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Hawkeyes’ defense among top units poised to succeed for years to come

Sure, the 2024-25 college football season sees the Iowa Hawkeyes facing massive question marks on offense with a new offensive coordinator as they look to turn things around after a stretch of rough years.

One area that has answered the questions time and time again and looks formidable for this upcoming season is the defense led by Phil Parker. He has built them into a model of consistency.

Iowa’s defensive success, their returning players, their depth, and their recruiting has them as ESPN’s No. 2 ranked defense in the future power rankings through 2026.

Scouting the Hawkeyes: Since 2020, Iowa trails only Georgia in both fewest points allowed and defensive efficiency. Despite a historically bad offense the past few seasons, the Hawkeyes have reached two of the past three Big Ten title games behind superb defense and special teams. They have led the nation in fewest yards per play allowed in each of the past two seasons. Iowa also has reloaded well, overcoming the loss of two 2023 NFL first-round draft picks (Lukas Van Ness and Jack Campbell) to finish No. 4 nationally in points allowed last fall. Iowa again loses a projected first-round pick in cornerback Cooper DeJean and several other standouts, but brings back a nice core, especially at linebacker and in the back end. The Hawkeyes will have arguably the nation’s best linebacker tandem this fall in Jay Higgins, who had a team-record 171 tackles in 2023, as well as the prolific Nick Jackson, coming off of his fourth straight season of 100 or more tackles. – Adam Rittenberg, ESPN

Jay Higgins and Nick Jackson were handed heavy tasks to replace Jack Campbell and Seth Benson last year. They took that task and ran with it morphing themselves into tackling machines. They both had an opportunity to go to the NFL but have chosen to come back for one more run with the Hawkeyes.

Behind Higgins and Jackson is a highly-touted class of recruits eager to stamp their imprints on the Hawkeyes’ linebacker legacy.

Iowa will turn over the group in 2024 and needs its next linebacker lot, led by junior Jaden Harrell, to step up. Iowa also has recruited well at linebacker with Ben KueterPreston Ries and others. – Rittenberg, ESPN

The secondary under Parker has been incredible for the Hawkeyes as of lately making life hard on opposing quarterbacks. They return another batch of experienced defensive backs that should be able to pick up right where future first round pick Cooper DeJean is leaving off.

DeJean will be missed but Iowa’s secondary returns star power in safety Sebastian Castro (team-high 3 interceptions in 2023), senior cornerback Jermari Harris, junior safety Xavier Nwankpa and others. Iowa has four starters back in the secondary and Nwankpa and cornerback Deshaun Lee are among those who can return in 2025. – Rittenberg, ESPN

With the questions swirling around Iowa’s offensive attack this upcoming fall, the defense could once again be tasked with keeping the ship afloat as they get their bearings.

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Story originally appeared on Hawkeyes Wire