Why the Iowa Hawkeyes are primed to make the College Football Playoff for the first time in 2024

Maybe the rest of the country isn't worried about the Hawkeyes, but the Hawkeyes are capable of making history this year.
2023 Big Ten Championship - Iowa v Michigan
2023 Big Ten Championship - Iowa v Michigan / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

Sure, the initial thought when it comes to the 2024 Iowa Hawkeyes postseason potential is that "Well, the playoffs are 12 teams deep now, of course, they should have a better chance." While that isn't wrong, there is so much more to it than that.

To get the obvious out of the way, Iowa would have indeed made the playoffs in a 12-team format since 2014, when the CFP was introduced. The Hawkeyes would have been, in theory, the No. 5 seed in 2015, and sure that's a long way in the past, but it's not relevant to why this year is different from the other eight years Iowa would have been left out.

The Hawkeyes carry over plenty of success from 2023

First and foremost, despite all of the memes surrounding the Hawkeyes in 2023, Iowa was a good team last year. One of the biggest downfalls for the Hawkeyes, of course, was losing Cade McNamara to a season-ending knee injury. McNamara, nor the Hawkeyes as a whole for that matter, did not play well in the shutout loss to Penn State in Week 4, sure. However, the difference between Deacon Hill and McNamara is clear, and with more games under his belt to settle in, who knows what would happen against Minnesota instead of the 12-10 loss with No. 12 available. Win that game and have a healthy McNamara against Michigan to put up a stronger offensive fight in the Big Ten Championship and the Hawkeyes have a real argument in a 12-team format in 2023.

Despite having statistically one of the worst offenses in the nation, Iowa still won 10 games, and that's a real accomplishment. As they say, it's only up from here. Tim Lester steps in as the new offensive coordinator and will be called upon to get the most out of McNamara and the Hawkeyes offense that is returning plenty of experience. Meanwhile, the defense will have to reload a bit, but in 2023 this unit drug the team to many of its wins and with Broyles Award winner Phil Parker returning, there's little room for concern on that side of the ball.

The college football world's chaos is helping the Hawkeyes

But external factors will certainly help too. The 2024 schedule is incredibly favorable for Iowa. Drawing Ohio State on the road is certainly the most difficult task, but running down the schedule, the next toughest opponent is Washington, which returns no offensive starters and lost its head coach to Alabama. The next tier of opponents is Northwestern and Wisconsin at home and Minnesota and UCLA on the road, which are all winnable games. Avoiding Penn State, Michigan and Oregon in the regular season is huge for the Hawkeyes' postseason chances this coming season.

But the turnover at Washington raises another point in favor of Iowa, and many programs at the Hawkeyes competition level - college football is in flux right now. Ohio State has a new offensive coordinator and will be breaking in another quarterback. Michigan will move forward without Jim Harbaugh and the offensive base of superstars that led them to a National Championship. Alabama is entering life after Nick Saban, leaving the one constant in the SEC with Kirby Smart at Georgia. Oregon, USC, UCLA and Washington are all joining the Big Ten and, while Oregon is the most complete team joining the conference, it remains to be seen how much of an adjustment period these teams will need.

With an understood high level of optimism, it's quite realistic for Iowa to finish the regular season with an 11-1 record and make the College Football Playoffs regardless of what happens in Indianapolis, short of another shutout loss from the Hawkeyes.

While it isn't exactly a guarantee in any regard that Iowa will be in the 2024 College Football Playoff, there certainly is a reasonable path, and that's all Iowa City can really ask for.