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Five Questions on the Return of Iowa, Big Ten Football

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Football is back! Now what?

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Southern California vs Iowa
Will the Captain give us an updated depth chart? That and MANY more questions.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten announced earlier this week the conference is bringing back a fall football schedule in an eight game, conference only format beginning the week of October 23-24. In addition to the eight scheduled games, each team will play a ninth game during “Championship Weekend” as a sort of consolation bracket alongside the Big Ten Championship Game OM December 19th. For Iowa and Big Ten football fans, it’s an exciting time.

But with the return comes some major questions both for the conference and for the Iowa football program. Here are five questions on the return of Big Ten and Iowa Football.

What will the schedule look like and when will we get it?

We’ve seen hints on both parts of this question, but no definitive answers as of yet. The early indications are the schedules will be based largely on the original schedule teams were slated to play before the COVID-19 outbreak caused the conference to cut non-conference matchups. In those originals schedules, teams were scheduled to play nine conference opponents with six from within the division and three crossovers. To get down to eight games, the conference is expected to simply cut one of the three crossover games.

For Iowa, that means showdowns with Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin within the division. Assuming the revised (again) schedule follows the same home/away patterns as previously set, Iowa should be on the road against Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue. That leaves three home games against Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

The real question then comes down to which of the three crossover games gets nixed. Iowa was originally scheduled to host Michigan State and play at both Penn State and Ohio State. With an eight game schedule, logic would dictate the conference would keep every team with four home and four road games. Thus, we should expect one of Penn State or Ohio State to fall off. But the Big Ten hasn’t always followed logic, so that’s something to monitor.

Importantly, this is a question we should have an answer to soon. Gary Barta, in his press availability on Thursday afternoon, indicated the conference had a meeting on scheduling earlier in the day. He has also been on the sub-committee on TV negotiations and while he didn’t provide details, it seems as though a lot of the details have been ironed out and we could see schedules released in the coming days.

Will there be any opt-outs?

When we do have a schedule, Iowa fans will be anxiously waiting to see if any Hawkeyes choose not to participate. Thus far, we haven’t heard any formal announcements. However, during Thursday’s presser, Kirk Ferentz did indicate there have been a few players who have expressed concerns.

There are currently no details on who those players may be or when announcements will be made, but the rumor mill has conjured up Djimon Colbert and Alaric Jackson as players who may look to opt out. Jackson has been rumored to be a potential hold out for a spring season due to NFL Draft preparations, as had Brandon Smith, but Jackson has since put those rumors largely to rest after making an Instagram post following the Big Ten’s announcement.

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Colbert, for his part, hasn’t actually made any public statements indicating he would opt out. He also hasn’t posted anything about returning. The linebacking room already has question marks and any further departures or opt outs would leave the group uncomfortably thin.

What will stadium atmospheres be like?

Another consideration when pondering the potential schedule is what stadium atmospheres will actually be like this season. The Big Ten has dictated that there will be no fans allowed outside of parents at the outset of the season. But does that mean only parents? Parents + siblings? Is it simply two or four seats available per player? Is that all scholarship players or do walk-ons get tickets as well? In essence, just how many people will be allowed to be in stadiums and how much noise can they generate?

Kinnick is known to have a competitive edge, particularly at night, because fans are both raucous and right on top of the field. Losing that edge in a season when Iowa looks to potentially host Wisconsin for a division title, is less than ideal. On the flip side, trips to Penn State and Ohio State aren’t quite as intimidating without 100,000+ fans backing all that talent.

In the NFL, we’ve seen stadiums pump in crowd noise with caps on the volume level. Those have been uniform caps to-date. Will the Big Ten do something similar? What about doing a stadium specific cap based on average decibel levels over the prior 1, 3, 5 years?

What about the band? Cheerleaders? Will there be 70,000 cardboard cutouts of fans in Kinnick? If so, can I keep mine after the season? Can I send my dad and three sons to the games (in cardboard form) and give them to him for a gift following the season?

There are myriad questions, but the bottom line is players feed on the atmosphere and anything to help recreate that is something players and fans alike will surely enjoy.

Will the Hawkeyes see an impact from the delay and limited practice time?

While the in-stadium atmosphere may seem like a small factor in terms of actual game outcomes, one thing that could have a significant impact is the limited practice time associated with the delay in the season. While teams have been allowed to start practices back up during the delay, they have not been allowed to go full pads or full contact.

In the case of a team like Iowa, which had their spring practices cancelled due to COVID-19 as well, that means players haven’t put on pads or tackled live since last calendar year. That’s a long time for a team built on being fundamentally sound and executing better than opponents. When asked on Thursday, Ferentz was quick to point out that all teams are dealing with the same headwinds in terms of timing, but that’s not totally accurate as some teams did get their spring practices in and not all teams are built on the same reliance on fundamentals Iowa has been.

Furthermore, we’ve already seen early impacts of limited practices at the NFL level. The professional ranks had substantially more practice than the Big Ten will get, but they did hold off on the four preseason games. In week one, there were more than 40 soft tissue injuries across the league. There are sure to be injuries at the college level as well, particularly given the new, new Big Ten schedule will not have a bye week built in.

When will we get an updated depth chart and what surprises will it bring?

All that boils down to depth. We have an idea of what every team is bringing back, but football fans are eager to know what may have changed since we last heard how position battles were shaping up last winter. Since then, several teams have seen major shakeups, including Michigan’s presumed starter at QB opting out, as well as stars at Penn State, Minnesota and Ohio State.

For Iowa, there has yet to be a major move such as those opt outs, but there are sure to be surprises. As noted, the linebacker room has seen some turnover after Dillon Doyle , a presumed starter, transferred to Baylor. Who will step into that role? How does the defensive line shake out with a mix of key returners and talented youth? And on the offensive line, where Iowa added a big time grad transfer in Coy Cronk, who ends up where?

We will surely get a depth chart ahead of that first game, the week of October 23rd/24th. But will we see one before then? In a normal year the answer would be yes. This is not a normal year. As Ferentz noted Thursday, a typical season sees Iowa get three weeks of practice in before the players go to class. This year it has been the opposite. Will the staff even have time to put together something preliminary or will fans be left speculating until late October?

Regardless of the myriad questions lingering, it certainly beats the alternative of no football until the spring.