The Iowa Hawkeyes open the season with two tough opponents both ranked in the Top 25 in Indiana and Iowa State. They will host Penn State in early October and later travel to Wisconsin and Northwestern in back-to-back weeks. The road to winning the Big Ten West will be difficult, but that’s nothing new. Most betting lines for the Iowa win total for this season is eight and a half (8½) wins. When breaking down the schedule, there are a couple different paths the Hawkeyes can take to secure the “over” this season. Iowa has some safe bets for wins, games that could be potential losses, and some key toss-ups.
Where Wins Are Likely
When looking at the schedule, there are six games that stand out as spots where Iowa has the upper hand to secure a win.
In the second of three non-conference games, Iowa will play host to the Kent State Golden Flashes out of the MAC. They averaged 50 points and a nation’s best 607 yards per game. In their four-game season last year, they finished 3-1. Iowa will get to see a productive Group of Five offense led by quarterback Dustin Crum. However, the Hawks have a significant advantage on offense compared to the Kent State defense. The Golden Flashes gave up 425 total yards per game last season to a less-skilled MAC schedule. Iowa’s offense should be able to find the holes in the Kent State pressure and come out on top.
Colorado State will visit Iowa City the following weekend in September. The Rams are breaking in a senior, dual-threat quarterback this season under second-year head coach Steve Addazio. In the shortened season, CSU ranked near the bottom of the FBS in production with only 324 total yards per game. Defensively, they have a lot of experience and played well last year despite only one win. Overall, the pieces are in place for the Rams, but it’s too early to tell if they have a breakthrough Mountain West season. The Rams are 1-11 against Big Ten teams all-time, and will have a tough task against Iowa’s defense.
The third game that stands out as a win is Illinois at home late in the year. The Illini gave Iowa a scare in Champaign last season and rattled Spencer Petras in the first half. After regrouping at halftime, Iowa came out like a new team and scored 35 unanswered. Illinois has a new head coach this season in Bret Bielema who actually played defensive line at Iowa. The Illini averaged nearly 200 rush yards per game last season, but their passing offense was lacking. Iowa’s secondary should be able to make Illinois one-dimensional and target the run game. The last time Illinois won in Iowa City was in 1999. It’s a tough place to play, and with the turnover at head coach and uncertainty in their offensive capabilities, Iowa has the advantage.
There are three remaining games that also stack up as probable wins for the Hawkeyes, but they have historically been more hard-fought.
There’s not much history to this matchup. Maryland is an opponent Iowa isn’t used to seeing. The teams have only played three times ever. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa showed some bursts last season, but had his freshman moments as well. He was inconsistent in losses against Northwestern and Indiana, and didn’t play the final game against Rutgers. Iowa should have the upper hand when on defense against the young quarterback. This matchup is on the road out east, making it a long trip from Iowa. However, the Hawkeyes have the edge when it comes to experience and should come home with a win.
Iowa opened the 2020 season in West Lafayette with a four-point loss to the Boilermakers. They struggled to finish out the game and looked inconsistent. In fact, Purdue has won three of the last four against the Hawks and always plays them close. This year the game is in Iowa City and Iowa’s offense will have had a full offseason and a six-game win streak under their belt. Purdue wide receiver David Bell is a threat, but the quarterback play at Purdue has been spotty of late. Provided Iowa stays healthy, their offense has the slight advantage in terms of talent. Defensively, Iowa has a strong secondary and should be able to control the second level. It won’t come easy, but the Hawkeyes line up well against Purdue.
The other probable win for Iowa this season is at Nebraska. Iowa has won the previous six matchups and has proven to be the more physical team in recent years. With the controversy surrounding the Nebraska program this offseason, there will likely be some distraction regarding Scott Frost’s future with the program. On the field, Nebraska has had trouble keeping the ball in their hands. Quarterback Adrian Martinez has lost 15 fumbles in his three-year career. That ranks as the most in the FBS in that time span. Iowa will have the advantage when on defense, and it’s difficult to see where Nebraska can expose them. The Hawkeyes likely end the season by keeping the Heroes Trophy in their possession.
With these six games chalked up as probable wins for Iowa, they will need to get three of the remaining half to secure the “over” win total.
These four matchups are more difficult to predict due to each of the teams’ recent success and talent. There’s also some uncertainty surrounding these teams, and depending on how they perform this season, these games could go either way.
The Indiana Hoosiers are coming off one of their best seasons in program history where they reached as high as number seven in the AP Poll. They are now ranked inside the Preseason Top 25 for the first time since 1969. Indiana returns dynamic quarterback Michael Penix and leading receiver Ty Fryfogle. They play extremely hard for head coach Tom Allen which makes them a threat to anyone in the country. However, the Hoosiers had some luck on their side last season. Indiana’s points off turnover margin last year was plus 41, and nearly 28% of their total points came following turnovers. That stat will be very difficult to sustain. In a full season, it’s unlikely they replicate that production. Iowa could have their hands full with Penix and the Indiana offense, but in terms of consistency, Iowa has the advantage. It just depends what Indiana team shows up in week one.
After their most successful season in team history, Iowa State opens the year inside the top 10 rankings and will host the Hawkeyes in week two. This game is always a toss-up rivalry. The last three matchups have been decided by an average of four and half points. Iowa State has a talented offense and a highly skilled group of linebackers that will make it tough for Iowa on both sides of the ball. It’s likely that something weird happens in this game, and it just depends on who ends up on the right side of the coin. With all the hype surrounding the Cyclone program this season, there are a lot of high expectations for this game in particular. Both teams always show up with their sights set. This one likely comes down to the final possession.
Like Indiana and Iowa State, Northwestern is also off of one of their most successful seasons. The Wildcats made their second trip to the Big Ten Championship in three years and won the Citrus Bowl. They now rank near the bottom in terms of returning production, and recently lost running back Cam Porter to injury for the season. This year’s Wildcat team only returns three offensive starters and will be looking to rebuild their depth. Iowa has a great advantage in a matchup like this, but Northwestern has had the upper hand recently. The Hawkeyes have lost four of the last five, and Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has proven his ability to crack the Iowa defense. Iowa has the talent advantage this season, but in Evanston, they will need to bring their best.
There is likely some tension between Minnesota head coach PJ Fleck and Kirk Ferentz after the ending of last year’s game in Minneapolis. Ferentz took three consecutive timeouts very late in the fourth quarter despite a 35-0 lead. He then commented after the game that he’d rather bring Floyd home and leave timeouts in Minneapolis. This season, the Golden Gophers travel to Iowa City with a veteran offense. They return 10 starters including quarterback Tanner Morgan and running back Mohamed Ibrahim. Defensively, they also have 10 starters back and look to find some answers against the Iowa offense. Minnesota has the talent and experience to win this season, but it will be a battle as usual. Iowa has hoisted the Floyd of Rosedale for the past six years and clearly has had the upper hand against Fleck. But with the talent in Minneapolis and the tension on the sidelines, it will be a rock fight.
Where Losses Can Come From
While it’s difficult to assume anything in a college football season, these next two teams have had a clear advantage against Iowa in recent years. Iowa beat both of these teams last year, but has had no success since 2015 otherwise. These two are always top-ranked and tough opponents for the Hawkeyes.
Penn State and Iowa have faced each other every year since 2016. In that time, the Nittany Lions have won four out of five. Last season, Iowa won in Happy Valley in dominant fashion. The Nittany Lions had an off year, but this season they return a lot of their production. Notably, running back Noah Cain and receiver Johan Dotson will be back on offense. Iowa has had a tough time with Penn State at home, losing the last two in Iowa City by a combined seven points. This new-found rivalry game has always been hard fought. With an experienced returning roster for the Nittany Lions, they will again have a great team with a chance to steal another one in Iowa City.
The Hawkeyes are currently in possession of the Heartland Trophy after beating the Badgers at home at the end of last season. Wisconsin was down a few players, but Iowa dominated on all fronts. This season, Wisconsin has one of the best offensive lines in the country and sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz has great pass catchers at his disposal. The Badgers will have a strong run game as usual, but the addition of a dynamic passing attack makes this team difficult to beat. The game is in Madison this season making it an even tougher task. The Iowa defense has great experience at the second level. But offensively, they need to capitalize on every possession in one way or another to keep it close. The Hawkeyes will have their hands full in this November matchup at Wisconsin.
For The “Over” To Hit
Landing an “over” eight and a half wins is a very successful college football season. Iowa has a lot of guys who know what a nine or 10-win season feels like, and they are itching to showcase it in front of fans this year. The Hawkeyes likely have six safe wins in front of them, but they won’t come easy. Of the four toss-up games, Northwestern and Minnesota have the better chance of being victories. Iowa has a slightly bigger advantage in those contests compared to Indiana and Iowa State. The Hoosiers and Cyclones two are the first two games of the year and will be tough. The beginning of any season takes some time to get the rust off, and those two top-ranked opponents are no warm-ups. Given how each of the teams stack up against one another, Iowa will likely win two of the toss-ups to get to that eight win mark. If they can take three of the four, the “over” hits, and Iowa will have a nine win season.
Penn State and Wisconsin are the two matchups where losses are the most probable. Depending on how Iowa comes out of the gate in those two games, they are winnable, but difficult. The Hawks winning one of the two is ideal, and almost guarantees an “over” since they would then need just two of the four toss-ups. Of the two more difficult games this year, getting the Nittany Lions at home is probably more attainable. Iowa hasn’t fared well hosting Penn State or traveling to Madison lately, but a home game against a Top 25 team gives slightly better odds than a road game against a very good division rival.
Kirk Ferentz says it every year. It’s hard to win college football games. The eight and a half win total is a realistic mark, but it’s not a ceiling. At the end of the day, Iowa’s Big Ten fate likely comes down to the road trip to Madison and the toss-up games. While an eight win season is most probable, Iowa has the talent and experience this season to steal one in Madison and win three of the four toss-up games. The Hawkeyes are well positioned to exceed this year’s win total of eight and a half. Provided the team stays healthy and on track, a 10-win Hawkeye football team could be on the horizon.