Iowa’s football outlook for the 2016 season. The Hawkeyes might make America mad again, but Iowa fans certainly won’t mind.
Okay, Iowa, here’s the deal the college football world will make with you this season.
Everyone will continue to disrespect you, and in exchange, you don’t care and you have fun winning.
Considering the way the year ended by setting the standard for disastrous Rose Bowl performances in the 45-16 loss to Stanford, and with the relatively light and breezy schedule the team was able to face on the way to the 12-0 start, it just wasn’t that easy to believe it was all for real.
Yeah, beating Wisconsin in Madison was terrific, but the Badgers deserve about 94% of the credit for the Iowa win with dumb mistake after dumber mistake in a six turnover performance in the 10-6 loss. Winning ugly is still winning, but America was forgiven for not exactly buying in.
With no Michigan, Ohio State or Michigan State on the schedule, and the toughest non-conference game coming at home in a fight vs. Pitt, the prevailing belief was that Iowa’s happy fun time would be all over the moment it played a great team.
But Iowa turned out to almost have the last laugh.
Not even the wackiest of Hawkeye fans seemed to believe a national title was possible, but being just one drive, one stop against Michigan State away from 13-0, a Big Ten title, and a College Football Playoff spot did show that, yeah, the 2015 team really could play. Of course, there would’ve been holy hell waiting for the Hawkeyes in the Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama, but they wouldn’t have been more embarrassing than the Spartans were.
All that matters, though, is getting the shot. We’re not yet at the Anything Can Happen stage of the CFP world, but keep getting close, and one day it might really happen.
And that’s where Iowa has to be with its reality. It doesn’t have the talent of an Alabama, Ohio State, or any number of other teams, but the same rules apply for the Hawkeyes as they do for the biggest of big boys. Win your Power 5 conference title, do it with one loss or go unbeaten, and you’re a mortal lock to get in.
This year’s team might just be able to do that.
It’s hard to recreate the magic and be on the right side of almost every turnover battle and most close games, but the schedule is conducive to getting back to Indianapolis as long as the formula still works.
Run the ball well, control the clock, get great defense, dominate the mistake battle, come up with the one key drive needed at the right time. With Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska all coming to Iowa City, the Hawkeyes can absolutely do all those things and win all the key games in the West. And that’s the part that was blown off last season – they won all three of their biggest divisional games on the road.
Michigan has to come to Iowa, too, giving the program the chance at that one big national win to gain the street cred that wasn’t there last season. Throw in the road game at Penn State, and it makes up for the squishy-soft non-conference schedule – no, North Dakota State doesn’t count as a tough game for a team with CFP aspirations.
14 starters return headlined by QB C.J. Beathard on one side and CB Desmond King on the other for a team that’s not going to do anything too fancy. You know what’s coming, but does it matter?
The line play will be stellar on both sides. The D will be nasty against the run, and King and a strong secondary will keep the better passing games in check. The O will run the ball effectively and efficiently, Beathard will connect on just enough good throws add a little something extra to the mix, and the coaching will be as good and consistent as any in college football.
Will it all mean another 12-0 start? Probably not, but 11-1 would do, and with this team, this formula, this schedule and this coaching staff, that might be just good enough to get another shot at the stars.
Even if America doesn’t like it.