It’s never too early to write about next season!
With spring football completed for college programs, and with what feels like a long offseason until late July/early August, B5Q wanted to check on the Wisconsin Badgers’ 2019 opponents—with the help of some of our SB Nation friends.
Note: These previews will not be in the chronological order of the games, but we hope to get through all of them at some point before fall camp rolls around.
The Iowa Hawkeyes travel to Camp Randall Stadium on Nov. 9 to renew the nation’s beefiest rivalry.
Our friends at Black Heart Gold Pants answered our questions and pegged an offensive linemen to be their breakout player. Really playing to the crowd imo.
What are your overall thoughts about Iowa heading into the 2019 season?
Max Brekke: There is reason to be optimistic about Iowa heading into next season despite the numerous departures the Hawks have had to deal with this offseason. Nate Stanley is entering his senior season as a third year as quarterback Iowa actually has some wide receivers who have talent and proven production, and the offensive line is bookended by what appears to be two future NFL Draft picks. On defense, there are also some key departures, but depth shouldn’t be an issue for this linebacker corps and secondary.
All that said, Iowa faces a much more difficult schedule in 2019 than they did last year, at least on paper. They drew Penn State, Indiana, and Maryland in crossover games in 2018, and while they will get a chance to run the gauntlet on Rutgers, they also add Michigan to the upcoming slate, along with what should be much improved Nebraska and Minnesota squads in the Big Ten West. A lot of folks are optimistic that Iowa should be a 9 or 10 win team in 2019, but 8-4 would be unsurprising (and for this pessimistic Iowa fan, probably the ceiling).
Who are the main players returning, and how could they help the Hawkeyes next season?
Max: I already mentioned Nate Stanley and Iowa offensive tackles Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson, so I’ll move to the defense. A.J. Epenesa caused havoc all over the place when he saw the field in 2018, and with Parker Hesse and Anthony Nelson departing, he is going to be on the field a whole lot more. While that will probably mean he doesn’t go balls out every down he’s on the field in 2019, he should have a huge impact on Iowa’s defensive line.
Likewise, in the secondary, you have Geno Stone, who came into his own and forced now-Tennessee Titan Amani Hooker into a new role so that both could see the field in 2018. Stone accumulated 40 tackles and intercepted four passes last year, and will be the key to Iowa’s secondary this upcoming season.
Who are the critical departures from 2018, and has anyone stepped up to be the potential replacements?
Max: The biggest departures come at pass catching positions, where Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson both departed for the NFL Draft’s first round and Nick Easley signed a deal with Buffalo. Those three were Nate Stanley’s security blankets the past two seasons, and corralled 60% of his completions in 2018. At receiver, Brandon Smith should expect to see his receptions increase from 28 a year before, and Nico Ragaini has been rumored to be the new slot receiver, along with Tyrone Tracy. Receiver has been a revolving door for Iowa and not incredibly productive for some time now, so these guys should be able to produce at least at an equal level as last year. At tight end, there isn’t an obvious replacement, although Nate Wieting and Drew Cook appear to have the inside track. Regardless, no one expects them to produce to the level Hockenson and Fant did last year.
Who is your “way too early” breakout player of the year candidate based on the spring?
Max: It’s probably WR Nico Ragaini, but also Tyler Linderbaum. Linderbaum was recruited to be an offensive lineman, flipped to defense, and following the spring, is now projected to be Iowa’s starting center as a redshirt freshman. It’s not very often that a freshman gets a starting nod on the Kirk Ferentz offensive line, but this kid sounds like he’s for real.
What is your way too early prediction of the Iowa/Wisconsin game on Nov. 9th? What is your prediction for Iowa’s season?
Max: I already mentioned that I think Iowa will finish 8-4 because it’s Iowa, but I’m a known pessimist and folks have been telling me they’ll win more. Whether they’re drinking the Kool Aid or I’m just a hater, we’ll find out, but I think that at this point, you have to expect Iowa to finish every season at 8-4; they’ll win a game or two that they shouldn’t, and then they’ll lose to like, Illinois (God forbid). (Editor’s note: Gah! Don’t think like that!)
As for the Wisconsin game, the Badgers have had Iowa’s number for the last decade, so it’s hard for me to imagine the Hawks walking into Camp Randall this fall and taking one. That said, I expect a close one between these two because it generally is. Let’s say Wisconsin 26, Iowa 20. See you in November!