Iowa will look to build off last season’s momentum when it enters the 2021 campaign. The Hawkeyes closed the 2020 season on a 6-game winning streak but will have to replace many key contributors.

Offensively, Iowa is losing offensive linemen Alaric Jackson and Cole Banwart, wide receivers Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, running back Mekhi Sargent and tight end Shaun Beyer. Iowa ranked second in the B1G in points per game (31.8), sixth in rushing yards per game (171.0), eighth in total yards per game (368.6) and 11th in passing yards per game (197.6).

On the other side, Iowa is losing defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon, defensive lineman Chauncey Golston, linebacker Nick Niemann, defensive back Julius Brents, linebacker Djimon Colbert, linebacker Barrington Wade, and graduate transfers Jack Heflin and Coy Cronk.

Defensively, Iowa ranked second in total yards per game (313.8), third in points per game (16.0), third in rushing yards per game (107.6) and fifth in passing yards per game (206.1) in the B1G.

Here’s the projected 2021 starting lineup:


QB: Spencer Petras
RB: Tyler Goodson
WR1: Nico Ragaini
WR2: Tyrone Tracy
WR3: Charlie Jones
LT: Mark Kallenberger
LG: Cody Ince
C: Tyler Linderbaum
RG: Kyler Schott
RT: Jack Plumb
TE: Sam LaPorta

The skinny: The key offensive returners for Iowa are Petras, Goodson, and Linderbaum.

Petras had many mediocre performances in his first season as the starting quarterback. However, Petras finally started to showcase his potential with 431 passing yards and 5 touchdowns in the last two games, against Illinois and Wisconsin.

Petras will have to once again earn his position by competing against Alex Padilla and Deuce Hogan as the biggest battle on offense will be the quarterback competition. Petras has a season of experience under his belt and displayed encouraging signs to elicit hope he can be Iowa’s long-term answer, but Padilla and Hogan are both intriguing options who will push the incumbent.

Goodson earned first-team All-B1G honors during a season in which he had 4 games of at least 100 rushing yards. In total, Goodson amassed 762 yards and 7 touchdowns. Goodson enters 2021 as one of the most explosive running backs in the B1G.

Linderbaum was selected as an unanimous All-American. Linderbaum played an integral role in Iowa’s potent rushing attack and is arguably Iowa’s best player.

The biggest holes to fill will be left tackle and wide receiver. Jackson was an unanimous All-American at left tackle and made 42 starts during his four seasons at Iowa. Smith-Marsette was Iowa’s receiving leader in yards and touchdowns last season. Smith finished last season third in yards and second in touchdowns among Iowa receivers.

A key newcomer to the starting lineup will be Jones. Jones provided an excellent spark for Iowa as a punt returner, leading the B1G in yards per return. Jones flashed his potential at wide receiver last training camp with many acrobatic receptions. The Iowa offense will be even more dynamic by carving out a role for Jones.


RDE: Zach VanValkenburg
LDE: Joe Evans
RT: Logan Lee
LT:  Noah Shannon
CASH: Dane Belton
MLB: Jack Campbell
WLB: Seth Benson
RCB: Riley Moss
LCB: Matt Hankins
SS: Kaevon Merriweather
FS: Jack Koerner

The skinny: The key defensive returners for Iowa are Benson, Koerner, VanValkenburg and Moss.

In a breakthrough campaign, Benson finished last season second on Iowa in tackles. Benson, who also added 2 sacks, figures to be a dynamic presence at linebacker.

Koerner overcame a watercraft accident in the summer to capture second-team All-B1G honors. At free safety, Koerner totaled a team-high 3 interceptions and was tied for third on Iowa in tackles.

VanValkenburg also earned a selection to the All-B1G second team as a right defensive end. The opportunistic VanValkenburg’s 4 fumble recoveries tied for the most in the nation.

Moss collected 2 interceptions, including a 53-yard pick-six, last season. Moss has the speed, tackling ability and coverage skills to be one of the top cornerbacks in the conference next season.

The biggest holes to fill will be the left side of the line. Evans and Shannon will have some big shoes to fill.

Nixon was sensational at left tackle, en route to capturing B1G Defensive Player of the Year. Nixon collected 5.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, a pick-six, and a forced fumble to earn first-team AP All-America honors.

Meanwhile, Golston earned All-B1G first-team honors for tallying 5.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. The decorated Detroit native totaled 130 tackles, 12 sacks and 3 interceptions during his Iowa career.

Evans and Shannon are the key newcomers to the starting lineup. Evans brings energy and a dynamic motor to the left defensive end position. Shannon already has some experience as a backup at left tackle, so the transition shouldn’t be too arduous.

The biggest battle will be at left tackle. The aforementioned Shannon will be challenged by underclassmen Yahya Black, Logan Jones and Isaiah Bruce. Shoring up the left tackle position will be important in order for Iowa to remain stout defensively.

Final thought

It’s still really early but overall Iowa’s projected starting lineup looks capable of contending for the B1G West. The offense should be more explosive and the defense has the capability to once again be stingy if the replacements can fulfill their roles.

The passing offense should be more steady in Year 2 if Petras emerges stronger after the quarterback battle and with the insertion of the spark plug Jones. With Linderbaum carving out lanes, look out for Goodson to potentially reach 1,000+ yards and 10+ touchdowns on the ground.

Iowa could be even better next season at linebacker with Belton, Campbell and Benson. The talented trio is also joined by intriguing outside linebacker Jestin Jacobs.

With all its starters back, the secondary touts a ton of experience and should wreak aerial damage on opposing offenses.

It’ll be challenging to replace Nixon and Golston, and there could be a decline in production on the left side of the line. However, the return of VanValkenburg on the right side is a major boost to the Iowa defense.

If Iowa plays to its potential, this is a top 10 team in the nation that could be a dark horse for the College Football Playoff with the right breaks.