It’s been a whirlwind few days for the Big Ten Conference and the 2020 football season.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Big Ten fall football season is officially postponed, with hope of games in the spring. That leaves a sliver of hope for Iowa Hawkeyes football fans and Iowa sports bettors to still see action within the academic year.
Big Ten presidents decide to stop fall football
Already having canceled any nonconference contests for its programs, the Big Ten released a 10-game conference schedule last week.
However, Monday saw everything change.
Rumors of the Big Ten canceling the 2020 football season started on The Dan Patrick Show. The longtime radio host and former ESPN broadcaster stated that 12 of the 14 Big Ten presidents voted against having a fall college football season.
The two reported schools that voted for the season were Iowa and Nebraska.
In a followup, the Detroit Free Press quoted a high-ranking Big Ten source who said, “It’s done” when referring to a 2020 fall season.
Following the reports, Big Ten coaches began to respond and urge for the season to take place.
Jim Harbaugh, the coach of Michigan, was the first to release a statement. Many others followed, including Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
Ferentz spoke to his team on Monday and stated his desire to coach this fall, according to the Quad-City Times.
“It hasn’t been easy. It’s tough, especially when you don’t know what’s in front of you and that’s kind of still where we’re at. One thing is really clear: The players want to play. You guys all want to play and I know, as a coaching staff, we want to coach you.”
Dan Wetzel, a reporter at Yahoo! Sports, reported Tuesday afternoon that the Big Ten canceled fall sports with the Pac-12 looking to follow suit. The Big Ten made it official moments later.
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement:
“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes have been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward. As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”
Oddsmakers listed Iowa as a long shot in Big Ten
Prior to Monday’s reports of potential cancellation of college football around the nation, odds were available for Big Ten teams to win the 2020 conference title.
According to oddsmakers at William Hill Sportsbook, Iowa was a bit of a long shot to win the title. The Hawkeyes were listed with +2,500 odds to take the crown in 2020.
Ohio State was the clear favorite at -270, while Penn State was listed at +600. Michigan (+650), Wisconsin (+750) and Nebraska (+2,000) were other conference teams listed ahead of Iowa.
Big Ten college football being postponed takes away a Hawkeyes sports betting option for football fans in the state.
Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission Administrator Brian Ohorilko said:
“I have spoken to a few sportsbook operators already, and it seems like many are disappointed for their customers and fans but respect the decisions made. Wagering on football is popular; however, it is a small segment of the overall gambling revenues received by an individual casino.”
Ohio State has won the last three Big Ten championship games. Since the conference title game began in 2011, the Buckeyes have won four times, more than any other program.
Iowa reached the title game in 2015, losing to Michigan State by a score of 16-13.
Hawkeyes hope to build off another strong defense
Ferentz entered 2020 in his 22nd season as head coach of Iowa. He is 162-104 at Iowa. The Hawkeyes were 10-3 in 2019, with a 6-3 Big Ten record.
Iowa was coming into the fall having reached a bowl game in seven consecutive seasons.
Like most years, the defense was the strength of Iowa football in 2019. The Hawkeyes allowed just 14 points and 308.2 yards per game last fall. The scoring defense ranked second in the conference behind Ohio State.
The Hawkeyes lose some key pieces, as leading tackler Kristian Welch (87), leading pass rusher AJ Epenesa (11.5 sacks), and leading defensive back Michael Ojemudia (three INTs) are now all in the NFL.
Junior Jack Koerner is back to lead the defense. He was second on the team in tackles (81) last fall, breaking up five passes. Koerner suffered a watercraft accident this summer but has rejoined the team in recent weeks.
Sophomore Joe Evans is hoping for a breakout season after picking up four sacks as a freshman. Chauncey Golston and Daviyon Nixon return in the middle of the line to keep Iowa strong up front.
Questions remain about Iowa’s scoring ability
Offensively in 2019, Iowa wasn’t terribly explosive. The Hawkeyes ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten in scoring (25.8 ppg) and total offense (366.5 ypg).
Settling for field goals was a problem. Iowa had 33 touchdowns on offense in 2019, while making 34 field goal attempts.
The challenges of improving the offense fall on a new quarterback. Nate Stanley started the last three seasons under center before moving on to the NFL. The offense has been handed over to Spencer Petras.
The redshirt sophomore has just 11 pass attempts in his college career and didn’t get a spring season to prepare as starting quarterback.
The good news for Petras is Iowa returns its top four receivers from 2019. Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Tyrone Tracy Jr., Brandon Smith and Nico Ragaini combined for 163 receptions for 2,189 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The backfield returns a pair of backs as well. Tyler Goodson led Iowa in rushing as a freshman with 638 yards and five touchdowns. Mekhi Sargent took a slight step back last season with 563 yards and four scores. However, he still can be a productive option for Iowa.
Up front, Iowa landed a big transfer at tackle for 2020, bringing in Indiana’s Coy Cronk. Cronk started 40 games at left tackle for the Hoosiers. He suffered a season-ending injury last season, but appears ready to start at right tackle for the Hawkeyes whenever football returns.
At left tackle, Alaric Jackson returns for his senior season. Jackson was Second Team All-Big Ten and started 10 games.