10 bold predictions for Iowa football in 2020
Someone other than Nate Stanley will start the season at quarterback for the first time since 2016, yet Iowa’s greater concern might come on defense.
If things go right, Iowa should be in the mix for the B1G West title as this abbreviated season winds down.
Here are 10 predictions about what might happen along the way, starting Oct. 24 at Purdue:
1. Iowa won’t miss a beat at quarterback
For the first time since 2016, somebody other than Stanley will line up at quarterback for the Hawkeyes. Iowa will lean toward sophomore Spencer Petras. While Stanley was a productive college QB and it may be difficult to transition given the strange offseason, Petras should have no issues taking over this offense. Stanley completed less than 60% of his passes every season at Iowa, and Petras should actually do better than that in Year 1 with plenty of returning pass catchers.
2. Offense will finish in the top half of the B1G
Iowa finished 10th in the conference in both scoring offense and total offense, which is determined by yards per game. The Hawkeyes will finish in the top 7 in both categories because they have a deep receiving corps including Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who led the team in receiving yards, and Iowa tight ends are always in the mix. In addition, Iowa will be playing plenty of solid offenses starting in Week 1 against Purdue, so the Hawkeyes may see more shootouts than normal.
3. Iowa will start 3-0
Maybe it’s not that bold considering Iowa will be favored in its first three games, but it’s nice to head into the meat of the schedule with an undefeated record. The Hawkeyes have a Purdue team that should be a pretty good test for what Iowa can be this season, followed by a Northwestern team that went 3-9 in 2019 and Michigan State, which is definitely in rebuild mode in Mel Tucker’s first season.
4. Every game will be decided by 10 points or less
As crazy as it sounds, this came close to happening in 2019. Take away two non-conference blowouts against Group of 5 teams, which won’t happen this season, and the Hawkeyes (10-3, 6-3 in 2019) saw 8 of their 10 regular season games decided by less than 10 points. Perusing through Iowa’s 8-game B1G schedule, there are not many potential blowouts. Iowa football is going to be in a ton of compelling, late-game situations this season.
5. Brandon Smith will lead Iowa in all receiving categories
Senior wide receiver Brandon Smith tied for a team-high 5 receiving touchdowns among the 4 quality receivers Iowa will utilize this season. Among the group that includes Smith, Smith-Marsette, Tyrone Tracy Jr. and Nico Ragaini, Smith finished third in receiving yards and receptions. Smith missed four games with an ankle injury and if he plays in all 10 (including a bowl game), he will be the Hawkeyes’ 2020 leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
6. Defense will fall out of the top 5 in the B1G
Iowa finished 2nd in the conference in scoring defense in 2019, allowing 14 points per game, and 5th in total defense, giving up 308.2 yards per game. The Hawkeyes benefited from allowing a combined 3 points in games against Rutgers, Northwestern and Middle Tennessee. Without a non-conference schedule, the only one of those teams Iowa will see is Northwestern, which should be one of the most improved teams in the B1G. The Hawkeyes will drop out of the top 5 in the B1G in terms of scoring defense and total defense in 2020.
7. Hawkeyes will beat Penn State or Minnesota
In games four and five of the season, Iowa will go through its toughest 2-game stretch of the season. The Hawkeyes head on the road to play Minnesota, followed by a road trip to Penn State. I’m not sure which one it will be, but Iowa will win one of those games to keep itself relevant in the B1G West race.
8. Iowa will be in the first CFP rankings reveal
The AP Top 25 Poll, Coaches Poll and College Football Playoff rankings will lead to an ongoing debate throughout the season when trying to compare teams. How would a 7-1 Texas A&M compare to a 3-0 Oregon? Yes, that may be a discussion. For the Hawkeyes, a 4-1 record with a victory over Penn State or Minnesota should put them into the first College Football Playoff rankings, which will be revealed on Nov. 24.
9. Season finale will determine B1G West
If Iowa can accomplish item No. 8, the Hawkeyes should be favored in all other games leading up to the regular season finale at home against Wisconsin. If that happens, Iowa would come into the final game of the regular season with a 6-1 record, which should be enough to be a part of the B1G West discussion.
10. Iowa will beat Michigan in its end-of-season crossover game
In case you missed it, the B1G will have a 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2, 3 vs. 3, etc. setup for the B1G West and the B1G East to be played on the same day as the conference title game on Dec. 19. Iowa is likely to finish inside the top three of the West, and I predict it will see Michigan in its final game. While Michigan will go in disappointed following another loss to Ohio State, Iowa will remain hungry with a young quarterback ready to go in and prove something and close off the year on a high note. No matter where this game is played, the Hawkeyes will win it.