Iowa turned plenty of heads last year en route to 12 wins and an undefeated Big Ten regular season record. If it wasn’t for an incredible drive by Michigan State in the title Game, the Hawkeyes could’ve been in the College Football Playoff. Instead, they were blown out in the Rose Bowl by Stanford. The Hawkeyes once again have a friendly Schedule and that should help them in reaching another West title.
One player that helps immensely is quarterback C.J. Beathard after taking over as last season with 23 total touchdowns and just five interceptions. He battled injuries in the spring and needs to be healthy for Iowa to reach its potential, especially with backup being a concern. On the receiving end the Hawkeyes still need to find a receiver that can blow by secondaries, but at the least Matt VandeBerg (65 receptions, 703 yards) returns after leading the way last year. Jerminic Smith and Jay SCheel are next in line to take a step at receiver. And then tight end George Kittle (six TDs) is still there as well.
On a positive note, Iowa’s offensive line looks set with plenty of returnees and should have decent depth as well. Much like last year, the Hawkeyes will rely heavily on the ground Game behind LeShun Daniels Jr. (646 yards, 8 TDs) and Akrum Wadley (496 yards, 7 TDs). The main goal for those guys will be to stay healthy after dealing with injuries in 2015.
Defensively, it’s hard to see Iowa being as good with a few big names gone from the roster, most notably end Drew Ott. At the least, the Hawkeyes are set in the middle of the line with Nathan Bazata and Jaleel Jonson, to go with Josey Jewell and an improved Aaron Mends at linebacker. The secondary remains a question at a couple spots, but cornerback Desmond King is still there and that should be enough to make this a decent group again. Maybe they won’t reach last year’s levels, but Iowa still has the pieces to control weaker offenses in the conference.
That comes into play again as the Hawkeyes have another extremely favorable Schedule. They don’t really have any true tests in non-Conference play, especially with NDSU breaking in a new quarterback early in the year. And from there, their opening Big Ten Game comes at Rutgers. In fact, their entire road Schedule is mostly favorable with Games at Minnesota and Penn State being their toughest tests. Sure, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska will all be difficult opponents, but those teams all come to Iowa City.
As long as Beathard is healthy, the Big Ten West is Iowa’s for the taking. If they don’t win it, it would be considered a disappointment by the Hawkeye faithful.
2016 Iowa Hawkeyes Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Miami (OH)
Sept 10 vs. Iowa State
Sept. 17 vs. North Dakota State
Sept. 24 at Rutgers
Oct 1 vs. Northwestern
Oct. 8 at Minnesota
Oct. 15 at Purdue
Oct. 22 vs. Wisconsin
Nov. 5 at Penn State
Nov. 12 vs. Michigan
Nov. 19 at Illinois
Nov. 25 vs. Nebraska