Cade McNamara is back, and Iowa needs him to be better than ever

Simply having McNamara under center won't be enough for Iowa to reach its full potential.
Iowa v Penn State
Iowa v Penn State / Scott Taetsch/GettyImages

The Iowa Hawkeyes step into the 2024 season with strange expectations.

Anyone who knows college football on a national scale knows that Iowa brings a strong defense and excellent punting to every ball game, but the offense is the question mark holding the program back.

But how much of that is perception over reality?

It's true that Iowa has a strong roster that will be problematic for the strongest teams in college football. No one is picking them head to head agains Ohio State and Oregon at the moment. But Iowa isn't the cupcake they can often be percieved as because of their offensive performances in the past.

It's also true that the Hawkeyes were historically awful when in possession of the football in 2023, so the perception from the rest of the college football world is warranted. But Iowa doesn't seem to get much forgiveness for their overall situation last year.

Deacon Hill was far from acceptable as the starting quarterback in place of the injured Cade McNamara. He completed less than half of his passes for less than 1,200 yards with five touchdowns to eight interceptions in 10 starts. It's tough to find a quarterback capable of producing such abysmal statistics for a power conference school that still won 10 games.

Unfortunately, the offense didn't perform much better with McNamara under center early in the season. He only completed 51% of his passes with four touchdowns and one less pick. Still, Iowa did score 85 of their 216 total points with him as the signal caller, even if it wasn't against the strongest competition on the schedule.

Now, a lot of the talk when previewing the Hawkeyes in 2024 revolves around his health. The thought is that if McNamara starts all 12 regular season games, then the team has a shot of doing something special. After all, as pedestrian as his start in 2023 was, he was leagues better than Hill ever was.

As a blanket statement, it's true; the Hawkeyes need McNamara on the field for the best chance of success. But to reach their full potential they need more than what he's provided in his college career. They need McNamara to play better than he did in 2021 with Michigan when he completed 64% of his passes for 2,576 yards with 15 touchdowns to 6 interceptions.

Make no mistake, the Hawkeyes don't need a Joe Burrow-esque comeback from the senior (though no one in Iowa is turning that down), but he has to be more than serviceable.

Now that McNamara is practicing with the team, reviews are positive. He's back to health and the veteran assuredly soaked in every mental rep possible to be back and better than before. That said, some things will be out of his control.

We know that Tim Lester's new offense won't stray too far from what we've seen from Iowa under Kirk Ferentz. They'll be the same conservative ground-and-pound offense they've always been. However, the potential of reaching the College Football Playoff is nixed if McNamara isn't capable fo being or allowed to be a playmaker.

In many games simply managing the game while extending drives and protecting the football will be enough for the Hawkeyes to walk away with nine or 10 wins in 2024.

But when playing the Buckeyes in Columbus early in the season or when facing rivals like Wisconsin and Nebraska at home, a bit of an extra 'oomph' from McNamara can change the perception of this offense and allow the nation to see the Hawkeyes as more than an above-average, blue collar, run-of-the-mill Big Ten program.

It shouldn't be too much to ask McNamara to complete, say, 68% of his passes for around 3,000 yards with roughly 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions or less. A stat line by no means dictates an 11-plus win season, but the eye test matters in college football, and the Hawkeyes have failed it offensively for a while now.

So, the energy can't be "just be good enough" to make any noise when the season rolls in. Iowa is in a pressure point with the evolution of college football and the Big Ten, but they have a strong roster in 2024. Squandering it now with more poor offensive play could be catastrophic.

On the other hand, a respectable season from Lester, McNamara and the Iowa offense will pay dividends down the road on top of ensuring the program is less of a meme and more of a threat to the wider college football world.

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