Following a season that saw the Iowa football team make a surprise entrance into the Big Ten title game, hopes are high for the Hawkeyes to take a chance at a repeat appearance. The first step is Iowa spring practices.
Iowa returns 17 starters — including seven from its highly-touted defense — off a squad that reached double-digit wins for the second time in three years. The path back to the Big Ten Championship, however, toughens considerably this year.
The Hawkeyes get national title contenders Ohio State and Michigan during the regular season. Add that to the normal gauntlet of rivalry games against Iowa State and the usual suspects in the Big Ten West. Iowa gets:
- Ohio State on the road
- Michigan at home and
- three of their trophy games at home, including against the Cyclones. Iowa has won six straight in the series over Iowa State.
Staff changes ahead of Iowa spring practices
Among several shifts among its staff, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz now will coach the quarterbacks. He succeeds longtime Hawkeye staffer Ken O’Keefe.
Abdul Hodge, a Hawkeye legend at linebacker, will now coach the tight ends. Brian Ferentz has never been a quarterback position coach. At a media availability last week, coach Kirk Ferentz was asked a slew of questions on the topic.
“There are things that are specific to that position. But it’s also learnable,” he told reporters during a media availability on March 23. “I certainly didn’t play the offensive line. I’m not saying I wasn’t a great line coach but I got by for a while. You learn things, you study things. You visit with people who really are experts. And that’s how you learn. That’s how you grow.”
Iowa also added Jon Budmayr to its football staff, a former quarterback at Wisconsin who was on Paul Chryst’s staff from 2018-20 and was the offensive coordinator at Colorado State last year. The Badgers made it to the Rose Bowl during his second year on staff.
Iowa does have question marks surrounding its quarterback position again this year, with Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla both seeing significant reps last season. Both quarterbacks played in the Big Ten Championship and Petras was listed at the top of the first depth chart released by the school last week.
Still, it seems to be an open competition as Iowa spring practices continue.
“Everybody’s competing right now. And on one hand, (Petras has) an edge or things he does better than Alex,” Ferentz told reporters. “But I can flip it around saying there’s things that Alex can do a bit better too. We’ll ride it out, see where it all goes. But we’ll get it figured out.”
Iowa’s offensive line, oddly, was also a weakness for the team last year. And, there will continue to be questions along the line, especially with losing first-team All-American center Tyler Linderbaum. He’s a likely top-10 pick in this year’s NFL draft.
Defensively and on special teams, the Hawkeyes should again have the talent to be among the best units in the country. Iowa’s starting defensive line is wholly upperclassmen. Plus, it returns key pieces of its secondary, including safety Riley Moss and Kaevon Merriweather.
Highly-touted five-star defensive back recruit Xavier Nwankpa is a major addition to the defense.
Iowa led the country in interceptions last year and finished No. 13 in total offense allowed. That consistency helped keep them in games, even as the Hawkeye offensive unit struggled to put together drives.
Iowa enters the season at +10000 to win the national title at most major betting sites. That’s tied for the fifth-best odds among Big Ten teams with Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan State.
FanDuel is a little less bullish on the Hawkeyes, however, with their national title moneyline odds at +20000 for Iowa to win a national title. Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin are all ahead of the Hawkeyes with the Buckeyes, at +500, the favorite from the conference.
If Iowa figures out its quarterback position and is able to replace the rushing production from Tyler Goodson, Iowa can make some noise at the national level. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker will have his side of the ball playing well. That should give the Hawkeyes a chance in most games.
With Wisconsin and Nebraska both playing in Iowa City, the path to a Western Division crown and a berth in the title game might be possible, even with a tougher crossover schedule.
The Hawkeyes began their spring schedule on March 23. It will end it on April 23 with a spring practice open to the public at Kinnick Stadium.