Hawkeye fans routinely celebrate June 4th, 6-4, as a holiday in remembrance of the remarkable 2004 win at Penn State that involved perhaps the most bizarre final score in memory, as well as one of the most remarkable ways to get there you could ask for. It was a date which will live on in Hawkeye fandom infamy.
But if we are talking about Kirk Ferentz Day, August 4th seems much more fitting. Through his first 24 seasons with the Hawkeyes, Captain Kirk has amassed 186 wins - 7.75 per season. While it’s become cliché for Hawkeye fans to predict an 8-4 outcome for every season as long as KF is at the helm, it’s gotten that way for a reason. In nearly two and a half decades of work, Ferentz’s average season finish is 8-4.
Now, that includes some really abysmal seasons his first two years, so in fairness Iowa has been trending toward 9-3 as the expectation for some time. But this year, things are heating up a bit.
There’s no sugar coating that 2022 was a disappointment. When we asked fans their expectations for the season a year ago, almost 90% said they expected Iowa to win at least 8 games. The average response was somewhere between 8 and 9 wins. The Hawkeyes finished the regular season at 7-5 and completely botched a gift-wrapped Big Ten West title.
The faults were entirely on the offensive side of the ball. Now, we enter 2023 with a 25 ppg minimum threshold and a requirement for at least 7 wins for offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz to get his contract renewed. Not surprisingly, the staff worked tirelessly to address personnel issues on the offensive side of the ball this offseason. Most notably, Iowa added former Michigan starting QB Cade McNamara and gave him new weapons at receiver (OSU transfer Kaleb Brown and Charleston Southern transfer Seth Anderson) as well as TE (Michigan transfer Erick All).
The result? Hawkeye fans are lining back up to kick that football, baby! While we tend to think of ourselves as stereotypically pessimistic, waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under us, Iowa fans enter the 2023 season again expecting an improvement over last year. Frankly, how could we not? It can’t possibly be worse on offense, right? RIGHT?!?!
But just how much better it can be with those added offensive pieces remains to be seen and Iowa fans are looking pretty optimistic entering the season. On average, we’re calling for the Hawkeyes to finish the year at 9-3 - a two win improvement over a season ago.
But perhaps more interesting that the average projection is the fact that 97% of fans think this year will be at least as good as last year with more than 3/4s of Iowa fans calling for 9-3 or better and nearly half of us are expecting a 10+ win season. As a reminder, the season win total over/under per DraftKings Sportsbook is set at 8. And that’s UP from an opening line at 7.5.
While the average prediction comes out to 9-3, there are only two games this season that a majority of Iowa fans expect the Hawkeyes to lose. Neither of them come in Kinnick.
With just 4% of fans calling for Iowa to finish 12-0, it is somewhat interesting that 96% of fans expect a loss to Penn State. Meaning that every fan who isn’t predicting 12-0 is expect a loss in Happy Valley this year. The other one most fans agree on is a loss in Madison to the Badgers. That would certainly make it difficult for Iowa to win the West, though stranger things have happened.
The spread of other projected losses is a bit interesting. Illinois and Minnesota are obviously big rivalry games, especially now that Bert is in Champaign and has gotten the Illini out of a nearly decade-long drought against the Hawkeyes. The same can’t be said for PJ up north. Nebraska spoiled Iowa’s season last year and has a new coach. That one is also on the road. If Iowa is riding shotgun in the West heading into Lincoln, that could be a major turd in the punch bowl. And then Michigan State is on here for reasons I do not understand. Explain them to me in the comments!
What About the Offense?
While season win totals are all good and great, and who exactly Iowa loses to might impact your mood a bit, but the major determining factor in how Hawkeye fans will feel about the 2023 season is the success of Brian Ferentz and the offense. Winning 9 games on the back of an elite defense while we all suffer through another train wreck of an offensive performance is not going to make anyone feel good about things (until Brian is gone post-season, I suppose).
But do we expect that? Well, maybe. Only 2⁄3 of respondents believe Iowa is going to top the 25 ppg threshold set in BF’s new contract. Or maybe put more bluntly, a full third of the fanbase expects Iowa’s offense to be atrocious once again, to the point Brian is finally let go.
While a third of fans expect Brian to miss his 25 ppg target, more than half the fanbase is expecting Cade McNamara to hit the ground running. Well, not running, but throwing. Despite Iowa QBs topping 2,500 yards in a season only three times the last decade (Beathard in 2015 and Stanley in 2018 and 2019 - side note to mention Stanzi and Vadnenburg topped 3,000 in 2010 and 2011!), Hawkeye fans are calling their shot and looking for the former Wolverine to top that mark in 2023.
Perhaps more interesting than the confidence fans have in the new QB is the confidence they seem to have in the receiving group. Things were abysmal in the WR room last season. Between injuries and whatever exactly was going on with Keagan Johnson (and this is to say nothing of what was apparently happening with Arland Bruce IV), things were atrocious from a production standpoint last year. Iowa receivers totaled just 796 receiving yards in 2022. Without doing the math, that’s almost certainly a low-water mark for the program.
But it’s not like Iowa has had loads of success throwing to receivers for a while. Two of the last three years, the Hawkeyes have failed to top 1,000 receiving yards by WRs. Not exactly a selling point on the recruiting trail or when you’re trying to lure in transfer portal wideouts.
However, Iowa was able to bring in some new weapons outside and with it the fanbase has gained some optimism as more than 70% of fans expect the Hawkeyes to buck the trend and top 1,000 receiving yards by WRs in 2023.
If the WR room can come together and haul in catches for more than 1,000 yards and help get Cade over the 2,500 yard mark, it seems a pretty safe bet the offense is humming along well enough to get above the 25 points per game threshold. And if that’s the case, with this defense, expectations of a 9-3 season seem quite reasonable.
If not, we could see a repeat of last season and it might be time to sharpen the pitchforks and pull the torches out of storage. Here’s hoping we can all laugh off the thought of a 2022 repeat over some Swarm Golden Ales in Indianapolis the first weekend in December.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.