I’m not really sure how this tradition started.
I don’t even remember what year it began, but for probably close to a decade now, I’ve published by fearless forecast for the upcoming Iowa football season.
I think it really began simply because I was getting anxious about the start of the college football season and it happened to be right around July 4th, so at that moment what turned out to be a tradition was born.
Now, it’s fair to say that my predictions have been wildly inaccurate at times. The misses have been far more frequent than the hits. The last two years are a classic example of misses. In 2015, I had Iowa at 7-5 overall and of course, the Hawkeyes went on to a historic 12-0 regular season. Last year, I thought they would continue their run and predicted 11-1 and Iowa went 8-4, winning their final three regular season games to get there.
Bottom line, don’t run to Las Vegas with these predictions. By the way, Vegas has Iowa’s win total in 2017 set at 6.5.
Obviously there are some significant question marks heading into the 2017 season for the Hawkeyes, starting with who will lead the team at quarterback. In the coming days and weeks, we will explore those questions.
It’s also fair to note that on the surface, the 2017 Hawkeyes also have a very solid core built around returning starters on the offensive and defensive line, Josey Jewell and two other returning starters at linebacker, and a dynamic running back in Akrum Wadley.
The schedule is also a little different this year and more challenging. Last year, many of the tougher games on paper were at Kinnick Stadium. This year, several of those games are on the road. Off the schedule this year are Rutgers and Michigan. Returning to the slate of games is a trip to Michigan State and hosting Ohio State, who most consider to be a top five team in the country.
So, here we go. This is the official fearless forecast for the 2017 Iowa football team.
SEPT 2nd – WYOMING – A year ago, head coach Craig Bohl was heading into a season on the hot seat. After a great run at North Dakota State, Bohl hadn’t had the level of success Cowboy fans had hoped he would. Thanks to finding a great quarterback in Josh Allen, his fortunes turned and Wyoming made it to a bowl game. Allen is generally considered to be a Top 5 NFL prospect, but he will be doing it this year without most of his top receivers and his best running back, who left early for the NFL. Wyoming is going to look a lot like NDSU, which beat Iowa in Kinnick last year. This will be a battle, but the Hawkeyes will prevail. IOWA 24 WYOMING 17. (1-0)
SEPT 9th - @IOWA STATE – Week two of the season brings the annual battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy. Second year Cyclone head coach Matt Campbell got a rough introduction to the rivalry last year with the Hawkeyes dominating the Cyclones, 42-3 in Kinnick Stadium. The rivalry seems to be heating up a little bit after Brian Ferentz tweaked the folks in Ames this spring with a few comments their direction. That sort of stuff is good for the rivalry and make no mistake, Campbell and his staff need to make a statement this year and nothing satisfies the ISU fanbase more than a win over Iowa. No matter what any Cyclone fan tell you, a win over Iowa makes their season. The Hawkeyes have had some up and down results in games played in Ames. I expect a very physical game and whoever starts at quarterback for Iowa will be making their first road start, which is a pretty significant concern. An upset here is certainly possible. I’m just not sure ISU has enough on the defensive side to stop Iowa’s run game. IOWA 31 ISU 28. (2-0)
SEPT 16th – NORTH TEXAS – The last time the Mean Green made their way to Iowa City, Dan McCarney was their head coach the Hawkeyes rolled to an easy win. This time around, McCarney is gone and North Texas will present a tougher test. You might also expect a little bit of a letdown from the Hawkeyes after a rivalry game. Iowa will start slow and then grind this one out on the ground behind the running of Akrum Wadley. IOWA 42 NORTH TEXAS 21. (3-0)
SEPT 23rd – PENN STATE – Last year the Hawkeyes were flat out embarrassed in Happy Valley. Penn State beat Iowa 41-14, but it felt like 141-14. Yep, it was that bad. The Nittany Lion offense went through the Iowa defense like a hot knife through butter and the Hawkeye offense struggled all game long. Penn State is going to be really good again this year. They have some significant losses at wide receiver, but they return a mad bomber at quarterback in Trace McSorley, a stud running back in Saquon Barkley, and a lot of other talented starters. We have seen this story before, bad loss the previous year and now at home the Hawkeyes rise up. We have seen the story of Iowa beating Penn State with a late field goal before as well. I think we see it again, maybe under the lights at Kinnick Stadium. IOWA 23 PENN STATE 20. (4-0, 1-0)
SEPT 30th - @MICHIGAN STATE – Sparty is a bit of a mess right now. After a great run under Mark Dantonio, Michigan State fell back in the pack last year. Having said that, no one saw a 3-9 season coming in East Lansing. The off-season has been filled with off the field issues and the dismissal of several players. Hard to believe given his success, but Dantonio’s seat might be getting warm. I don’t expect a full rebound for Sparty this year. I do expect a heck of a slobberknocker type game because that’s been the way this series has been for years. I could see a bit of a letdown here by Iowa as well. MICHIGAN STATE 14 IOWA 10. (4-1, 1-1)
OCTOBER 7th – ILLINOIS – It’s year two of the Lovie Smith era at Illinois and I’m kind of feeling that it will look a lot like year one. The build in Champaign for Smith is going to be a slow one and my sense is after this year he starts to feel some heat on his seat. With a bye week coming up for the Hawkeyes, this is an empty the tank type game for homecoming in Iowa City. Last year it was an ugly day in Champaign thanks to gusty winds and two offense that were struggling at the time. I still think Illinois is going to struggle, but Iowa will show signs of life. IOWA 30 ILLINOIS 13. (5-1, 2-1)
OCTOBER 21st - @NORTHWESTERN – After a week off the Hawkeyes start the tough second half of their 2017 schedule with a trip to Evanston. We all know Coach Fitz hates the Hawks, so this game always matters quite a bit to him. The Wildcats have probably the top QB/RB duo in the Big Ten West heading into the season in Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson. I’m not a huge Thorson fan, but he’s a solid option under center. Northwestern’s my sleeper in the Big Ten West this year with a pretty favorable schedule. Last year they shocked the Hawkeyes in Kinnick. This year, I think they will be too much once again. NORTHWESTERN 28 IOWA 24. (5-2, 2-2)
OCTOBER 28th – MINNESOTA – It’s been kind of fun to poke at P.J. Fleck since he took over the Gophers program. I’ve seen my fair share of high energy coaches with catchy slogans come and go and the Minnesota boat rower in the latest in that line. To Fleck’s credit, he accomplished quite a bit at Western Michigan and he’s a better coach than a lot of the other guys who simply sold a lot of hot air. I think this building job at Minnesota isn’t set up to do well in his first year. Lot of question marks on both sides of the ball. IOWA 21 MINNESOTA 13 (6-2, 3-2)
NOVEMBER 4th – Ohio State – Yes, Iowa does still play Ohio State every once in a while. The Buckeyes will travel to Iowa City and my sense is there’s a decent chance this one kicks off under the lights. You know what happens in November night games at Kinnick, right? It seems like every year Urban Meyer loses a dozen guys early to the NFL and he simply reloads. Guess what? They are loaded again and have the best QB in the Big Ten in J.T Barrett, who I think is going to make a run into the Heisman conversation. Tempted to pick the upset here, but I just think Ohio State’s talent and style of play will be took much for the Hawkeyes. OHIO STATE 24 IOWA 14 (6-3, 3-3)
NOVEMBER 11th - @Wisconsin – This is just such a strange series. It’s a great series and every game is always interesting and entertaining in its own special way. The road team has won six straight in this series. Iowa has won three straight in Madison and four of the last five there. The most recent being the epic 10-6 win in 2015. There’s been some changes at Wisconsin in terms of coaches and personnel, but they just seem to be able to plug and play every year. It will be physical. It will be low scoring. It will be a street fight and the Badgers do what they didn’t do last time Iowa traveled to Madison and finish this one off. WISCONSIN 13 IOWA 10 (6-4, 3-4)
NOVEMBER 18th – PURDUE – The reset button was once again hit at Purdue with the hiring of Jeff Brohm as the new head coach. He’s an offensive guy with a good quarterback this year in David Blough. What they lack is solid offensive line and playmakers on defense. Basically, they are going to probably have to outscore opposing teams this year. It will be senior day in Iowa City and I just can’t see Josey Jewell going out with a loss. Could be tight early and then Iowa pulls away in the second half. IOWA 30 PURDUE 17 (7-4, 4-4)
NOVEMBER 24th - @NEBRASKA – It’s the annual Black Friday game, this time in Lincoln. The Huskers really dominated the series early on when they moved to the Big Ten, but since 2013, Iowa has won three of the last four, with the only loss being in overtime in a game the Hawkeyes gave away. Iowa has won the last two trips to Lincoln, so they should have plenty of confidence in their ability to win there. Iowa has figured out how to beat Nebraska. They just play their physical style and The Huskers haven’t been able to match it. Same story this year. IOWA 24 NEBRASKA 20 (8-4, 5-4)
The 8-4 overall record and 5-4 in the conference will put Iowa in good shape on the bowl front. I think Iowa could get as high as 9 wins if everything goes well and my 8 win prediction is certainly on the optimistic side given the question marks that they have heading into the season. If you are looking for a floor for this season, I think it’s probably 4 or 5 wins if it goes poorly.
Remember, the Big Ten bowl selection process rotates around quite a bit, so if you have gone to a destination already in recent years, you probably aren’t going back in this contract cycle. I’ve seen a few magazines suggesting Iowa to the Outback or Tax Slayer Bowl games. That’s not happening because of the bowl contracts.
What I think this will mean is Iowa is headed to California, probably San Diego, for the Holiday Bowl. The Hawkeyes went there on a regular basis under Hayden Fry and haven’t been back since. The Holiday Bowl has been itching to get the Hawkeyes again, so perhaps this is the year. And it’s going to be very important for Iowa to play better in their bowl game after five straight poor performances. If the season doesn’t play out as I’ve predicted and it’s more of a 7-5 or 6-6 year, then I’d say the Foster Farms Bowl in San Francisco is a good possibility.
BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR THE 2017 SEASON
1. Nathan Stanley will win the starting quarterback job in camp and Peyton Mansell pushes for the backup job in August.
2. Akrum Wadley will rush for over 1,000 yards and catch passes for another 400 yards. He’s had injury issues every year and this year will again be a challenge on that front.
3. Matt VandeBerg will stay healthy and lead Iowa in receiving with 65 receptions. Nick Easley ends up as the second best wide receiver this year.
4. Noah Fant leads Iowa in touchdown receptions with 6 TD grabs.
5. By the time we reach the middle of the season, A.J. Epenesa is starting at defensive end.
6. Josey Jewell is a first team All American and leads the Big Ten in tackles.
7. Sean Welsh earns second team All American honors in his senior year.
8. As we saw in the spring game, Jake Gervase has a nose for the ball and leads Iowa in interceptions with five.
9. Eight true freshmen play this year for the Hawkeyes, most being at wide receiver and defensive back.
10. After toying with the idea of Akrum Wadley returning kicks in camp, Kirk Ferentz decides to have Matt VandeBerg take both jobs.