Nobody wanted to play the Iowa Hawkeyes at the end of last year's college football season. After dropping its first two games, Iowa ripped off six straight wins before their final two games were canceled.
Beating Big Ten foes Penn State and Wisconsin by 20+ points gives the Hawkeyes optimism that the program can reach even greater heights in 2021. Head coach Kirk Ferentz returns seven starters on both sides of the ball, including a second-year starter at quarterback in Spencer Petras.
The engine of Hawkeyes offense is Tyler Goodson. The first-team All-Big Ten running back racked up 762 yards in eight games last season. His 5.3 yards per rush was a driving force behind Iowa's eighth-ranked red-zone conversion rate. Goodson's explosive play potential keeps defenses honest, but it's up to Petras' passing game to take Iowa to the next level.
Last season, Petras' inconsistency haunted the Hawkeyes offense. A full offseason and experience will help position Petras to have more success complementing a strong rushing attack. Iowa's offense was 77th in explosive plays and losing their top two receivers will require some new faces to exceed expectations. Petras will have TE Sam LaPorta and a solid tight end group as reliable options.
Iowa's defense will be a force with strength at all three levels. Returning production includes both starting linebackers and all four starters from the secondary. Phil Steele ranks the Hawkeyes defensive backs as ninth-best in the nation, led by safety Jack Koerner.
There aren't many unknowns surrounding Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes heading into the season. They will run at you with Goodson, play nasty on defense and are consistently solid on special teams. How big of a step Petras can make will be the determining factor in whether they are an 8- or 10-win team.
Can Iowa get to 9 wins in a much improved Big Ten?
The Iowa Hawkeyes' win total is set at 8.5 with the odds shaded toward the under (-115). The schedule doesn't show too much resistance in getting to the eight-win mark, but that doesn't mean we should rush to the window to bet the over.
Iowa opens the season at home against an Indiana team that finished the season ranked No. 11 overall. You can bet the Hawkeyes as 3.5 point favorites or -165 on the money line. Considering they travel to Iowa State for a rivalry game the following week, Iowa can't afford a loss to Indiana. An 0-2 start would be extremely challenging to battle back from for the second consecutive season. Penn State and Wisconsin are two teams on the schedule with revenge motivation that I have rated over Iowa. Considering both of those and a possible loss to Iowa State, the margin for error to go over the 8.5 wins is very thin.
The Hawkeyes are 21-2 straight-up over the past three years as a favorite, making it reasonable they will handle the soft spots of the schedule unscathed. I still have Iowa projected as an eight-win team so I am in agreement with the market that the under is the side. Your level of comfort on the win total most likely hinges on whether you see Week 1 as a win against Indiana. I would be more inclined to take the Iowa moneyline at -165 considering they are 13-1 straight-up as home favorites. If you like the Hawkeyes to prevail over the Hoosiers, the odds on over 8.5 wins are at an attractive -105.