How the season ended stunk, but, oh, what a beginning for the Iowa Hawkeyes. An improbable journey through the regular season saw the Hawkeyes run the table to claim the Big Ten West crown and a trip to the conference championship game. Their undefeated season and a berth in the CFP came to a halt against Michigan State.
Settling for a trip to the Rose Bowl instead, Iowa was deflated and got steamrolled by Stanford in the Granddaddy. The Hawkeyes return a good portion of their roster and it doesn’t appear as though anybody in the West has done enough to overtake them. And that’s why Iowa is the preseason favorite to return to the Big Ten title game.
2015 Record: 12-2 SU, 7-6-1 ATS, 8-5 O/U
2016 Regular Season Win Total: 8.5
National Championship Odds: +10000
Odds to win Big Ten: +700
The Hawkeyes’ run came out of nowhere. Picked to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the lesser division, Iowa came out blazing, finishing the regular season undefeated for the first time since 1922 with a school record 12 victories. A loss in the conference title game ended the unbeaten streak and a throttling by Stanford in the Rose Bowl ended the year.
Iowa had slipped into mediocrity the past few seasons under Kirk Ferentz, and the coach’s seat was getting warm. The Hawkeyes hadn’t won more than eight games since 2009 and couldn’t even sniff the national polls in the previous four years. With all that in mind, yes, the 2015 season was a surprise.
The Hawkeyes didn’t do anything great, they just did everything really well. The offense was efficient and scored when it needed to. Defensively, they wore teams down with a mammoth front line and an athletic second level. They went 5-0 in one-possession games until the Big Ten Championship. Iowa came within a goal-line stop of beating the Spartans, but it wasn’t to be.
Don’t bet on the Hawkeyes lapping the field in the regular season this year. Don’t get me wrong, Ferentz has a good squad and it will compete for, if not win, the West Division. But plenty went Iowa’s way last season and you can’t count on the bounces going your direction all the time. Besides, Iowa was a good team, not a great one.
It won’t stop them from trying, though. And the guy who led the charge last season is back behind center. Quarterback C.J. Beathard was without a doubt the catalyst. He attempted all but seven of the team’s 369 passes, completing 61.6 percent for 2,809 yards and 17 touchdowns. The best number from all his stats may have been the interception total. He tossed only five all season.
But that was last year. What can Beathard do for an encore? Can he produce the same numbers and get the same results? Ferentz believes he can. He says the quarterback has the “it-factor” and puts him among the greats at the position in Iowa history.
While the offense is certainly in capable hands, the defense needs to build off its strong season. Iowa ranked 22nd in total defense a season ago and returns starting tackles Nathan Bazata and Jaleel Johnson. Two starters are also back on the second level, giving hope that the unit can be just as formidable.
Returning Starters Offense: 6
The group of returnees consists of three skilled position players, led by Beathard who started every game last season. LeShun Daniels returns to the backfield after running for 646 yards and eight scores. Leading receiver Matt VandeBerg will be the No. 1 target.
Guard Sean Welsh returns after starting every contest last season. Boone Myers and Ike Boettger are back after battling injuries and Cole Cranston started 10 games at tackle, giving the Hawkeyes plenty of experience up front.
Returning Starters Defense: 7
Bazata and Johnson both started all 14 games in 2015. Johnson had 45 tackles and Bazata contributed 42. Middle backer Josey Jewell led the team with 126 tackles. He’ll be joined on the outside by Ben Niemann.
Three of four starters return in the secondary. Desmond King is the star after collecting eight interceptions. Greg Mabin has started 26 games over the past two seasons opposite King. Miles Taylor made 13 starts at strong safety in 2015.
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Week 1: vs. Miami, Ohio, Saturday, September 3, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Week 2: vs. Iowa State, Saturday, September 10, 7:30 p.m. ET (BTN)
Week 3: vs. North Dakota State, Saturday, September 17, 12 p.m. ET (ESPN/ESPN2)
Week 4: at Rutgers, Saturday, September 24, TBA
Week 5: vs. Northwester, Saturday, October 1, 12 p.m. ET
Week 6: at Minnesota, Saturday, October 8, TBA
Week 7: at Purdue, Saturday, October 15, 12 p.m. ET
Week 8: vs. Wisconsin, Saturday, October 22, TBA
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: at Penn State, Saturday, November 5, 7:30 p.m. ET (BTN)
Week 11: vs. Michigan, Saturday, November 12, 8 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN/2)
Week 12: at Illinois, Saturday, November 19, TBA
Week 13: vs. Nebraska, Friday, November 25, TBA
|SEC Conference||Big 10 Conference|
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