The Hawkeyes rank No. 44 in Athlon’s Top 130 for 2017
Iowa won eight games last season, but got blown out by Florida in the Outback Bowl and struggled in general to move the ball and put points on the scoreboard. Head coach Kirk Ferentz overhauled his coaching staff in the offseason, turning the offense over to his son, Brian, who has a 1,000-yard rusher returning and a veteran offensive line, but will be breaking in a new starting quarterback. The defense is anchored by one of the nation’s best linebackers, but will need new playmakers to emerge up front and in the secondary. Between the coaching changes and unknowns throughout the roster, the Hawkeyes probably won’t be much of a threat in the Big Ten West this season.
Previewing Iowa Football’s Offense for 2017
Change was the theme on offense during the offseason. Iowa has a new offensive coordinator with Brian Ferentz replacing Greg Davis, who retired from coaching shortly after last season. Brian Ferentz is the 34-year-old son of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and a former Hawkeye offensive lineman.
There is hope that Brian Ferentz will install an offense that tries to attack more downfield compared to Davis’ preference to use shorter routes.
Iowa also has a new quarterbacks coach in Ken O’Keefe and will have a new starting quarterback with the C.J. Beathard era now over. The competition between sophomore Nathan Stanley and junior Tyler Wiegers was unsettled after spring practice.
Receiver is a major concern. Senior receiver Matt VandeBerg missed all of spring practice after reinjuring the same foot that caused him to miss the final nine games last season. His availability will be crucial as Iowa breaks in a new quarterback. The team’s second-most experienced receiver, junior Jerminic Smith, was suspended from spring practice because of academic shortcomings and left the team in early May.
What hasn’t changed much is the strength up front. Iowa returns five starters from a unit that won the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s top offensive line last season.
Senior running back Akrum Wadley also returns after rushing for 1,081 yards (on a 6.4-yard average) last season.
Previewing Iowa Football’s Defense for 2017
But on the flipside, Iowa has to replace three starters in the secondary, including 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner Desmond King, and All-Big Ten defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, who was a disruptive force last season.
Sophomore cornerback Manny Rugamba showed star potential while starting three games last season. He had an interception in the second half against Michigan that helped to secure the 14–13 upset.
Senior Nathan Bazata also returns at defensive tackle, where he has started in each of the past two seasons. Bazata isn’t quite as dynamic as Johnson, but he’s effective when healthy, especially against the run.
Previewing Iowa Football’s Specialists for 2017
Keith Duncan will forever hold a special place in the history of Iowa football thanks to his game-winning field as time expired against Michigan. The biggest concern with Duncan at this stage is his range. He made his only field goal attempt from beyond 40 yards last season as Iowa usually opted to punt or use backup kicker Miguel Recinos on long field goals. Sophomore Colten Rastetter is the leading candidate to take over at punter.
There is lot to be encouraged about on both offense and defense, but for every strength, there seems to be a matching weakness. Iowa is loaded on the offensive line and also has a star running back in Wadley. But there is little proven depth at receiver, and none of the quarterbacks has started a game. Combine that with having to replace three starters in the secondary, along with the starting punter, and much of the team is unproven at this point.
The schedule also could be tricky as Iowa hosts a respectable Wyoming team in the season opener before facing Iowa State in Ames. Ohio State also returns to the schedule for the first time since 2013.
A winning record coupled with yet another bowl game appearance seems within reach. But Iowa has too many uncertainties at this stage to be considered a contender in the Big Ten West Division.