The long awaited return of Iowa football kicks off on Saturday. The Hawkeyes begin their B1G-only slate with a road contest at Purdue (2:30 p.m. CST/BTN).

It appears Purdue could be without head coach Jeff Brohm, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, according to the school.

Iowa is coming off a 2019 season in which it posted a 10-3 record, finished 3rd in the B1G West and ranked No. 15 in the final AP poll.

This season, Iowa will have to replace 6 defensive starters (3 NFL Draft picks), B1G Offensive Lineman of the Year Tristan Wirfs (1st-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and 3-year starting quarterback Nate Stanley.

However, with talented sophomore quarterback Spencer Petras under center, plus the majority of the offensive line intact and the defense returning numerous upperclassmen, there’s reasonable optimism that Iowa can remain a conference contender.

If Iowa reaches these 5 goals on Saturday, they’ll emerge victorious in their season opener:

Lock down Purdue’s dynamic wide receiver duo

Last season, Iowa edged visiting Purdue 26-20 in Week 8. The task of matching or improving on that effort defensively will depend largely on the Hawkeyes’ ability to contain Purdue’s wide receivers.

Sophomore Jack Plummer, junior Aidan O’Connell and UCLA grad transfer Austin Burton are all vying for Purdue’s starting quarterback spot. Regardless of who gets the nod, Purdue has some intriguing playmakers at wide receiver, anchored by sophomore David Bell (B1G Freshman of the Year) and All-America redshirt sophomore Rondale Moore.

Senior cornerback Matt Hankins and junior cornerback Riley Moss will be tasked with blanketing Bell and Moore, as sophomore Dane Belton and redshirt junior Jack Koerner patrol the safety spots.

If Iowa can limit Bell and Moore to around 100 yards combined, they’ll be in great shape to leave West Lafayette with a win.

Petras takes command under center

Petras has good size (6-5, 231) and a big arm. He’ll bring a dynamic element to the position this season.

The first step in proving so begins on Saturday. The Purdue defense is improved from last season, especially along the defensive line and secondary.

However, the inexperienced Petras has a stacked deck of explosive receivers to ease his acclimation.

Senior Ihmir Smith-Marsette is a versatile threat from all levels of the field. Senior Brandon Smith, a physical target, is healthy and back in the fold. Redshirt sophomore slot receiver Nico Ragaini is reliable across the middle and can even run deep routes when called upon. Sophomore running back Tyler Goodson offers a reliable pass-catching option out of the backfield.

This is perhaps the most talented group of playmakers Iowa has had in the Kirk Ferentz era. Add it all up and Petras could flash his potential right away. If Petras impresses against Purdue, Iowa fans will have legitimate hope that this is the beginning of a special offensive campaign.

Tyler Goodson gains steam in the fourth quarter

Goodson was the first true freshman to lead Iowa in rushing. Iowa was 4-0 last season in games that Goodson started.

Goodson hasn’t rested on his laurels during the pandemic, as he’s been vigorously working out with his personal trainer, according to Hawk Central. The additional bulk to the already explosive and shifty Goodson makes him capable of a 1,000-yard rushing season.

With Goodson physically able to carry an even greater load, he presents himself as the ideal closer in crunch time. This should be a close contest, which means every yard is going to hotly contested.

Purdue ranked 12th in the conference last season in rushing yards allowed per game and rushing touchdowns allowed. Purdue’s defensive line is bigger and stronger this time around, but if Goodson can use his newfound frame to convert 3rd-and-short plays and keep the chains moving, it’ll go a long ways in chewing up the clock.

Chauncey Golston takes the torch and is lights out

If Iowa is going to replicate last season’s pass rush, the senior defensive end will need to serve as the unit’s leader. Golston is the lone returning starter along the Iowa defensive line.

Golston flashed dynamic potential last season and will be called upon to elevate his game now that 2nd-team AP All-American A.J. Epenesa is off to the pros. Golston’s 3 fumble recoveries led the B1G and ranked 6th nationally.

While Golston believes it’ll take a total group effort, he accepts the bulk of responsibility for replacing the void of Epenesa.

Outside of senior left tackle Grant Hermanns, Purdue’s offensive line has question marks. This is a prime opportunity for Golston to rack up multiple sacks and make an early statement about his viability.

One game-changing special teams sequence

Special teams will again be a strong suit for Iowa. In a game that should have little margin for error, special teams could tilt the balance in Iowa’s favor.

Perhaps kicker returner Smith-Marsette will bust one loose across midfield or even all the way to the end zone. Smith-Marsette was one of the nation’s best kick returners last season. Smith-Marsette followed up a strong 2018 to lead the B1G and rank fourth nationally in kickoff return average (29.6 yards). Smith-Marsette capped off the season with long kickoff returns for touchdowns against Nebraska (95 yards) and vs. USC in the Holiday Bowl (98 yards).

Or maybe Keith Duncan will convert a field goal to give Iowa a late two-score lead. The superb Duncan is the reigning B1G Kicker of the Year. Duncan converted 29 of his 34 field goals (including the game-winner vs. Nebraska) and all 32 of his extra point attempts. Duncan’s 29 field goal conversions set a B1G record and ranks 6th in college football history.

Either way, if there’s a timely contribution on special teams, the odds for an Iowa victory would increase significantly.