After the Big Ten has been left out of the College Football Playoff each of the past two seasons, a handful of programs in the conference are looking to end the playoff drought. The Iowa Hawkeyes came close to making an appearance in the College Football Playoff in 2015 before seeing their undefeated regular season end in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Can Kirk Ferentz find a way to get his 2019 Hawkeyes into the playoff field for the first time in school history? Doing so will be difficult with a challenging schedule that sees many of the toughest games being played on the road. But who is to say Iowa can’t turn a couple of heads and create their own magical run?
Three Reasons Why Iowa Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. The Big Ten West is there for the taking
The first step to a potential spot in the College Football Playoff comes with reaching the Big Ten Championship Game. And a path to Indianapolis is sitting right there for Iowa. The division is fairly wide open this season but every team in the mix for the Big Ten West has questions.
Minnesota has returning starters but is still young and growing. Purdue and Wisconsin replace a lot of players. Nebraska is still working their way up. Iowa may have a few starters to replace but the Hawkeyes have some key ingredients to rely on and look to be the most well-rounded team in the division.
2. A.J. Apenesa could be Big Ten's top defensive lineman
The Big Ten has some really good defensive linemen this fall, and that includes Epenesa. The junior led the conference with 10.5 sacks last season and looks to be among the leaders once again this fall. And the more opposing offensive lines have to focus on Epenesa, the more opportunities could be opened up for teammate Chauncey Golston on the other end.
3. Nate Stanley delivers after halftime
Iowa has the luxury of having their quarterback situation in firm shape going into the 2019 season with Nate Stanley back for his senior season. Of all the current quarterbacks in the Big Ten that played last season, nobody threw more touchdowns (11) in the second half of games than Stanley.
Stanley was second in the Big Ten in touchdown passes in the red zone in 2018 with 19 (Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins had 24), and he was intercepted just once inside the 20-yard line all season. If nothing else, Stanley will provide a steady arm in crunch time situations for the Hawkeyes.
Three Reasons Why Iowa Will Not Make the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. How do you replace two NFL tight ends?
Having Stanley at quarterback is a nice luxury to have, but Iowa's offense will still need to find him a reliable option at tight end this year. After losing T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant to the NFL, there is a big void to fill at the tight end position for the Hawkeyes.
Nate Wieting has very little experience and he's the most experienced option to start the season. That doesn't mean Iowa won't figure it out, but those are mighty big shoes to fill on the depth chart.
2. Can Iowa win a close game?
Before capping the regular season with a 31-28 victory over Nebraska, Iowa was on the wrong end of each game decided by a single score last season, going 0-3 heading into the final stretch of the year. That was poor timing for Iowa as the division slipped through their fingers in the process, and it will be an area Iowa will likely have to turn in their favor this season.
3. The schedule throws Iowa few favors
Any year that has a wide-open race is a season you want to have your biggest game sat home. That may not be the case for Iowa as far as division play is concerned. Iowa will have to play road games at Northwestern (Oct. 26). Wisconsin (Nov. 9), and Nebraska (Nov. 29).
Iowa also draws a road game at Michigan and a home game against Penn State in back-to-back weeks to start October, which will be no easy task. On top of all of that, Iowa also travels to in-state rival Iowa State, with the Cyclones always ready to put up a good fight.
And, of course, getting to the playoff likely means Iowa will have to beat Michigan (again?) or Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Iowa fans may not be intimidated by the Buckeyes considering how the last encounter went down, but the Buckeyes and Wolverines are top favorites in the division for a reason.
It is going to take a lot of things to go right for Iowa to make a run to the College Football Playoff. Anything short of a Big Ten championship and a record of 12-1 at the end of the year most likely will not be good enough to get Iowa to receive an invite from the selection committee, and that resume may not be a guarantee to get in anyway.
It would help Iowa's cause to score a win at Michigan, as the Wolverines could very well be a top-10 team when Iowa travels to Ann Arbor. Going 2-0 against Michigan and Penn State would be even better. And getting a chance to crack the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game would ultimately be the best scenario in play for Iowa unless you want to be greedy and project Iowa State winning the Big 12 (and losing to Iowa in Week 3) while we are at it. But it also would help if other teams in the division can make some nice impressions and draw some respect form the selection committee. The biggest problem may be the division is at risk of picking itself apart and hold everyone back in the rankings.
Iowa in the College Football Playoff? It’s a pretty solid reach in 2019.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 18
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 9-3
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 7.5
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 7.5
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.