Iowa a fringe-elite program in ESPN's future rankings

Iowa's recent success and strong team building have impressed ESPN's metrics.
Iowa v Nebraska
Iowa v Nebraska / Steven Branscombe/GettyImages

The Iowa Hawkeyes are usually only front of mind in the college football world when it pertains to internet memes and discussions of inept offenses. While that's not totally unwarranted in many circumstances, the program remains a respected commodity in the Big Ten, even with its recent evolution.

ESPN has a yearly exercise to predict the future success of the top college football programs across the nation, and Iowa seems to be impressing the World Wide Leader's computers.

Thanks in large part to the program's success in recent years despite the offensive shortcomings, ESPN's Future Power Rankings pegged the Hawkeyes as the No. 18 team in the country over the course of the next three seasons.

This ranked seventh among Big Ten teams, including three newcomers with Oregon at No. 5, USC at No. 11 and Washington at No. 17. Iowa was ranked No. 20 in the 2023 edition of the exercise.

"Make your jokes about Iowa, but most programs would love to swap records with the Hawkeyes, who are 81-34 since the start of the 2015 season, despite an offense that ranks 104th nationally in scoring during that span," ESPN's Adam Rittenburg wrote in the extensive breakdown. "The Hawkeyes' formula likely isn't sustainable in the new Big Ten, but consider what the program could become with a functional offense under coordinator Tim Lester."

The analysis is spot on -- Iowa has fielded some of the best defenses in all of college football in recent years and the narrative around the Hawkeyes program would likely be totally different if Cade McNamara never suffered his knee injury, even if their 10-4 record held out.

With McNamara back in the fold with an experienced offensive line, three talented running backs, and tight end Luke Lachey as his primary target, the offense could spark under Lester's leadership.

Still, the trepidation to rank Iowa much higher is understandable. Despite reaching the Big Ten Championship two times in the past three years, the Hawkeyes weren't particularly close in either attempt to actually win the title, losing by a combined score of 68-3 to the Michigan Wolverines.

How Iowa weathers the new-look Big Ten without divisions to help prop them up will be the ultimate test of how successful the Hawkeyes can be moving forward.

Regardless, so long as Iowa draws favorable schedules and doesn't falter against lesser competition, theoretically, there is little stopping the Hawkeyes from being a top-20 team for the next few seasons.

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