Some may see me as the blogger for this piece and be surprised by my writing of it. Obviously, I haven’t always had the rosiest outlook on Iowa Hawkeye football, year-to-year and certainly not game-to-game.
This is why I am the perfect vessel for optimism heading into the 2021 football season after declaring “good vibes only” on The Pants Party from a couple weeks ago.
You see, I am not here to tick off stat after stat (there’s some of that) or trust that development we think is possible will actually come true. No, I am here to help guide you, the fellow Iowa Hawkeye cynic, into a rosier outlook for the upcoming season.
#1: Do not force negative views where negative views are not warranted
The biggest example, of course, is Spencer Petras’ play from the 2020 season. I have spent too much of the offseason spinning myself up into thinking he cannot be the quarterback of a division-winning Hawkeye football team.
Even with the weird offseason, he was not the reason Iowa lost either of those first two games. Could better play from him have swung either outcome? Obviously. But Phil Parker and Brian Ferentz had their worst weeks the first two of last season and Iowa flipped it.
Beyond that, Iowa’s had very good QB seasons with ... lackluster team results (2005, 2010, 2017) and below average QB seasons with good & fun team results (2003, 2009, 2019). Twice, Iowa has married the two - 2002 & 2015 - to championship-level seasons but quarterback play is largely a cog in the machine of Kirk Ferentz football.
This isn’t to say “project greatness from Spencer Petras” but land on “Iowa had a great season in spite of his volatile play* and he can absolutely do that again so Iowa can probably do that again.”
*he still ended up with a totally average-even-for-Iowa completion percentage of 57%
Other examples: Potential injuries, depth in the trenches, no Keith Duncan
#2: Identify an explainable reason for Iowa’s record last year which is rectified with one change
Jack Campbell missed both of Iowa’s losses, as well as a third game, and could only split snaps in the last five games due to mononucleosis. With his insertion...it’s much easier for me to envision the Hawks winning at least one of the games they lost in 2020.
Clean & simple. It requires no other sliding doors by way of Petras’ play (see #1), Phil Parker’s Boilermaker blindspot, or Brian Ferentz’s penchant for falling in love with the passing game at least one time a season.
Campbell is basically Josey Jewell in Chad Greenway’s body. An absolute menace in the run & pass game. Big enough to take on linemen but quick enough to cover guys in space. He’s the total package and enough reason to believe Iowa’s fortunes change on the play of a single player.
Embrace Accept complementary football
It is no fun to enter every season with the knowledge that Iowa is not going to win 10 games while scoring 40 points a game. Few teams can claim that type of output but Kirk Ferentz’s style more or less dictates the ceiling on Iowa’s offense despite scoring inflation everywhere else.
From an offensive perspective, it allows one to appreciate a season like 2019 where Nate Stanley played QB the way Kirk Ferentz dreams about: limited turnovers, enough big plays in big moments, enabling ball control & field position, while setting up scoring (field goals). But the stats are not memorable. Iowa football’s quarterback does not need to be a gunslinger. Heck, there’s even a case that a pass falling to the ground, incomplete, is about the fourth or fifth worst thing which could happen as a result of the Hawkeye QB (Stanley never exceeded 60% on the season).
And that’s OK.
For it is that type of QB, and by extension offensive, play which enables a bloodthirsty defense which has ranked in the top 20 (scoring) over the last six seasons.
#4: Trust Phil Parker
His track record requires no additional commentary (One bit, though, is that S&P+ has Iowa rated #1 defensively).
#5: Do not be afraid of the schedule
Much has been made [by me] of Iowa starting against Indiana and following it up against Iowa State. Yet an 0-2 start does not derail the season since IU is cross-divisional and ISU is a non-conference foe. Iowa’s path to a Big Ten championship is still clear - albeit with potentially less margin for error - which means the goals for the season can still be achieved.
#6: Allow yourself to get absolutely hyped for two freshmen (preferably on opposite sides of the ball)
With Ihmir Smith-Marsette & Brandon Smith departing for the NFL, there’re snaps to be had from an underclassman receiver. Enter Keagan Johnson.
The Bellevue, NE native comes to Iowa as the first four-star receiver outside the state’s border and has already received great reviews after enrolling in January. While he doesn’t possess the top-end speed of ISM (Charlie Jones is probably the best replica) he does have a boatload of talent and could enable Tyrone Tracy to play in his best position (slot) with Keagan Johnson serving as a quicker version of Brandon Smith.
Defensively, it’s Yahya Black. Like Johnson, he enters into the fray due to the graduation of starters. But he’s a big dude - 6’5” with potentially a 7’ wingspan - and was a huge recruiting win. It’ll take some time for him to get acclimated but if it comes together, it will go a long way in replacing Daviyon Nixon.
Other options: Arland Bruce, Leshon Williams, Cooper DeJean, Deonte Craig
So there it is. My attempt at perpetuating optimism ahead of the 2021 Iowa football season. There are no guarantees that I’ll be able to keep the rosy outlook but it does mean that I will do my best to be positive before the ball is kicked off on September 4th.