The adversity of an already dramatic offseason won’t stop for the Iowa football Hawkeyes anytime in 2020. If and when the decision is made on if we will have a 2020 college football season, Iowa will square off against a brutal schedule. The schedule includes five teams that should start the season ranked in the Top 25, three on the road, including going on the road national powerhouse Ohio State and the always tough Penn State Nittany Lions.
The Big Ten West is no longer on the butt-end of jokes as one of the weakest conferences in college football (like it was claimed to be during Iowa’s undefeated season in 2016) but is now a loaded conference with three teams of serious national relevance. The emergence of teams like Minnesota with PJ Fleck, Iowa State with Matt Campbell, and Nebraska with Scott Frost has changed the narrative of Iowa “dialing 1-800-creampuff” (Cowherd) to being stuck with one of the toughest schedules in the country.
Oh, did I forget to mention our Big Ten East crossover games including going on the road to Happy Valley and the Horseshoe? Would anybody be shocked if Penn State was a consensus top-ten team next year? What about if Ohio State won not only the Big Ten but the whole thing next year? And always tough Wisconsin? Oooooooof.
After Iowa beats UNI at home, I’m sure I will remember the loaded schedule on the horizon, act completely rationally and not call for a Rose Bowl appearance after sneaking out a win over an FBS team, because I’ve never done that before…
But then Iowa State comes to town and they could be really dangerous this year. Yeah, I’m sure the Cyclowns will find a way to blow it in the end and we can all look back at this and laugh just like I do every year when the generic Cyclone offseason propaganda gets in my head. Infecting my rational brain with the thoughts that Iowa’s little brother to the West has any chance of coming into Kinnick and winning. It hasn’t happened in 2,081 days and they have yet to score a touchdown in Kinnick since that time as well. Okay, I’m back to overly confident.
The difference is that, unfortunately, this isn’t the Iowa State of a decade ago, or even the Iowa State of two years ago. The middle linebacker experiment and quarterback carousels are a thing of the past, Brock Purdy is the guy (at quarterback, with no intention of switching sides of the ball). Matt Campbell has had plenty of time to get “his” guys in there that he wants and create the program his way, it’s getting close to needing results in Ames. I’m betting last year stung and the Hawks are going to take the best shot Iowa State has to offer.
Then the Hawks go on the road to Minnesota, which is quickly becoming one of the toughest places to play in the Big Ten as PJ Fleck continues to generate hype around our the Golden Gophers. Minnesota beat unbeaten Penn State at home last year and will be looking for revenge for their emotional season-defining loss at Kinnick Stadium last November.
I understand Minnesota fans facing some surprising national relevance, and to be fair, the Gophers are more nationally relevant than they’ve been since World War One. But I mean you’ve had one relevant season. Can we just slow down the boat get back in your place of getting whooped by Iowa every year please? Thank you.
Seriously though, Minnesota’s offense is going to be an absolute wagon this year. Returning at the helm is Tanner Morgan who was a top-10 quarterback in all of college football last season. Morgan complete 66% of his passes, throwing for 30 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. For the first time in what seems like forever, Iowa will be an underdog against Minnesota and probably a touchdown dog at that. With only one “layup” game before back-to-back matchups versus dangerous opponents, Minnesota will be Spencer Petras’ first road start as a Big Ten quarterback and hopefully the Cali kid is ready.
After should be wins over Northern Illinois and a shambled Michigan State program, Iowa faces it toughest tests with back to back road trips to perennial power-house Ohio State and potential College Football playoff contender Penn State.
Ohio State even got gifted a rare Big Ten bye week leading into Iowa, so the Hawkeyes will be sending a sophomore quarterback with just one road start to one of the toughest places to play in the country. Oh and Ohio State boasts one of the best secondaries in the country. Eeeeeek.
Ohio State also returns quarterback Justin Fields who finished third in Heisman voting and… you know what who cares? Ohio State is potentially going to be the #1 team in the country and I’m sure they won’t take Iowa lightly after the last time we squared off with them. In case you forgot, it started with an Amani Hooker pick-6 to start the game and is arguably the best Iowa looked in a decade? Ended 55-24? Ring a bell?
But, yeah. I mean no harm in losing this one, I guess? I don’t know what to say I want to be optimistic but going into the ‘Shoe with the Buckeyes coming off a bye-week? That’s not ideal for a sophomore making his 4th start and just his second on the road.
Oh after facing the returning Heisman runner-up and an Ohio State team that rolled through the entire Big Ten last year? We turn around and go straight to Happy Valley. Iowa hasn’t won in State College since Adrian Clayborn’s blocked punt. SINCE 2009 THE IOWA HAWKEYES HAVE NOT WON IN STATE COLLEGE. Penn State returns stud QB1 Sean Clifford, their starting running back and plenty of weapons on the offensive end. Let’s just call it what it is, we can win this game if we play our A+ game but again a very tough matchup here for the Hawks.
Optimistically breeze through these three games we should walk through but you can pretty much chalk up a loss in one of these games:
Then Wisconsin comes to town. I was talking with one of my buddies about how this game could be on the biggest in Kinnick Stadium history if Iowa and Wisconsin were to go to war for a trip to Indy. He quickly reminded me that this game could be for Iowa to get to bowl eligible. It’s Wisconsin, who according to my personal calculations, has beat us no less than 10 times in a row (I looked it up, it is actually four in a row and seven of the last eight).
The Badgers return senior Jack Coan at the quarterback but did lose Johnathan Taylor and three starters on the offensive line. Coan is really nothing to fear at all and losing three starters on the line is always a difficult task. Luckily for Wisconsin they play us in the last game of the regular season, so by the time we see these young linemen, they’ll already be Outland Trophy hopefuls. It’s Wisconsin. They aren’t gonna let us get anything easy. The Badgers may not be in the early conversation for the College Football Playoff like pre-Illinois last season, but I can assure you that they will come into Kinnick and kick our teeth in if we allow it to happen.
The fact of the matter is my expectations are extremely low for this season, it’s a tough schedule, we lost a first-rounder on the offensive line, maybe the best defensive lineman in the history of Iowa Hawkeye football and of course, a three-year starting quarterback. Maybe the three worst positions to have to fill, let alone in one (very strange) offseason.
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I really hope it isn’t the case, but Iowa could end up as bad as 7-5, or even 6-6 next year, with a realistic goal at 9-3. According to my highly analytical predictions, I have us at 7-2 with “coinflips” against Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa State. Winning one would be fine, two great and three a dream but all three of those games could fall either way. And those other 7 “wins” are far from a guarantee as Nebraska continues to rebuild (and gave us a game last season) and Northwestern has been know to come into Kinnick with their A-game.
The highly anticipated return of sports may not be all it’s cracked up to be in what could be a difficult 2020 campaign for the Hawkeyes, but really at this point do we care? Honestly, you could put Jake Christianson out there and I’d still eat, sleep and breathe Iowa football and there’s no way Petras can be that bad, right?