I-O-W-A and Wave to the kids, we are gearing up for the 2018 Iowa Hawkeyes. Last season the Hawkeyes were inches away from knocking off Top 10 Penn State, and absolutely embarrassed Top 10 Ohio State on their way to an 8-5 finish, including a victory over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl. However, the stars of yesteryear are gone. Josh Jackson and the Outlaw Josey Jewell have left for the retirement league (NFL) and the new faces will be asked to take their place.
In total the Iowa defense loses five starters. One starting CB (Josh Jackson), three starting linebackers (Ben Nieman, Josey Jewell, Bo Bower), and one defensive linemen (Nathan Bazata). The offenses loses three offensive linemen (James Daniels, Sean Welsh, Ike Boettger) one wide receiver (Matt Vandeberg), and the top two running backs (Akrum Wadley, James Butler).
On paper, most Iowa teams have 8-5 talent. The difference between a great season and a bad season is a combination of health, luck, and couple of impact players. Take for example 2002. Iowa was coming off a 7-5 season with many of the same players and faces. Brad Banks played QB. Kirk Ferentz was head coach, Norm Parker DC, and Ken O’Keefe offensive coordinator. With Dallas Clack at TE and S Bob Sanders crushing anyone over the middle, Iowa finished 8th in the AP and undefeated in conference.
Is history repeating itself? The 2018 Hawkeyes happen to have Ferentz as head coach, Phil Parker (no relation to Norm Parker) at defensive coordinator, and Ken O’Keefe as quarterbacks coach. Noah Fant plays the role of Dallas Clark, aka super human tight end, with Amani Hooker cast as Bob Sanders, aka star safety though styles differ. The only questions are: Will the defensive line hold up? and Will Iowa find a running back?
The schedule is almost kind to the Hawkeyes. They host Iowa State, Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Nebraska. The cross over games are Maryland, @Penn State, and @Indiana. The down side is opening B1G play with Wisconsin. Iowa typically needs to grow into a season. The offensive line and running backs need to develop chemistry to be effective utilizing their zone blocking scheme. Due to the high number of seniors Iowa plays, in early games, new starters need a chance to get used to game speed and get used to the fitness level required. It’s the reason in the last two years Iowa lost to North Dakota State and Penn State early, only to beat Michigan and Ohio State late. Iowa could be a 10 or 11 win team and lose the division because of growing pains in the September.
Iowa will depend on the offense. QB Nate Stanley threw for 2338 yards 25 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. Noah Fant brought down a record 11 touchdowns in just 30 catches last year. WRs Brandon Smith 6’3” and Ihmir Smith-Marsette 6’1” will play out wide, while Nick Easley 5’11”will be a reliable possession receiver. If you’re looking for a wild card, sophomore WR Max Cooper has peaked interest in spring camps.
The dirty little secret of the 2017 Hawkeyes is they were not a running team. RB Akrum Wadley either broke one or he didn’t. In 2018, RBs Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin will look to produce more consistent gains on the grown. Young is number one on the depth chart, with the skill set of a feature back. Kelly-Martin will be providing the speed and excitement to the back field. Having so few carries between them, both will need some time to grow into the playbook and pace of play. Once that happens, Iowa will be an efficient offense that can slip a TE or WR in behind the D.
The defense will be exciting to see in action. Last year 9 linemen rotated through. This year only 8 will. Which is to say the defensive line will play fresh and energetic. The big names to watch are a couple of junior defensive ends Anthony Nelson and Parker Hesse. Both can get pressure up field. Look for sophomore and former 5-star recruit A.J. Epenesa to cause havoc on passing downs. For all the talent this defensive line has, most of it is pooled at defensive end. Whether or not junior tackle Cedrick Lattimore and company can stop the inside run game will make all the difference. Don’t be surprised to see defensive ends rotate in at tackle.
Iowa could be any where between 7-5 and 11-3 in 2018. If they fail to establish the run game and are over reliant on TEs in the passing game, they will struggle to find enough points. If the defensive line and linebackers are are unable to stop the run, they will be involved in too many shoot outs. This optimist says Iowa will stop the run and end the season ranked.