The Iowa Hawkeyes start the season off at number 24 in the Franchise Top 25 countdown.
Last season, Iowa finished 25th in the final AP Poll after a 9-4 season. With all four losses coming in conference play, the Hawkeyes failed to represent the Big 10 West in the conference title game.
The hallmarks of Hawkeye football are quickly becoming offensive line play and athletic monsters at the tight end position, and last season was no different.
A pair of Iowa tight ends were taken in the first round of the NFL draft in T. J. Hockenson and Noah Fant.
Replacing those two playmakers on offense, but the Hawkeyes return their starting quarterback Nathan Stanley for his third season under center.
“Stanley has had 26 touchdowns in each of the last two years,” Scott Dochterman, who covers Iowa for The Athletic, told the MMM Ranch. “If he matches that he will be in the top 10 all time in Big 10 play, and he will be Iowa’s career leader, so he can make big plays.”
Mekhi Sargent also returns at running back for Kirk Ferentz’s team. After primarily utilizing the running back position by committee, Sargent emerged down the stretch as the primary playmaker for the Hawkeyes rushing attack, posting back to back 100-yard outings against Illinois and Nebraska.
Up front, the offensive line only returns the two tackles, but as a former NFL offensive line coach, the new pieces in the trenches should gel sooner rather than later.
The Franchise Top 25 rolls on with the number 24 team. https://t.co/Bx2Bz3nyTI
— The Franchise Sports (@FranchiseOK) July 23, 2019
The real question mark for Iowa will be the defensive side of the ball.
Only four starters from last season’s defense return to Iowa City this season, with all four starting defensive lineman departing from last season.
Defensive end AJ Epenesa returns however after earning first team all Big 10 honors last season.
“Epenesa led the Big 10 in sacks last year and he didn’t start,” Dochterman said. “He had a four year guy in front of him and so he rotated in and still had 10.5 sacks. He was probably the most ferocious pass rusher in the Big 10 last year.”
The linebacking core will be looked upon to help lead the inexperienced defense, as three players return with five or more starts under their belts.
Djimon Colbert returns as the fifth leading tackler last season, and will look to take a step up at linebacker in his sophomore campaign for the Hawkeyes.
Experience will also return at the back end of the defense, with junior corner Matt Hawkins leading the way. Hawkins made eight starts last season, and will be looked upon to help the defense along as an untested defensive line gains a foothold in the season.
Iowa’s schedule does them no favors this season.
In their crossover matchups from the Big 10 East, Iowa will matchup with Rutgers, Michigan and Penn State. The Hawkeyes will travel to Ann Arbor to square off with Michigan, before hosting Penn State in the ensuing week.
Ferentz’s team also must travel to Wisconsin and Nebraska late in the season, two teams many expect to rebound after poor showings last season.
Catch up on the rest of the Top 25: