Wikipedia describes the well-known series of British children's books entitled Where's Waldo? as consisting of “illustrations depicting dozens or more people doing a variety of amusing things at a given location while onlookers are challenged to find a character named Wally hidden in the group.”
For Iowa football fans, the last few seasons in Iowa City have held some remarkable similarities to the books referenced above: just short of a dozen players on the field at any given time doing something amusing, without a clear idea of where you look for the consistency – Iowa's stand-in for Waldo – necessary to win.
But alas, fans weren't the only ones who took note of the problems involved in finding Waldo in 2016. Which is why, during the offseason, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz took the extreme, but necessary, step of purging his offensive staff in a shakeup the likes of which hadn't been seen in Iowa City since, arguably, the spring of 1999 when Ferentz took the reins of a program in decline and turned it once again into a winner.
What that means to Hawkeye fans and foes alike is unclear. A couple of the “Ferentz Four” – his newest assistants – are fresh faces. While two of them, new offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and quarterbacks coach Ken O'Keefe, are all too familiar to Hawkeye faithful.
Can the Hawkeyes find Waldo and a consistent winning formula in 2017? Athlon Sports polled a few writers to get their take on Iowa’s realistic 2017 win/loss projection.
Iowa Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2017
Robert A. Boleyn (@BoleynRobert)
The Hawkeyes kick off the 2017 slate with a surprisingly strong Wyoming squad that ought to get their full attention, as well as that of the national media, real fast. Then there’s a road trip to in-state rival Iowa State that might be surprisingly close, and Iowa finishes out non-conference slate with a matchup against North Texas that should provide the perfect opportunity for the new-look offense to demonstrate the elusive “explosiveness” fans crave.
Up next is Penn State, the defending Big Ten champion and a team that doesn’t look like it has any intention of taking its foot off of the pedal this season either. It’s a tough conference opener or the Hawkeyes, even at home.
From there, the schedule opens up a little more, although a trip to East Lansing to face Michigan State is hard to gauge given the Spartans’ collapse last season. Iowa’s late October visit to Northwestern also could end up being a pivotal game in the Big Ten West race.
The Hawkeyes are traditionally nearly unbeatable in November. But they haven't seen a late-season schedule this grueling in years. It starts with Ohio State's visit to Kinnick Stadium, followed by a trip to Madison to face division favorite Wisconsin, then a potential trap game with Purdue, and finishing with the traditional Thanksgiving weekend rivalry game with Nebraska. So just as it should be, the true test for this Iowa team won't be how it starts 2017, but how it ends it.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Not much separates Northwestern, Iowa and Nebraska in the Big Ten West Division. However, the Hawkeyes might have the toughest path to No. 2 in the West behind Wisconsin. Iowa has road tests at Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern and Michigan State. Additionally, an away game against an improving (and rival) Iowa State isn’t going to be easy. The Hawkeyes should have a strong ground game behind running backs Akrum Wadley and James Butler, and five returning starters anchor one of the nation’s top offensive lines. The defense will be solid with seven returning starters, but standout cornerback Desmond King will be missed. Identifying a quarterback and finding playmakers at receiver is the biggest question mark for coach Kirk Ferentz this fall. With a tough schedule and quarterback concerns, Iowa won’t match last year’s 6-3 mark in league play.
Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna)
That non-conference schedule leaves a lot to be desired. In this rare case, that's excusable, as Iowa has a, shall we say, unfortunate draw when it comes to crossover opponents in the Big Ten. From the East, the Hawkeyes get the reigning league champ (Penn State), the league's reigning College Football Playoff participant (Ohio State) and a 2015 playoff participant (Michigan State) -- and something tells us Sparty will be just a tad bit better than last year's underwhelming 3-9 team. On top of that, Iowa has to travel to Wisconsin and Nebraska this year. Kirk Ferentz's gang has a habit of rising to the occasion in certain instances when the odds are against it (ask PSU or Michigan), but the Hawkeyes will need to do that many, many times over in 2017 if they're looking to make a run at a West division title.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
It seems like a yearly occurrence that Kirk Ferentz guides Iowa to a solid but unspectacular season that leaves Hawkeyes fans wondering “what if?” a half-dozen times a year. That will probably be the case once again in 2017 as this year's squad appears to be a rebuilding mode and even -- gasp! -- has the potential of finishing under .500 if it doesn't win a few toss-up matchups. Iowa has two very good RBs, a quality offensive line and will probably be solid on the defensive side of the ball. But there doesn't seem to be much explosiveness on the roster at all and the Hawkeyes’ schedule does not set up well for breaking out of the mediocre rut this season.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
Looking over the Iowa football schedule, it appears there a number of games that should be considered toss-ups. With a good number of starters back on both sides of the football, Iowa should be able to avoid an early upset against Wyoming, but Big Ten play could be trouble this season for the Hawkeyes. Getting to a bowl game will not be a given for Iowa this season, and I wouldn’t go forward with a tremendous amount of confidence in suggesting the Hawkeyes wind up in the postseason.