There’s now just one day remaining between you and the return of Hawkeye football and it’s safe to say Iowa fans are ready to get back into Kinnick Stadium and cheer on their team.
Iowa kicks things off in 2023 with a visit from Utah State. This will be the third ever matchup between the Hawkeyes and the Aggies with Iowa holding a 2-0 edge in the series. Each of those first two wins came via blowout for the Hawkeyes, with an average margin of victory of 49 points. The Aggies have never held the score closer than 41 in this series.
While our friends over at DraftKings Sportsbook are expecting things to go better for Utah State this go around, it’s not by much. Vegas has the line on this one at 23.5 points for the Hawkeyes with an over/under of 43.5 total points. That would make this one far and away the closest matchup in the series to-date. However, if the Hawkeyes can cover, it would mark just the second time in the last six season openers where Iowa covered a 20+ point spread.
On the whole, Hawkeye fans are feeling pretty optimistic heading into Saturday. Every single person who participated in our pre-season polling a few weeks back took Iowa to win this one straight up (Iowa has just one loss in their last 20 season openers against non-P5 opponents - a 2013 loss to 12-win NIU). But when faced with that big spread, fans are a bit less confident.
Just over half of respondents in this week’s Reacts poll think Iowa covers the spread. It’s worth noting that this one opened at Iowa -25 and it climbed to as high as 25.5 at the time of the polling. The line has come back down to 23.5, perhaps changing some views on whether the Hawkeyes can cover.
What doesn’t seem to be in question is whether offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz will be looking to keep his foot on the gas regardless of the spread.
Ferentz infamously had his contract restructured last offseason, leaving him with a minimum threshold of seven team wins and 25 points per game to have his contract renewed this coming offseason. The Hawkeyes were a full touchdown and then some short of that mark a season ago.
Now, fans are looking for BF to run up the score early in the season to give himself a cushion once the conference slate approaches. More than 60% of our poll respondents expect Brian to be swayed by his 25ppg target when it comes to play-calling on Saturday.
That’s a particularly interesting take given nearly 25% MORE of the fanbase is expecting a backup quarterback to take live reps on Saturday. Notably, starter Cade McNamara is questionable for the contest with a quad strain, but all indications in recent days have been that McNamara will indeed start for Iowa.
On his radio show tonight, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said about QB Cade McNamara: "We'll take it right up to game time, but we're expecting him to go."— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) August 31, 2023
"Based on what I've seen the last two days, I'm optimistic."
Despite McNamara being likely to play, Iowa fans are expecting Kirk Ferentz to error on the side of caution and buck his normal early season stubbornness trend. In the last 12 season openers combined, Iowa backup quarterbacks have thrown just 5 total passes. The only backup QB to throw more than 3 passes in an opener since 2008 was AJ Derby, who ultimately converted to TE, in 2011 (5).
While we didn’t ask fans how many passes they expect to see from a backup on Saturday, a full 86% of fans are expecting Kirk to go to the bullpen at some point.
Given just how much is likely riding on the health of McNamara and his recent injury scare, that seems like a pretty safe bet. It may also be a case of Hawkeye fans voting with their hearts.
If it were up to the fanbase, it seems McNamara would be healthy enough to get the start, compete for most of the first half and build a comfortable lead, then safely exit the game for fellow transfer QB Deacon Hill. The Hawkeyes can always use backups with game experience and getting McNamara to Ames with two healthy legs is of the utmost importance.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.