Iowa football: 10 bold predictions for the 2023 season
There’s a new gunslinger running the show at Iowa, and he brought over a deputy from Ann Arbor to create an instant connection. Phil Parker didn’t leave this offseason, either, so the Hawkeyes’ defense isn’t going to see a drop-off.
Is that enough to provide a positive outlook in 2023? Here are 10 bold predictions regarding Iowa’s outlook this season:
1. Cade McNamara will throw for over 3,000 yards
Let’s start small and work our way up. Iowa’s quarterback situation dramatically improved the second someone — literally anyone — joined the program to supplant Spencer Petras. It just so happens that McNamara, who led Michigan to a Big Ten title 2 years ago, wanted a fresh start and pulled a reverse Jake Rudock (transfer from Iowa to Michigan for 2015 season).
Iowa hasn’t had a 3,000-yard passer since James Vandenberg was slinging it in 2011. Eclipsing 3,000 yards in the B1G is a challenge. Last season, only 3 B1G passers did so, led by Heisman finalist CJ Stroud of Ohio State. McNamara isn’t a clone of the Houston Texans’ likely new starting QB, but he’s an upgrade over Petras and has looked consistent in the spring and summer.
2. Erick All leads B1G TEs in TDs
The Hawkeyes wanted to give McNamara a buddy in the passing game to ease his nerves. Enter All, who blossomed into one of the better receiving options for Michigan en route to their first of 2 B1G titles. Remember who was leading Michigan to a date with the Orange Bowl? Let’s see if the duo can recreate the magic in Iowa City.
All, who totaled 38 catches for 437 yards and 2 scores, was likely looking to build the same rapport with JJ McCarthy, but surgery sidelined him for most of last season. He’s fully healthy and was named to the Mackey Award preseason watchlist. Plus, chemistry is essential when trying to connect for the easy points.
Purdue’s Payne Durham led all B1G tight ends in scores last year with 8. Expect to hear “McNamara to All for the score” often this fall, especially when Iowa is in the red zone.
3. Luke Lachey wins Mackey Award
Nebraska has corn, Wisconsin has cheese and Iowa has tight ends. No matter what the social media wiz kids think with their graphics, the Hawkeyes still demand respect as “TEU,” and Lachey is next in line to become a household name.
Replacing Sam LaPorta isn’t a breeze, but the 6-6 target looked capable of matching that production late in the year with his 89-yard performance against Nebraska in the season finale. Lachey has the size to block in the run game, is a mismatch nightmare as a receiver and will physically dismantle you in the open field for hard yards.
He’s not George Kittle 2.0, but he’s what the committee looks for in a Mackey winner. Iowa has one heck of a tight end room.
4. Iowa’s offensive line allows fewer than 20 sacks
Petras was a problem. So was the play-calling. Iowa’s offensive line, known to regularly punch out NFL talent, looked bleak last season, allowing 38 sacks, the most for the unit since 2007. Maybe the 3rd season under position coach George Barnett will be the charm.
It’s a more seasoned unit this go-around. Iowa added in 5th-year transfers Rusty Feth (Miami, Ohio) and Daijon Parker (Saginaw Valley State). Logan Jones is a year older at center. So are Beau Stephens and Gennings Dunker at guard. Left tackle Mason Richman is fully healthy, and Barnett feels good about the depth.
Fully healthy, fully loaded, and full of potential. The Hawkeyes should expect to cut the sacks allowed total in half.
5. Secondary tops B1G in pass coverage
Outside of Michigan, is there a better secondary in the B1G? Cooper DeJean is a human chess piece who lines up wherever and makes plays. Quinn Schulte looked much improved this spring in coverage and continues to be an enforcer in the open field.
Iowa’s most significant question mark — Xavier Nwankpa as Kaevon Merriweather’s replacement — seems to be a moot point after Nwankpa’s success in spring practice. And while Riley Moss is now in the pros, Jermari Harris returns from a season-ending injury. In 2021, he was tied for the most interceptions by a B1G cornerback with 4.
A dearth of scoring could be on tap again this year, but at least on one side of the ball, that’s a positive.
6. Iowa upsets Wisconsin in Camp Randall
Both teams have new quarterbacks. Both were aggressive in the transfer portal. Despite losing DC Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin still has a top-10 defense in college football.
So why will Iowa pull off the road upset? Chemistry. New Badgers OC Phil Longo is bound to have a game where the Badgers stumble with their Air Raid attack. Last season, projected Wisconsin starter Tanner Mordecai had 3 multi-interception performances. DeJean will be flying all over the field to take away completions, and the run defense held Braelon Allen and company to 1.6 yards per play a year ago.
This feels like a toss-up on paper, and it’s easier to trust the Badgers based on who is calling their offense. But an unexpected turn of events will unfold on Oct. 14.
7. PJ Fleck finally defeats Iowa
Does anyone believe this is the year PJ Fleck will “row the boat” to Indy? I’m not sure, but he’s going to at least make Golden Gophers history by finally defeating Kirk Ferentz.
Minnesota hasn’t defeated Iowa for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy since 2014. Last season should have been the year where it all clicked, especially since Fleck’s offense outgained the Hawkeyes by 119 yards and dominated the time of possession by 11 minutes. Maybe the offensive metrics improve for Iowa with McNamara calling the shots, but it won’t matter.
Fleck wants this win more than the Pac-12 wants a redo at conference realignment.
8. Cooper DeJean wins Jim Thorpe Award
What can’t DeJean do? Seriously, go look back at the last 2 years’ worth of highlights. It’s no wonder why he’s a favorite to take home the highest honor a defensive back can achieve.
DeJean lines up everywhere. He’s not a corner or safety, but rather a matchup mismatch who is asked to cover the opponent’s top weapon. Last season, the junior totaled 8 pass breakups and 5 interceptions, returning 3 for TDs. Expect double the amount of PBUs and a few more picks.
9. Iowa will average more than 25 points per game
The offensive line appears to be revived after a lackluster 2022 season. McNamara consistently can make plays in the passing game. There are weapons both on the outside and at tight end, so really, what’s the excuse?
Everything is adding up for Brian Ferentz to keep his job. I’m not going to say that every game will end with 25 points coming from the offense, but there should be a few 30 burgers against teams like Western Michigan, Rutgers and Utah State. Let’s meet in the middle and say the Hawkeyes average 27.5 points per game, shall we?
10. Iowa nabs 3 ranked wins, finishes 10-2
I already said that Iowa gets an upset over Wisconsin, so claim that as the first. While losing to Minnesota will hurt, there will still be opportunities for resume boosters before the season’s end.
Maybe Nebraska puts it together under Matt Rhule and enters November as a top-25 roster? Illinois has the talent to finish ranked for the 1st time since 2007. And Penn State is ushering in new quarterback Drew Allar, so the Hawkeyes could take advantage of the young gun. The Hawkeyes play Western Michigan the week before their showdown in State College, while Penn State takes on the fighting Bret Bielemas.
Overall, losses come to Minnesota and Penn State. Wins come every other week. The tiebreaker win against the Badgers sends Iowa to Lucas Oli Stadium for the 3rd time since 2015.
Who would have imagined that after AD Gary Barta announced Brian Ferentz would return in 2023?