Heading into last season, it was pretty easy to make the case that Kirk Ferentz needed to go as head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Heck, I made that case three years earlier. Their season last year showed us how hard it is to know just what is going on in college football - which is what makes the sport great.
After averaging just fewer than seven wins per game over the last seven seasons, and looking totally outclassed and hopelessly old fashioned, the Hawkeyes stunned everyone last year by winning all 12 regular-season games, narrowly losing the conference championship, and representing the conference in the Rose Bowl. The dream died a horrible death in that Rose Bowl when they were thoroughly humiliated by Stanford, but it was still a very impressive season.
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For his efforts, Ferentz earned a trophy case full of regional and national coaching awards and made it clear that it was too soon to put him out to pasture just yet. Now, though, that's the past. What matters for bettors is whether the team can come close to replicating that miracle season or if it back to the decidedly underwhelming team that we have seen in Iowa too long.
Key Additions and Departures
Coming off an unbeaten regular season, you might have expected more attrition than there was. The Hawkeyes had just one player drafted this year - center Austin Blythe went just five picks from the end of the draft. That's good news - the losses they have suffered aren't the kind that are tough to come back from. On offense they return QB C.J. Beathard, three of the top running backs from last year's crucially-important running game, three offensive linemen, and their top senior receiver and tight end. In other words, they have many of the pieces they need, and they can likely replace what they have lost relatively smoothly from their depth.
On defense the team got a huge break when All-American corner Desmond King skipped the draft to return for his senior season. He is one of eight starters returning on a defense that again has a chance to be more than solid. They got a bad break when star defensive end Drew Ott did not receive the medical redshirt many thought he would and his eligibility expired. They have to replace him, one linebacker and one safety. It's an enviable position for the team to be in.
On both sides of the ball the team is well positioned to field a team about as good as last year's. Whether that team can have similar success to last year is the bigger question.
Iowa Hawkeyes Schedule Analysis
As is common in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes get their nonconference schedule totally finished with before conference play starts. The first two shouldn't be too tough - Miami (Ohio) and Iowa State. But then they have a doozy - North Dakota State. The Bisons have won five straight FCS National Championships and have beaten their last six FBS opponents. QB Carson Wentz is in the NFL now, but this program was about much more than Wentz and will be very dangerous.
Conference play could be worse for the Hawkeyes. They don't have to play Ohio State, and they get to host Michigan. Four of their five road games are about as easy as road games can be, too - Rutgers, Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois. It could be good or bad news depending on how things go that the schedule definitely gets tougher as the season progresses. Their last five games include home games against Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska, and a trip to Penn State. If they can find their game over the first two months then they could be in good shape for that stretch. Early struggles could lead to a disastrous finish, though.
2016-17 Iowa Betting Odds and Trends
Bovada has Iowa at +6600 to win the national title, which puts them in a group with several teams, including Houston and Louisville, as the 23rd choice. They are tied with Nebraska as the fourth choice to win the Big Ten at +900, but far behind co-favorites Michigan and Ohio State at +175. Because the divisions are so ridiculously unbalanced in the Big Ten, though, they are favored to win the West division at even money, ahead of Nebraska at +200.
This team won 12 games last year but did not win a lot for bettors - their 7-6-1 ATS record was essentially good for a break-even performance over the season. They were solidly better on totals, with the "over" registering a 8-5-1 record on the season.
2016-17 Iowa Predictions and College Football Picks
When I look at the schedule I see seven games they are absolutely going to win. There are four more that they can win if they can replicate their play of last year. The only one I don't give them much of a chance in is their home game against Michigan - the Wolverines should be able to do everything Iowa does well, only better and with more talented players. Double-digit wins is definitely in reach for this team, and 11 wins is a good target. That would likely win them their division - and the privilege of getting beaten in the Big Ten Championship Game again.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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