IOWA CITY, IA – A couple weeks after the Pinstripe Bowl, it is pretty safe to say that the 2017 Hawkeye Football season was one to remember. Lots of people would disagree, due to our ‘under-achieving’ record. However, there is a lot to take away from last season. Nate Stanley proved to have the playmaking ability we need to move forward. We got to see the Tigerhawk on the field (FINALLY). We upset one of the nation’s top teams in a brutal fashion. And most importantly, Hawkeye fans created one of the best moments of 2017 and years to come, the Wave.
Although the wins and losses didn’t go our way, we have a lot to be proud of as Hawkeye fans. Now, with the season in our rearview mirror, it is time to see what lies ahead for the 2018 Hawkeye Football season. Here is an early look for what to expect next year from a look at our schedule:
September 1st – Northern Illinois Huskies
A familiar foe to start the season, the Huskies will make the trip to Iowa City. In what always seems to be a good ‘early test’ for the Hawkeyes, we should expect the same to start the 2018 season.
The Huskies ended the season at 8-5, with the last loss coming in the Quick Lane Bowl against Duke. With a big win against Nebraska in Lincoln early in the season, they are capable to give Power 5 teams some trouble.
Over 60% of the NIU players were underclassmen during the 2017 season. One of those underclassmen, was freshman quarterback Marcus Childers. He completed the season with a stat line of 16 TD’s to 5 INT’s and throwing for 1,674 yards. Bringing back a QB is always a good thing, especially when they are young.
This game, as stated, will be a good preview of what is in store for the rest of the season. We should expect a close game, but the Hawkeyes should come out on top.
September 8th – Iowa State Cyclones
The two words, Iowa State, can get any Hawkeye fan riled up for the storied rivalry. After a 44-41 overtime win in 2017 in Ames, the Cy-Hawk trophy is sitting comfortably in Iowa City…for now.
With the culture changing season that ISU had, there is a lot to be worried about as Hawkeye fans. Head Coach Matt Cambell is coming off a new contract with Iowa State after a huge shake-up in the coaching world of college football.
Coach Cambell will have his work cut out for him though. Losing playmakers and leaders in Allen Lazard and Joel Lanning and a few offensive and defensive linemen, the transition will be a tough one. But, the incredible story that is Kyle Kempt, has a chance to return for his 5th year. The athletic running back David Montgomery that lines up next to Kempt is back, too. Montgomery rushed for 831 yards in the 2017 season. The team’s 2nd leading receiver, Hakeem Butler, is also returning.
The Cyclones will be another tough matchup for the Hawkeyes. However, the Hawkeyes have the advantage on the line on both sides of the ball. We should see another thriller, but this time our hearts won’t beat as fast, and we should expect to keep the Cy-Hawk Trophy in Iowa City for one more year. Until then, ‘Dilly Dilly!’
September 15th – Northern Iowa Panthers
The Panthers will square up against the Hawkeyes, which will be the last game before conference play. This will be the final test to prove that Iowa is truly the Hawkeye state.
Although UNI is an FCS school, we shouldn’t take them lightly. Remember our game against the NDSU Bison? Yeah, that one still stings.
The Panthers finished with the record of 8-5, but ended the season in the top ten of a couple FCS polls. Junior QB Eli Dunne is returning and he had a pretty productive 2017 season. With a stat line of 2,704 yards for 26 TD’s, the Hawkeye secondary will have an early test.
3 of the top 5 Panther tacklers graduated, which always is a nice sign, no matter the opponent.
Although no team should ever be taken lightly, this should be a good game to work out the kinks before conference play begins. We should expect the Hawkeyes to win pretty convincingly, maybe see a few young guys get some reps as well.
September 22nd – Wisconsin Badgers
I should try to wrap this preview up in 66 words. Why 66? Well, that is how many yards of total offense we had against the Badgers. I’m already at 31 words.
Jokes aside, the Hawkeyes had a tough game against Wisconsin last season, whether we were still in the Ohio State hangover or just didn’t execute, it was ugly. Period.
The Badgers finished 13-1 last season, with the only loss coming from Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. They went into the offseason with a win against Miami in the Orange Bowl. Needless to say, the Badgers will be a tough battle for the Hawkeyes, especially for it being the first conference game of the season.
All-American quarterback Alex Hornibrook comes back with the reigns in his hands. The lefty threw for 2,644 yards, 25 TD’s and 15 INT’s. The sophomore, now junior, will look to build off his success from last season. The Hawkeye secondary will be motivated to make this a statement game, and we should be confident with the coaching of Phil Parker, one of the best DB coaches in the nation.
The Badgers always an elite running back in the backfield. True freshman Jonathon Taylor rushed for 1,977 yards in 299 attempts. That is 6.6 yards per carry, and that is scary. Yes, it rhymes, and I don’t like that.
The top tacklers for the Badgers, TJ Edwards and Ryan Connelly are returning. There was some speculation on whether Edwards was going to return after many mock drafts had him going in the first round, if not, high second round. The stiff defense that Wisconsin has will give the Hawkeyes a handful of troubles, but if we keep last year’s game in the back of our mind, I see us producing more than 66 yards of total offense.
Overall, Wisconsin may be our toughest matchup of the season. I can see the Hawkeyes winning, but not by much. This game could be a kicker’s battle, or a complete shootout. Either way, it will be a fun game to watch at Kinnick, hopefully.
October 6th – Minnesota Golden Gophers
In our first road game of the season, the Hawkeyes will battle to keep Floyd of Rosedale in Iowa City.
The Gophers finished the season 5-7, 6th in the Big Ten West. After a let down season under new head coach PJ Fleck, there are two ways to go: either keep rowing or let the boat sink.
We should expect the Gophers to keep rowing, especially after being shut out in their final two games of the 2017 season.
After the quarterback swap midseason, from senior Conor Rhoda to sophomore Demry Croft, the expected success did not come. To Croft’s credit, he got thrown into a sticky situation and most likely always had Rhoda looking over his shoulder. But, there might be a leak in the boat. Croft is transferring to Tennessee State next season. Croft ended with 674 yards, 4 TD’s and 7 INT’s.
However, junior running back Rodney Smith could be a glimmer of hope for Gopher fans. He carried for 977 yards off of 229 attempts. He also rushed for 82 yards against the stout Badger defense, which beats our total offense against them. Although that is one of the games they got shut out in.
We can see this game to be a prototypical Ferentz game: ground and pound. This should be a good bounce back game if we were to lose to the Badgers, but if we end up winning against the Badgers, let’s hope we aren’t still celebrating up until kickoff. We should go into this game confident, and hopefully Fant can row the boat once more. (It was my personal favorite touchdown celebration last season.)
October 13th – Indiana Hoosiers
The road trip continues as the Hawkeyes take on the Hoosiers at Indiana.
The Hoosiers wrapped up their season with a record of 5-7, 6th in the Big Ten East. With no impressive wins last season, we should expect to see an improvement out of them for the 2018 season.
Richard Lagow ended his senior year with 1,936 yards, 15 TD’s and 8 INT’s. Last season was a decline in production for Lagow, who threw for nearly 3,400 yards during the 2016 season. We should see freshman, now sophomore, Peyton Ramsey take the role of quarterback this season. Ramsey totaled 1,252 yards, 10 TD’s and 5 INT’s. His last game he played in was against Maryland, where he went 31 for 41 passing, 279 yards, 3 TD’s and 1 INT.
The top three rushers return, one of them being Ramsey. The other two were also freshman, Morgan Ellison and Cole Gest. Ellison and Gest combined for 1,132 yards last season, along with 7 TD’s.
For the defensive side, T.J. Roof of Georgia Tech is transferring to Indiana after starting 11 games as a freshman. Not only that, the Hoosiers hired Kane Wommack as their new linebacker coach. We should see an improvement in their defense.
This will be a tough game depending on how the Hoosiers’ season goes prior to facing the Hawkeyes. Bloomington could be rowdy or a ghost town. Either way, road games are no easy feat, especially in the Big Ten. With that being said, I see the Hawkeyes grinding out another W in the win column.
October 20th – Maryland Terrapins
Another year equals another Homecoming Week. The Terrapins travel to Iowa City for the Homecoming game. On what is a usual festive week full of celebration and pride, we should see a productive game for the Hawkeyes.
Maryland finished the season at 4-8, 6th in the Big Ten East. With the exciting and shocking win in Austin against the Longhorns, many fans speculated whether this season was going to be one to build off of. However, the only two conference games they won were against Indiana and Minnesota.
The Terrapins bring back sophomore quarterback Max Bortenschlager. He tallied up 1,313 yards, 10 TD’s and 5 INT’s. The running back, junior Ty Johnson, is also returning. He is one of the four Terrapins to rush for 100 yards in four straight games in both the 2016 and 2017 season. However, the Terrapins lose their top 2 receivers, one of them being D.J. Moore, who decided that he will skip his senior season to enter the draft. Moore had a total of 80 receptions, 1,033 yards and 8 TD’s. That will be tough to replicate next year.
Former Fighting Illini linebacker Tre Watson will be transferring to Maryland as a graduate transfer. He ranked 3rd in tackles for Illinois with 65. Watson could be an experienced asset, which is nice to have when your team is young. JC Jackson will be back, as he led the Terrapins secondary with 3 INT’s.
This will be a good way to celebrate Homecoming Week. The Hawkeyes may struggle, due to the fact that we either play up or down to the opponent’s level. With that being said, we will most likely see the Hawkeyes getting scrappy and pulling out a win.
October 27th – Penn State Nittany Lions
As I am typing this, the only thing that is flashing through my head is Saquon Barkley hurdling over our beloved Josh Jackson. I witnessed that play in person, and I’m pretty sure you could’ve heard a pin drop in Kinnick. What. A. Beast.
Thank god above that Barkley isn’t returning. It would’ve been interesting to see how another year of experience from our D-Line would fair up against him, but Barkley is expected to be a top 10 pick in this year’s draft. Hats off to him.
Enough about last year, this season should be another fun game to watch. However, the Hawkeyes make the trip to Happy Valley, which is one of the hardest places to play in all of college football. This will be the toughest road game of the year for Iowa.
A big question for the offense is whether QB Trace McSorley is entering the draft or staying in Happy Valley. He had an outstanding season with 3,570 passing yards, 491 rushing yards (2nd on the team), 28 TD’s and 10 INT’s. If he stays, Penn State’s offense could make some tweaks and still be efficient. If he were to enter the draft, Stevens will most likely get the nod, but could have some competition.
With an already über-athletic defense, it doesn’t look like the Nittany Lions are letting up. 12 of the 21 signees for this year’s class are defensive players, 3 stars or above. 2 of the top 3 tacklers are gone too, one of them including playmaking safety Marcus Allen, who ended the season with 71 tackles and 1 INT.
If everything goes right for the season, we should go into this game feeling pretty confident. But, reality hits me, and says that this could fall in the loss column for the Hawkeyes. Not bad, because we could either have one or no losses prior to this game, if everything goes our way. But, in football, not everything goes your way.
November 3rd – Purdue Boilermakers
This loss was probably the ugliest of them all in 2017. Especially for it being the last home game for the special class of seniors. This year, we can’t take the Boilermakers lightly. The Hawkeyes will make the trip to West Lafayette to take on Purdue.
The Boilermakers ended the season with a 7-6 record, 3rd in the Big Ten West. They made it to the Foster Farms Bowl, where they defeated the Arizona Wildcats 38-35.
Their sophomore quarterback Elijah Sindelar lead the team to that bowl victory. He ended the Foster Farms Bowl going 33-53, 396 yards, 4 TD’s and 1 INT. What makes this more impressive? He did all of that with a torn ACL. Let’s hope the offseason is kind to him, and he can come back and build off that success.
The Boilermakers’ top 2 rushers also return for their senior season. Markell Jones and D.J. Knox combined for a total of 1,127 yards and 5 TD’s. Purdue’s top 2 receivers graduated, but the 3rd ranking receiver was freshman Jackson Anthrop, who totaled 47 receptions, 423 yards and 5 TD’s. Although the offense lost a couple weapons on the outside, we should expect the 2018 season to be an increase in production for the Boilermakers.
On the defensive side of the ball, Purdue graduates their top tackler, senior Jawhan Bentley. He ended his senior year with 97 tackles and 1 pick six. His career total number of tackles was 272, which is a pretty great number for any linebacker. His presence will be missed no doubt, but the young guys should embrace the role. If not, the Boilermakers could be in for a lot of shootouts for the 2018 season.
The Hawkeyes will once again have the advantage on the line on both sides of the ball. However, we should be aware of the playmaking ability of Sindelar. Along with Sindelar are the two running backs in Jones and Knox. Our defense will be tested once again on the road, but we should expect the Hawkeyes to come out on top by a small margin.
November 10th – Northwestern Wildcats
This is a game every Hawkeye fan worries about, no matter the skill level of the Wildcats. Thankfully, this game will be in Kinnick, which usually always works in our favor.
Northwestern finished their season with a 10-3 record, 2nd in the Big Ten West. They are looking to build off their momentum from last season, where they won their last 8 games in a row, including a victory over the Kentucky Wildcats in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald knows how to get his team ready, especially against the Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes have won 7 out of the last 10 matchups against the Wildcats, but the margin is usually small. We should expect the same for the 2018 matchup.
After some debate on whether junior quarterback Clayton Thorson would enter the draft, he decided to stay with the Wildcats for his senior season. Any time that a quarterback comes back with draft thoughts in his mind, you know that he is on a misson. Thorson ended his junior campaign with 2,844 yards, 15 TD’s and 12 INT’s. One more offseason could help boost his production and lower his turnovers, which are a huge reason why he didn’t enter the 2018 draft.
The Wildcats graduated their leading rusher, Justin Jackson. Jackson ended with 1,311 yards on 287 attempts, and 11 touchdowns. He even added 276 receiving yards to his stat line. However, we should see a growth in the running back position for the Wildcats, thanks to the hire of running backs coach and recruiter, Lou Ayeni. Ayeni spent his last four years at Iowa State as an associate head coach and running game coordinator. Ayeni also played running back and safety for the Wildcats back in the day.
The Wildcats tackling leader was linebacker Paddy Fisher who totaled 111 tackles. Oh, I forgot to mention that he is a freshman. The 2nd leading tackler is also returning, Nate Hall, who will be a senior next season. Freshman defensive lineman Sam Miller is also looking to build off his impressive season, ending with 32 total tackles.
With this game being in Kinnick, us Hawkeye fans should be able to breathe smoothly throughout the whole game. This game will be won up front, and whoever doesn’t turn the ball over. Each possession will matter, due to strong defenses from both teams. We will see either a nail-biter or a blowout. This is never an easy game for Iowa. Either way, Hawkeyes by 7 or less.
November 17th – Illinois Fighting Illini
Last year’s Homecoming beat down of the Illini, which ended up in favor of the Hawkeyes with the score of 45-17. The Hawkeyes will travel to Champaign to take on the Fighting Illini.
Illinois finished the season at 2-10, 7th in the Big Ten West. Not much has been said about this team ever since the hire of head coach Lovie Smith. To add on to the coaching dilema, Illinois recently fired their offensive coordinator Garrick McGee and DB’s coach Paul Williams.
Sophomore quarterback Jeff George Jr. will have another offseason to improve, which will be needed if the Fighting Illini want any chance to win a game next year. He ended the season with 1,273 yards, 7 TD’s and 10 INT’s. That is not a recipe for success, to say the least. Freshman Mike Epstein will also be looking to up his game after only rushing for 346 yards off of 57 attempts.
As stated earlier, Illinois lost a key part to their defense in linebacker Tre Watson, who transferred to Maryland after ending in the top 3 in tackles for the Fighting Illini. That doesn’t help the fact that they were ranked 91st in points against, which was 31.5 points allowed per game. But, on a positive note, they picked up a four star defensive lineman in Calvin Avery from Dallas, Texas.
You’d like to see a guy like Lovie Smith, who won a gosh darn Super Bowl, have some success with a team. Even after all the hype, he hasn’t had many moments of success with Illinois. I don’t see one of those moments against the 2018 Hawkeyes. We should expect the Hawkeyes to be able to throw the ball confidently and have a nice complementary running game as well. Our defensive line should so some damage, but we will have to see what George Jr. can do when under pressure. The Hawkeyes should win this game by a sizable margin.
November 23rd – Nebraska Cornhuskers
Who else is getting tired of Nebraska fans living through Scott Frost’s success at UCF? I sure know I am.
Nebraska ended their season of misery with a record of 4-8, 5th in the Big Ten West. After allowing a total of 197 points scored in the last four games of their season, it is pretty safe to say that the Huskers are ready to move on. They did not waste any time on hiring Nebraska alum Scott Frost, who led UCF to an undefeated season in 2017-18. Lots of hype is deserved, but will they live up to it?
Well, they don’t have the turnover machine that is Tanner Lee as a quarterback anymore. Lee entered the 2018 draft, after throwing for 3,143 yards, 23 TD’s and 16 INT’s. He threw 4 INT’s in one game, against Oregon. They lost that game 42-35, but who knows what could’ve happened if he wouldn’t have been so care-free with the football. Their line wasn’t the best, so that could give credit to Lee’s poor decision making. Junior running back Devine Ozigbo is going to be a senior, and he rushed for 493 yards off of 129 attempts. If the Huskers want to improve, it should start on the line.
However, they return a bright young receiver in J.D. Spielman, who had 55 receptions for 830 yards and 2 TD’s. Stanley Morgan Jr., the Huskers’ leading receiver, is also returning for his senior season. He ended with 61 receptions, 986 yards and 10 TD’s. The weapons are there for the Huskers, but the question is who will be throwing the ball to them next season? UCF backup QB Noah Vedral will follow Frost to Nebraska, but won’t see any action in the 2018 season.
The Blackshirts did not live up to their traditional name last year. They ranked 117th in points against, which was 36.4 points per game. Ouch. You didn’t see them throwing up the bones last season, if at all. We should see an improvement on their defense, thanks to the great recruitment of Frost. His top defensive signee is inside linebacker Will Honas of Butler Community College in Wichita, Kansas. Honas was on the ESPN 300 list. As for returners, their top defensive lineman Khalil Davis and top linebacker Dedrick Young are back. Frost coached in a conference where their defense wasn’t a huge priority, so we can only wait to see how Frost will adjust to the Big Ten.
And I hate to break it to Frost, but the, “Big Ten will have to adjust to us” might be a statement he will want to take back, because Big Ten defenses, such as the Hawkeyes, are usually the best all-round defenses in the country.
Now, we cannot depend on a slaughter-fest that the Hawkeyes gave to the Huskers last Black Friday. Oh yeah, and the year before, too. We should expect a close game this season, but Kinnick will be full of well fed Hawkeye fans, thanks to Thanksgiving. Kinnick will be rocking, and that should play a huge part for how the game will unfold. At the end of the day, Hawkeyes should win the first matchup against Frost’s Huskers.
All in all, we should expect a better season than last year’s. That is pretty hard to imagine with losing HUGE pieces such as Jewell, Jackson, and Wadley. But, we have to remember that we have some young playmakers.
Easley, Fant, and Smith-Marsette are all back and will look to improve from last season. Nate Stanley finally knows what is expected of him, and we should see him flourish during his junior year. The young guys behind Stanley, Torren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin, showed some strength and speed when their names were called upon in the 2017 season. We should feel confident that the running back position is in good hands, even with Wadley gone. The offensive line took a blow with Daniels entering the draft, but Iowa produces some of the best linemen to play the game. The development will be there, no doubt.
Defensively, we have a lot of shoes to fill. With the loss of all of our linebackers in Jewell, Nieman, and Bower and ball-hawk defensive back Josh Jackson, many questions are going to be asked about our defense. We still have safety Amani Hooker who had a pretty solid season along with young safety Geno Stone, who showcased some bright moments while playing. As for a our defensive line, well we have everyone back. I feel like the defensive line will have a breakout year. But, if they don’t do their jobs, I have a bad feeling that teams could have a hay-day on the ground.
Lots of things have to go right for the Hawkeyes if they want to improve from last season. I see this young team having a bright future, and next year could be a good one for us Hawkeye fans. The only question I want to ask you is: are you ready for football season yet?