Iowa Hawkeyes named one of USA TODAY Sports’ surprise College Football Playoff contenders

The TCU Horned Frogs did it last season, so who is to say that there isn’t another surprise contender in our midst? With how quickly college football programs can now infuse talent to their rosters via the transfer portal and the help of NIL, the playing field is seeming to find itself a bit more level lately.

The Iowa Hawkeyes have joined the party in that regard as they have dug into the transfer portal this offseason and added what appears to be instant talent. Headlined by Michigan transfer quarterback Cade McNamara, the Hawkeyes get an instant upgrade at the most important position on the field. If McNamara can be serviceable, Iowa inserts itself into the Big Ten West conversation and the Big Ten title talk as well.

On defense, Iowa added Nick Jackson from Virginia who brings experience and talent to help plug the holes left by Jack Campbell and Seth Benson departing. The Hawkeye secondary will do what Iowa does in forcing turnovers and making life hard on opposing quarterbacks. Led by Cooper DeJean and Xavier Nwankpa, the back end is set to be a strong point for this team that they can lean on.

Lastly, if there is one thing that the Hawkeyes do well, it is to play strong special teams. They pin teams deep and rarely allow the big, momentum-changing play to occur. Headlined by preseason All-American punter Tory Taylor, this unit is coached extraordinarily well and can influence games.

Putting all three together is a recipe that is much easier said than done. That said, if the Hawkeyes can get things clicking, they have the ingredients to be a surprise College Football Playoff contender as USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg discussed.

Let’s take a look at what Myerberg had to say about Iowa and why he likes the Hawkeyes’ chances below.

The defense

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The secondary will be strong. They have talent and experience. The question mark for Iowa is if they can slow down opponents’ running games and force them into throwing the ball. Iowa’s biggest task at hand on this side of the ball is their front seven.

Despite all the question marks around Iowa’s offense — all very timely after an absolutely putrid season on that side of the ball — a bigger factor might be the state of an historically strong defense that loses potentially irreplaceable starters such as linebacker Jack Campbell, lineman Lukas Van Ness and cornerback Riley Moss. That several returning underclassmen keyed the shutout of Kentucky in the Music City Bowl partially eases these fears; even if not among the best in program history, the Hawkeyes’ defense should stick near the top of the Big Ten and FBS. – Myerberg, USA TODAY

The offense

Syndication: HawkCentral

You know it. I know it. Your grandmother knows it. America knows it. The Hawkeyes have to figure out how to get productivity from the quarterback position. The ground game should fair fine with Kaleb Johnson returning to expand on his strong freshman season behind an offensive line that hopes to take necessary steps forward. The passing game is what will determine this offense’s success.

On offense, Iowa will land noticeably stronger quarterback play from Michigan transfer Cade McNamara, who led the Wolverines to a conference championship and playoff berth in 2021 before losing a competition for the starting job to J.J. McCarthy last September. Another Michigan transfer, tight end Erick All, earned all-conference honors in 2021 and will step in for former starter Sam La Porta.  – Myerberg, USA TODAY

Key transfer additions

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

  • Cade McNamara, QB

  • Erick All, TE

  • Seth Anderson, WR

  • Rusty Feth, OL

  • Nick Jackson, LB

Iowa's ESPN FPI breakdown

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Iowa’s FPI: 7.3

Hawkeyes’ rank nationally: No. 37

Other key FPI notes

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Projected wins-losses: 7.4-4.8

6 wins %: 89.5%

Win division: 20.1%

Win Big Ten: 1.6%

Where that ranks in the Big Ten

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a look at the rest of the Big Ten’s FPI numbers and national ranking per ESPN:

Iowa Hawkeyes 2023 schedule

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

  • Sept. 2, versus Utah State

  • Sept. 9, at Iowa State

  • Sept. 16, versus Western Michigan

  • Sept. 23, at Penn State

  • Oct. 21, versus Minnesota

  • Oct. 28, OPEN date

  • Nov. 11, versus Rutgers

  • Nov. 18, versus Illinois

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Story originally appeared on Hawkeyes Wire