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Kirk Ferentz enters his 21 st season at the helm in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes produced winning campaigns in 15 of them. Having already surpassed the legendary Hayden Fry as the program’s longest tenured head coach, Iowa once again looks to have a roster assembled that should at the very least have it right back in the thick of the Big Ten West title race. While there were some heavy losses incurred on both sides of the ball – especially on offense with both T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant now playing on Sundays – the cupboard is far from bare heading into the 2019-20 season. The onus will fall upon the shoulders of senior quarterback Nate Stanley to build upon his already impressive career stats and cement his legacy as one of the best to ever take the field for the program. For that to occur, he’s going to need to find some new favorite targets and do so quickly!
Stanley threw for nearly 2,900 yards and a 26:10 TD/INT ratio a season ago. However, a bulk of those touchdown strikes went to the aforementioned tight end duo. There will be some drop-off; there’s simply no way around it as talented both Fant and Hockenson were. However, there are some remaining dependable targets on the roster with the wide receiver duo of Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette one of the best the B1G has to offer. Nate Wieting and Shaun Beyer take over at tight end. None of it will mean anything if the offensive line doesn’t live up to the standards of past Hawkeye front walls. As big it is, it was surprising to see Iowa struggle to run the football a season ago. Maybe the running back talent just isn’t up to snuff? None of them averaged better than 5.0 yards per carry! That simply won’t cut it, so you can bet your bottom dollar at offshore sportsbooks that much work was put into the offensive line through the offseason.
Seven starters and the top four tacklers from last year’s No. 7 ranked total defense are no longer on the roster. While some would consider it to be a complete overhaul, there is still plenty of talent remaining in all three phases of the stop unit. AJ Epenesa is considered by many to be the best defensive end in the conference. Heck, there are some pundits out there jumping up on their soap box and calling him the best pass rusher in college football! Regardless of semantics, the kids a special talent that will no doubt have all opposition zeroing in on him every passing game. That means Chauncey Golston will be forced to at the very least hold his own at the other defensive end position to allow for the inexperienced back seven to get their feet wet before the thick of the schedule kicks in Week 6. With proven stars and big time tacklers no longer in the back-seven, this unit is going to need to come together quickly for the Hawkeyes to have any shot of competing for division honors.
Special teams remain a grave concern. Placekicking has been troubling the last few seasons, and it doesn’t look to be rectified as of now. Four of the teams last six games were decided by six or less points, so getting the field goal kicking back on track is a must. Thankfully, the team has a huge weapon in the return game in the form of Smith-Marsette to aid the offense by shortening the field if not putting points on the board all by his lonesome. As tough the schedule looks to be on paper, Iowa will no doubt be in the thick of it come the end of November. The program has proven time and time again that it knows how to win and fight till the bitter end. Any of the seven teams residing in the West save for Illinois has a shot at representing the division in the B1G title game in Indianapolis. Still, it could end up being real tough to surpass its 7.5-game season win total at online sportsbooks with road games set for Iowa State, Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska.