While the Big Ten football season should be a month old by now, we are still stuck in neutral waiting to kickoff. The Wisconsin Badgers and the rest of the conference don’t get going until October 24, but we can’t really wait that long to start talking about football. It is time to start previewing Wisconsin’s opponents now!
The Badgers will play eight games in the regular season, all six division opponents and two cross-division opponents, and then a ninth game on B1G Championship Sunday against their place-doppelgänger from the East.
Last up in the series is the Badgers final opponent of the regular season, the Hawkeyes of Iowa.
Team name: Iowa Hawkeyes
Location, stadium: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa
Head coach (years with team): Kirk Ferentz (entering year 21 with Iowa)
Coordinators (years with team): Brian Ferentz (fourth year as offensive coordinator), Phil Parker (ninth season as defensive coordinator)
2019 record, place in division: 10-3 overall (6-3 B1G), No. 3 in West
2019 result vs. Wisconsin: L (24-22)
2020 game date vs. Wisconsin: Saturday, December 12, Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City
Three key departing players: QB Nate Stanley (2,951 passing yards, 16 touchdowns), OT Tristan Wirfs (2019 B1G Offensive Lineman of the Year), DE A.J. Epenesa (49 tackles, 11.5 sacks).
Three key returning players: OT Alaric Jackson (multi-year starter), WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (722 yards receiving, five touchdowns), LB Djimon Colbert (61 tackles, one interception).
Overview of team:
Iowa has one of the best collection of pass catchers in the entire conference entering this season. Smith-Marsette is a tremendous playmaker with the ball in his hands as both a wide receiver and as a return man. Pair him with bigger receiver Brandon Smith and sophomore Tyrone Tracy, and Iowa has a really nice receiving corps. Sophomore WR/TE Sam Laporta began to emerge late last season as well, and the Hawkeyes have some really nice freshmen tight ends coming.
The Hawkeyes return running back Tyler Goodson as well, and traditionally have one of the best offensive lines in the country led by Alaric Jackson.
The biggest questions offensively is how well will first-year starter Spencer Petras play. He is a prototypical 6-foot-5 pro-style quarterback that fits Iowa’s system nicely, and he was a top-20 QB in the 2018 class. If he can distribute the ball well, Iowa has the players on the perimeter to have one of their best offenses in recent years assuming Petras and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is a solid marriage.
Defensively, Iowa loses their top three tacklers and their most productive pass rusher as well. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa was by far the Hawkeyes most reliable sack producer, recording nearly four times as many sacks as the the next highest player on the team. With him no longer in the picture, Iowa will need more players in the front seven to get better at getting to the quarterback.
At linebacker, Iowa has some strong returners, but the impact of Kristian Welch will be the biggest question mark. In the secondary replacing safety Geno Stone and cornerback Michael Ojemudia who led the team with three interceptions will be paramount. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker has done great at developing those positions though over the course of his career, maybe Riley Moss, Terry Roberts, or Julius Brents will be the answer at the corner spot opposite of senior Matt Hankins.
Jonah Parker of Black Heart Gold Pants on his expectations for the Hawkeyes this year:
At the end of the day, this looks like your stereotypical 8-4/9-3 Iowa team that beats someone they shouldn’t and stubs their toe a time or maybe two. On an abbreviated 8-game schedule without the FCS and MAC matchups early on, that’s likely to translate to a 5-3/6-2 record depending on a few key matchups.
Overall, Iowa appears to be pretty similar talent wise to most Iowa teams this past decade, but potentially more explosive on offense if quarterback play pans out. The defense will be where I believe the larger questions are, as they are replacing key players at all levels of the defense. All in all, the matchup between Wisconsin and Iowa in December should be another good one.