Well folks, we’re just a little less than 3 weeks away from another Iowa football season. I don’t know if it’s the exceptional heat that we’ve been experiencing here in the desert, or just the hope of a fool, but I’m damn optimistic heading into the “Quest for 325”.
Brian Ferentz jokes aside, I can’t recall the last time that I was this excited to see a Hawkeye team take the field. After an infuriatingly successful* season last year, we’ve got something to be excited about. There’s obviously cause for concern, what with losing all-world talent like Jack Campbell, Lukas Van Ness, Riley Moss, and Kaevon Merriwether, but let’s be honest here not a single Iowa fan is worried about Phil Parker’s defense or LaVar Woods’ Special Teams Units.
Nope, the real question mark is what it always is, can this team score enough points to be the B1G’s last ever West Division champion? Will the newly installed coaches at UW or NU show up and rain on our parade?
Cause for Optimism
I’m a cynic by nature and I’m sure if you’d have occasion to ask my wife, my children, or any of my family and friends they would happily confirm that I am a “rainbow pisser” of the highest order. True story, about 20 years ago my wife, semi-jokingly during a routinely intense cold-spell common to February in Iowa, suggested that we move to Hawaii. My immediate response was “Do you know how much milk costs in Hawaii?”. Now, in my defense we had a small child at the time and the cost of milk was a legitimate concern, but yes, it’s a pretty good bet that I will find a dark cloud on a sunny day, or be the man to tarnish your silver lining.
That being said, at this moment I’m putting the cynic in the closet and letting my not-so-jaded inner child out for at least the next month or two. Why, would I do that? Well, there’s a few reasons:
1. Cade McNamara
Now, to be clear, I’m not excited because he’s Cade McNamara (though what a great QB name). I’m excited by the mere idea of a QB that can play at the level of Cade McNamara taking snaps in a Hawkeye uniform.
I’ve been an Iowa Hawkeye fan my entire life, the first game I remember watching was the 1984 Freedom Bowl where an unranked Iowa team went to Anaheim and hung half a hundred on the #19 Texas Longhorns. I was only 3 ½ at the time, so Wikipedia and YouTube have helped expand that memory, but I remember how happy my dad (a Long Island born Rutgers graduate who became an Iowa fan when he moved to Cedar Rapids in the mid-70’s) was.
Now, I don’t think that I’m being hyperbolic in saying that that team was led by the greatest QB in Iowa history, so yes, Chuck Long is my prototype for Iowa QBs. Now as much as I loved Matt Rogers, Brad Banks, Drew Tate, Ricky Stanzi, CJ Beathard, and even Nate Stanley, the arrival of Cade McNamara has me feeling like we’ve got a star under center even before he’s taken a snap in the Black and Gold.
2. The Rest of the Transfer Portal Class
Let’s do a quick review, shall we:
- Erick All - A plug and play TE that was a captain at UM (and our new QB’s roommate).
- Kaleb Brown - The highest rated receiver recruit ever to suit up for the Hawks
- Nick Jackson - An all-conference linebacker that led the ACC in tackles last season
- Rusty Feth & Daijon Parker - Two veteran Offensive Linemen that could have found a home at any number of P5 schools
- Seth Anderson - The best WR in the Southern Conference in 2022 who just happens to be the son of a former NFL WR
- Deacon Hill - a 3-star backup QB (who could also likely play LB or TE) pilfered from the ruins of the Paul Chryst era in Madison
For a coaching regime that landed a single portal commit going into 2022 (who has yet to record a statistic in an Iowa uniform), this level of activity was mind blowing. Iowa’s offense last year was a joke, literally and figuratively, and it was apparently a joke that hurt the Ferentzi’s feelings, so they went out and they did something about it. I generally do not expect that out of this staff, and even if this all turns out to be window dressing and fixes exactly zero problems, the effort is worth something.
3. Doughboys 2.0
Cooper DeJean is a special player, and that we will likely only get to see two years of him in an Iowa uniform is truly sad, but I’m going to enjoy the hell out of this last one (unless he pulls a Tyler Linderbaum and graces us with an unexpected 3rd year). When you combine Coop with Xavier Nwankpa, Quinn Schulte, Sebastian Castro, and Jermari Harris I think what you get is, potentially, one of the best all-around defensive secondary units we’ve ever seen at Iowa.
Yeah, sure, we’ve had plenty of great secondary players over the years, but when was the last time we were stocked with this kind of talent across the board in the back 5? If I were Phil (which I’m not, nor will I ever doubt him for a single second), I’m not even sure I’d need to figure out who the OLB is, because I’m not sure I’d ever take the Nickel off the field (especially with Castro at the Cash).
4. Kicking is Winning
Tory Taylor and Drew Stevens are lethal.
I’m not alone in believing that Tory Taylor may be the best weapon we’ve had in a long time, especially when paired with a Phil Parker defense. Taylor’s track record speaks for itself. The man has booted nearly 1.75 miles worth of punts in 3 years and his ability to pin opponents deep in their own territory is at times otherworldly. A few stats:
- 202 career punts – 45.4 yard average (61 punts of 50+ yards)
- 95 punts downed inside the 20 (47%)
- 71 punts fair caught (35%), 25 TBs (12%)
- 41 returns for an average of 4.43 yards (read that again, 4.43 yards)
Those numbers are simply incredible, and when you pair it with another year of Coop at one of the gunner slots you’ve got a recipe that should yield a LOT of long fields for the bad guys.
Drew Stevens doesn’t have the career stats yet, but he took the ball from Aaron Blom and ran away and hid. As a true freshman he came in and went 16-18 (setting the school record for FG by a Freshman), 2-2 from 50+, didn’t miss an XP all year and racked up 72 points? Shades of Nate Kaeding, Miguel Recinos (shout out to his mother Paula, who happened to be my 5th grade teacher), Keith Duncan, et al. Stevens certainly looks like the next great Iowa kicker and makes LeVar Woods look even better than he already did.
5. B1G West Upheaval
Of the seven teams that play in the B1G west, 4 will have new coaches.
Sure, Luke Fickell and Matt Rhule will see success, but I don’t find it likely that they both start with 10+ wins (especially Rhule, who wasn’t exactly left with a lot of building blocks while Frosty was figuring out how big of a house his golden parachute would buy him in Scottsdale, answer ~$5.4M). Northwestern is, well, reeling and Purdue will likely struggle (even with Hudson Card under center).
Bart lost a lot of pieces from a phenomenal defense in Champaign, and PJ is breaking in his first new QB in a decade without Mo Ibrahim as a safety blanket (though Chris Autman-Bell is always a threat).
Simply put, I really, really, like our chances to be back in Indy come December.
Reasons for Pessimism
I’m a Hawkeye fan and a Cubs fan, I don’t need a reason to be pessimistic. There are always concerns, and this year is no different than any other year in that regard. I could pose 1000 “what-if” scenarios that would give me things to worry about. Many of them would be valid.
- Will the LB group recover from losing Jack Campbell, Seth Benson, and Jestin Jacobs?
- Will the upgrades in Offensive personnel really be enough to overcome poor coaching/play calling?
- Will the offensive line actually resemble an Iowa Hawkeye offensive line?
- Will Kirk Ferentz decide to just start punting on 1st down and let the defense take care of scoring?
These scenarios, from realistic to ridiculous, will be running through my head for at least the next 3 weeks, but I’ve decided that I will do my best to ignore them while I spend altogether too much time watching highlights from 2017 (you know which one) to 2022 and playing Baldurs Gate 3.
The “Quest for 325” starts September 2nd and I for one, can hardly wait.
*8 wins is successful, especially when it was a few plays going the other way from being a 10 win season. Was it good enough? Hell no, but it could have been a lot worse, and I’m not sure most Iowa fans really understand how many other fanbases would trade places with us in a heartbeat.