September 23rd
I’m excited for this game for a few reasons. For one, It’s a home game that’ll likely be played at night under the lights at Kinnick and that’s always a fun time. In addition, this is sort of a redemption game of sorts after having been embarrassed on the road last season and with this being the Big Ten opener, this game will go a long way in setting a tone for the rest of the Hawkeyes’ season.
Jordan T: At Nebraska
After a pretty tough stretch of Big Ten play prior to Purdue, the optimist in me thinks the Nebraska game could have West title implications for the Hawks. Either way, it’s effing Nebraska and I want another year of Big Red crying into their inferior corn husks. Long term I hold out hope that a boiling over of hate between Nebraska and Iowa could form a new rivalry to push ‘that team out West’ out of the picture, which would cease to destroy our non-conference schedule. Do I really want that? I don’t know. I just want the Clowns to quit weighing us down.
Will this be the season Iowa finally wins a bowl?
Ben: Yep, we’re due.
Max: Nope, sure isn’t.
Jordan H: I’m going with Max on this one.
7-5 hopefully means a date with Bert and I’m not about to predict a loss to him.
I mentioned above I think this team is similar to 2008. I think this is one of those years where once they get rolling, the team can be dangerous. Most of the major concerns are due to inexperience. Come November, those freshmen WRs will be well acclimated to the Big Ten. Hopefully Nathan Stanley will be into a rythm. And we all know the lines will be chugging along. All that adds up to a team much better at the end of the year than at the beginning. And I actually like what I see at the beginning much more than I expected a few months ago. Throw in some Brian Ferentz pzazz factor and I’m in. God I’m going to be disappointed, aren’t I?
Matt: If they go 6-6, it’s a coin toss.. Anything over 7-5, no.
Hello Jerry: Yes. We’re going back to the Outback Bowl and we’re going to beat LSU… man, this season is going to hurt me isn’t it?
Rob: Don’t hold your breath.
Jordan T: If we face a burly, power-running SEC team, no. If we match up with an air-centric O, yes. So probably no. Also, Chad Greenway wasn’t offsides.
Give us your predictions in the comments. What do you think this 2017 Iowa season will turn out to be?