Typically after a long summer of writing opponent previews, I usually had a little bit of fun with the final one. Whether it was the Big XII or Big Ten, the season ended with a neighboring team wearing black, yellow and delusions of their status in college football.
But then the Mike Riley era came and flipped that notion on it’s head. Since Riley’s arrival in Lincoln, Nebraska is UH-OH and SEVEN against those black and yellow teams that I scoffed at. Sure, Scott Frost has narrowed the gap the last couple of years, but even though the combined margins of defeat is just 14 points against those teams, Nebraska’s 0-4 record against Colorado and Iowa the last two seasons reinforces just how far Nebraska has slipped.
That being said, while Nebraska was self-destructing the football program the last five years, Iowa football has been on the rise, winning 47 games the last five seasons. And while Nebraska has sat at home for the holidays, Iowa has won three straight bowl games. And at first glance, Iowa seems like a fairly safe bet to make it to their seventh straight bowl game (COVID-19 permitting) this season.
On offense, the Hawkeyes have seven returning starters from last season and added a graduate transfer offensive lineman from Indiana who had started every game in his career until an ankle injury sidelined him. Coy Cronk (6’5” 315 lbs.) should be a capable replacement for All-American Tristan Wirfs, a first round draft pick by Tampa Bay, at right tackle. He’ll match up with senior left tackle Alaric Jackson (6’6” 320 lbs.), who’s also a three-year starter. Also returning are sophomore center Tyler Linderbaum (6’3” 288 lbs.), who started every game in 2019, and junior right guard Kyler Schott (6’2” 290 lbs.)
In past years, I’ve been guilty of underestimating the ease that Iowa would have in replacing a starting quarterback with a backup with little to no playing time. Nate Stanley only threw nine passes as a freshman backup before becoming a three year starter and seventh round draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings. Jake Rudock never even took a snap his first two seasons with the Hawkeyes before being named the starter in 2013. So even though sophomore Spencer Petras (6’5” 231 lbs.) has only thrown 11 passes so far for Iowa, the Hawkeyes’ track record indicates Petras likely will be just fine. Of course, if Petras didn’t get many snaps last season, nobody else did either. That means that Petras will be backed up by someone with no experience, such as redshirt freshman Alex Padilla (6’1” 193 lbs.) or mobile true freshman Deuce Hogan (6’4” 200 lbs.)
One reason why Petras should be just fine at quarterback is that Iowa’s top seven receivers from last season all return, led by seniors Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6’1” 186 lbs.) and Brandon Smith (6’2” 219 lbs.) along with sophomore Tyrone Tracy (5’11” 203 lbs.). Smith-Marsette and Tracy are the speed-burners; last season, Smith-Marsette scored five touchdowns receiving, three rushing and two more on kickoff returns. (As Husker fans may painfully remember.) A name to keep an eye on is junior Charlie Jones (6’0” 192 lbs.), a transfer from Buffalo who’s caught the eye of the coaches and has been receiving significant snaps with the first team in preseason practices.
Iowa returns their top two running backs in sophomore Tyler Goodson (5’10” 200 lbs.) and senior Mekhi Sargent (5’9” 212 lbs.). Goodson rushed for 638 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 4.8 yards per carry while Sargent rushed for 563 yards and four scores with a 4.7 yards per carry average. A disturbing trend continued last season as for the third straight season, Iowa’s leading running back had his biggest game of the season against the Huskers. Two years ago, it was Sargent rushing for 173 yards; last season, it was Goodson’s 116 yards.
On defense, Iowa has been solid in recent years but now has to replace many of the key pieces of last year’s group. Up front, Iowa has to replace three of four starters, including third team All-American defensive end AJ Epenesa, Buffalo’s second round draft selection. Only senior end Chauncey Golston (6’5” 272 lbs.) returns after a 47 tackle season in 2019. Northern Illinois grad transfer Jack Heflin (6’4” 319 lbs.) should help at defensive tackle; Heflin was third team All-MAC as a sophomore and second team last season.
At linebacker, junior Djimon Colbert (6’1” 235 lbs.) is a two year starter who had 61 tackles last season; he’ll slide over into the middle linebacker role. Senior Nick Niemann (6’4” 235 lbs.) has been a spot starter throughout his career and should get the nod at the weakside linebacker spot. Last season, Iowa finally transitioned to a 4-2-5 defense with a nickel back. Sophomore Dane Belton (6’1” 200 lbs.) emerged at that position last season with 33 tackles.
Iowa’s secondary has to replace two NFL draft picks this season, but does return junior free safety Jack Koerner (6’0” 208 lbs.), who is the leading returning tackler from last season with 81. Senior cornerback Matt Hankins (6’0” 190 lbs.) has started 20 games in his career; last year, Hankins intercepted two passes and was fifth on the team with 58 tackles.
Any other year, Iowa would probably be considered the primary challenger to Wisconsin’s dominance in the Big Ten’s West division. But this summer, Iowa football has been rocked by racial discrimination complaints. Black former players have alleged that Kirk and Brian Ferentz, along with former strength coach Chris Doyle, harassed and discriminated players. This week, eight former players demanded that the Ferentzes and athletic director Gary Barta be terminated for their actions. When these allegations first surfaced in June, Ferentz seemed shocked and while he’s promised to change, those promises haven’t been enough for some of his former players. The big question that remains to be answered is how the current players will react to this? Could this be Kirk Ferentz’s final season at Iowa?
What happens on Black Friday?
This poll is closed
Iowa bloodies up the Huskers once again. Sigh.
Another rerun as Iowa kicks Husker fans below the belt yet again as time expires.
This time, it’s Husker fans smiling on Black Friday.
Enough is enough! Nebraska blows out Iowa on the newly retitled Blackshirt Friday.