Iowa football: 10 burning questions as the Hawkeyes enter the offseason
Iowa ended an up-and-down 2022 season with a 21-0 shutout of Kentucky in the Music City Bowl. Both teams were depleted with opt-outs — especially on offense — and the Hawks’ defense put the clamps down on the Cats.
It was a nice end to a season that saw the Hawkeyes offense struggle. Finding ways to move the football and put up points was problematic for OC Brian Ferentz. His status will be one of the major talking points in the offseason.
Meanwhile Kirk Ferentz, the dean of B1G coaches, won his 9th bowl game, tying him with legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno for the most bowl wins ever by a coach in the conference.
Let’s take a look at 10 key questions facing the Hawkeyes entering the offseason.
1. Can Cade McNamara turn the offense around?
The Michigan transfer looks to be the heir apparent at QB. And why wouldn’t he? McNamara started 15 games in Ann Arbor and led the Wolverines to a win over Ohio State and a berth in the College Football Playoff in 2021. His experience and ability to win on the big stage will be a welcome addition.
McNamara will be tasked with turning around an offense that finished last in the B1G in yards per game at 255. The Hawkeyes scored just over 17 points per game and on 6 occasions scored 14 or less.
With McNamara the Hawkeyes are upgrading the QB position from Spencer Petras. Just how much of an upgrade for the offense overall remains to be seen.
2. Will Brian Ferentz still be in charge of the offense?
Iowa AD Gary Barta knows the Hawks’ offense isn’t up to par. What, if anything, will be done about it is anyone’s guess.
Barta is Brian Ferentz’s direct supervisor because of nepotism laws in Iowa. Barta said he, along with Kirk Ferentz, will evaluate the job Brian did with the offense and go from there. Kirk Ferentz and the AD live by the same philosophy: “Observe daily, evaluate annually.”
Fans will be tuned in daily to see which direction the offense will go in 2023, and whether Brian Ferentz is calling the shots. Kirk Ferentz has been reluctant to make staff changes in the past, and with regards to his son, one can imagine a change is unlikely.
3. What will Cooper DeJean do for an encore?
DeJean finished with 3 pick-6s this year on defense. That’s more TDs than all of Iowa’s wide receivers combined to catch in 2023. Hard to believe.
DeJean’s 14-yard INT return for a score put the Hawks’ up 21-0 in the Music City Bowl. He had a key pick-6 in a 24-10 win over Wisconsin in November. The sophomore standout led the defense’s back end. With another year of offseason development, who knows what heights DeJean will climb in 2023.
4. How much longer will Kirk Ferentz coach?
Yes, coaches these days coach well into their 70s (see Nick Saban). Ferentz is 67 and still looks to be going strong. But how much longer will he keep at it?
Next year will be his 25th as the head coach and 34th overall at Iowa. He signed an extension through 2029 back in 2021 and is making a boat load of cash. It’s obvious he enjoys what he’s doing, but is the game passing him by? Can he make upgrades to the offense to get the Hawks competitive with the big boys in the East?
With the portal and the craziness of the game these days, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ferentz on the last legs of his coaching career. Next year is a big one in Iowa City, for sure.
5. Who will replace Jack Campbell?
Campbell was a 1-man wrecking crew at linebacker. The 2022 Butkus winner finished with 128 tackles, including 5.5 TFLs. He was the 1st ever Hawkeye to win the Butkus. He anchored a unit that finished 4th nationally in total defense and 6th in scoring defense.
His production will be missed. Jay Higgins, a talented backup from Indianapolis, could be ready to step into the void left by Campbell. The Hawkeyes also signed 4-star Ben Kueter in December.
6. Can Tory Taylor improve on his All-America season?
Taylor announced shortly after the Music City Bowl he’d be returning for 1 more season to punt for the Hawkeyes. Six of Taylor’s 8 punts were inside the 15-yard line against Kentucky. He averaged 45.4 yards per punt in 2022.
Special teams coordinator LeVar Woods calls Taylor “the best punter in the country.” Taylor won B1G Special Teams Player of the Week twice during the season.
7. Will Charleston Southern transfer Seth Anderson bolster the WR room?
Anderson put up stellar numbers in 2022, catching 42 balls for 612 yards for the Buccaneers. The son of former NFL star Flipper Anderson, he hopes to provide the Hawks’ offense with some added big-play ability.
“I see myself as a wideout that can run after the catch and also go deep as a threat,” Anderson said previously.
Anderson, along with Nico Ragaini and Diante Vines, should provide McNamara decent options in the passing game.
8. Is Xavier Nwankpa poised for a breakout 2023 season?
Nwankpa made his presence felt alongside DeJean in the Music City Bowl. The true freshman returned an INT 52 yards for a score in his 1st career start at strong safety. He has all the tools and intangibles to be the next great Hawkeyes’ defender.
The 5-star recruit was the first true freshman to start on defense since Campbell and Dane Belton did it in 2019. He finished with 8 tackles against the Wildcats.
9. Will Luke Lachey continue the run of elite tight end play?
Sam LaPorta finished his Iowa career with 153 catches and 1,786 yards, ranking 1st in career receptions at the school for tight ends. Impressive numbers for a school that boasts guys like Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson.
Lachey looks poised to step right in and keep the tradition going. The sophomore scored the only offensive TD in the Music City Bowl on a 15-yard catch. It was Lachey’s 4th TD of the season.
The 6-6, 252-pounder from Columbus, Ohio, has all the physical tools to play at an elite level. And if he can stay healthy, he’ll likely be the target of a good number of McNamara passes in 2023.
10. Can Phil Parker’s defense keep up its elite play?
There’s no question Parker is one of the top defensive minds in the country. His defenses perform at a high level year in and out. His 2022 unit was one of his best. Finishing 4th in total defense and 6th in scoring defense, the Hawkeyes defense was solely responsible for keeping Iowa in most of its games.
Yes, replacing Campbell and his 128 tackles won’t be easy. But Parker’s system is a proven commodity. Guys fill in year after year with minimal drop off. Nwankpa is just 1 example of a defender waiting his turn, then once on the field, making plays to show they belong.
As long as Parker is patrolling the sideline in charge of the defense, the unit is certain to be not only one of the best in the B1G, but the country.