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Iowa could make another Big Ten title game run, but don't expect another 2015

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The Hawkeyes' 12-0 run was special, in every sense of the word. 2016 should be another strong season, though.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. That was fun

In 2013, we thought the end was nigh, and Kirk Ferentz responded by fielding a top-30 team. It's not inconceivable that the same thing could happen -- the passing game clicks, the run game isn't terrible, the run defense is stable, the pass defense improves.

-- 2015 Iowa preview

Iowa's 2015 is why most of us follow college football. From a pure numbers standpoint, most of us aren't Alabama fans or Ohio State fans or Florida State fans. In our lifetimes, we won't get many chances to partake in a national title race, but we like to believe that if we stick it out, if we just keep showing up, we might be blessed by a run like what Ferentz's Hawkeyes had last fall.

We might see our team pull away from its in-state rival with a perfect fourth quarter (Iowa 31, Iowa State 17). We might see them win with a 57-yard field goal at the buzzer (Iowa 27, Pitt 24). We might see them take on our division's heavyweight on the road and make stop after stop near their goal line (Iowa 10, Wisconsin 6). We might see them destroying another upstart rival on their home field (Iowa 40, Northwestern 10). We might see them survive a late-game shootout against another rival (Iowa 40, Minnesota 35).

We might see them finish the regular season 12-0.

We might see them take a fourth-quarter lead in the conference title game on a gorgeous bomb.

Iowa did all of those. Granted, the last 70 minutes or so (the last 10 of the Big Ten title game against Michigan State and all 60 against Stanford) didn't go well. But some great movies don't quite have the ending they deserve. And for most of us, it's not about the final destination so much as the moments along the way.

Now comes the awkward part. A magical run is, by definition, almost impossible to replicate. It uses up most of your dark arts quota. It also sets a bar that you probably can't clear.

My S&P+ rating is a jerk, really. It is, for better or worse, probably the least forgiving rating you can find when it comes to giving credit to a team for being one play better or one bounce luckier. That is by design. It had Iowa ranked well lower than any other computer ratings in the Massey Composite last year.

If you were deriving your ratings from play-by-play or drive-based numbers (and not simply "who did you play and who did you beat?"), you probably didn't have Iowa much higher. The Hawkeyes were ranked 33rd in ESPN's FPI, 34th in Ed Feng's The Power Rank34th in FEI35th at Tempo-Free Gridiron. But the Hawkeyes ended up 47th in S&P+. And while that's awfully low for a 12-win team, S&P+ had a pretty much perfect read on the Hawkeyes over the last half of the season, as did Vegas. At least, they did until the Rose Bowl, when the Hawkeyes dramatically underachieved.

With decent experience on both sides, Iowa is projected to improve off of last year's poor S&P+ rating. A top-40 rating would put the Hawkeyes right in the middle of another division title race, and getting Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Nebraska at home can only further that cause. They are projected as at least slight favorites in nine of 12 games and aren't a bigger than 7.7-point underdog in any game. They will have a chance in just about every game they play, and they could make this another fun season.

But last year was last year. Buy the DVD, keep those feelings under lock and key and never lose them. Just don't expect a repeat.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 12-2 | Adj. Record: 10-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 38 | Final S&P+ Rk: 47
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Illinois State N/A 31-14 W 93% 100% +2.4
12-Sep at Iowa State 79 31-17 W 71% 93% +9.8 +10.0
19-Sep Pittsburgh 46 27-24 W 69% 84% +3.2 -2.5
26-Sep North Texas 126 62-16 W 87% 100% +13.4 +21.5
3-Oct at Wisconsin 32 10-6 W 46% 25% +13.7 +11.0
10-Oct Illinois 65 29-20 W 75% 93% +7.4 -2.0
17-Oct at Northwestern 52 40-10 W 92% 100% +35.8 +27.5
31-Oct Maryland 76 31-15 W 78% 99% -5.6 -1.0
7-Nov at Indiana 61 35-27 W 62% 77% -2.4 +1.0
14-Nov Minnesota 55 40-35 W 32% 22% -7.1 -7.5
21-Nov Purdue 93 40-20 W 79% 99% +1.8 -2.0
27-Nov at Nebraska 36 28-20 W 70% 85% +7.3 +6.5
5-Dec vs. Michigan State 9 13-16 L 41% 26% +4.1 +0.5
1-Jan vs. Stanford 6 16-45 L 3% 0% -22.9 -22.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 30.3 56 23.0 32
Points Per Game 30.9 54 20.4 19

2. Rolling 6s

Advanced stats are pretty good at telling you the likelihood of what you just saw. Sometimes that's interpreted as numbers (and the nerds that created them) telling you that you didn't deserve a win. Iowa completely deserved the 12-0 start; it's just that the Hawkeyes probably wouldn't have been able to do it twice.

There is a one-in-36 chance of rolling two sixes with a pair of dice. That equals about a 2.8 percent chance of rolling 12 in any given roll. Looking at the win expectancies above -- which looks at the key stats from a game and declares that you would have won that game about X percent of the time -- Iowa had about a 2.6 percent chance of surviving its 12 games unbeaten.

So basically, Iowa rolled a 12 in 2015. In the Strat-O-Matic game of life, the Hawkeyes hit a home run. (And hey, technically you can roll two 12s in a row.)

Randomness or not, the Hawkeyes found one hell of a rhythm in the first half of the season.

  • First 7 games:
    Record: 7-0 | Average percentile performance: 76% (~top 30) | Average performance vs. S&P+ projection: +12.2 PPG | Yards per play: Iowa 6.0, Opp 4.4 (+1.6)
  • Last 7 games:
    Record: 5-2 | Average percentile performance: 52% (~top 60) | Average performance vs. S&P+ projection: -3.5 PPG | Yards per play: Opp 5.5, Iowa 4.9 (-0.6)

The product regressed, but power to Iowa for raising its game just enough. When the defense suffered a letdown against Minnesota, the offense picked up the slack. When the offense went cold against Maryland (4.3 yards per play), the defense made the Terps even colder (4.2). This delicate balance lasted right up until Michigan State's 22-play all-timer of a drive in the fourth quarter of the Big Ten title game.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.27 60 IsoPPP+ 104.9 50
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.5% 59 Succ. Rt. + 105.7 51
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 27.3 16 Def. FP+ 27.0 19
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.8 36 Redzone S&P+ 109.2 39
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.0 ACTUAL 16 -1.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 72 51 51 50
RUSHING 49 54 36 55
PASSING 89 47 66 42
Standard Downs 80 78 75
Passing Downs 19 19 21
Q1 Rk 76 1st Down Rk 66
Q2 Rk 28 2nd Down Rk 54
Q3 Rk 103 3rd Down Rk 45
Q4 Rk 25

3. Waiting your turn

In 2014, Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis found themselves in an awkward spot. A key tenet of Ferentz Ball has always been to choose mistake avoidance over all else. If you've got a senior who knows what to do and a sophomore with twice the upside and mistake potential, play the senior.

That meant playing Jake Rudock over C.J. Beathard at quarterback and giving senior running back Mark Weisman 213 carries while explosive backups Jordan Canzeri and Akrum Wadley got only 135. Kevonte Martin-Manley got 89 targets and averaged 5.9 yards per target while sophomore Matt VandeBerg (25 targets, 10.2 yards per target) waited his turn.

There is order to this approach, and it brings proof that if you work hard and do what the coaches are telling you, you'll eventually get your turn. It also limits your offensive upside. Mistakes can hurt; so can going three-and-out a lot.

Those sophomores, however, become upperclassmen. As long as they don't leave before they reach the front of the line (and many do), they will get their shot. With Beathard throwing primarily to VandeBerg in 2015, Iowa improved from 61st to 47th in Passing S&P+. With Canzeri and Wadley combining for 266 carries and LeShun Daniels Jr. pitching in 145, the Hawkeyes improved from a dreadful 109th in Rushing S&P+ to a far more palatable 54th.

Granted, there are still some kinks in the hierarchy. Daniels, a 2015 junior, got more carries than sophomores Wadley or Derrick Mitchell Jr. despite drastically lower efficiency and explosiveness numbers and might again this fall. Meanwhile, with four of last year's top five receiving targets gone, Iowa might be forced to actually lean on a sophomore or two in the passing game. (It's either that or start a senior walk-on, which ... well ... you probably can't put that past Ferentz and Davis.)

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
C.J. Beathard 6'2, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8359 223 362 2809 17 5 61.6% 28 7.2% 6.7
Tyler Wiegers 6'4, 225 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8727 3 4 32 0 0 75.0%
Drew Cook 6'5, 220 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8313
Nathan Stanley 6'5, 212 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8670

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Jordan Canzeri RB 183 984 12 5.4 6.5 34.4% 3 2
LeShun Daniels, Jr. RB 6'0, 225 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8093 145 646 8 4.5 5.1 29.0% 1 0
Akrum Wadley RB 5'11, 191 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683 83 496 7 6.0 6.7 38.6% 1 1
C.J. Beathard QB 6'2, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8359 72 448 6 6.2 5.9 45.8% 6 3
Derrick Mitchell, Jr. RB 6'1, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8398 26 162 2 6.2 7.6 42.3% 1 1
Drake Kulick FB 6'1, 236 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR
Marcel Joly RB 5'11, 195 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8315
Toks Akinribade RB 6'0, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8599







4. The tweaks worked

One of the things Iowa was particularly good at in 2015 was adjusting. The gameplan itself was rarely successful -- the Hawkeyes ranked 76th in Q1 S&P+ and, after getting a chance to reassess at halftime, 103rd in Q3. But they were 28th in Q2 and 25th in Q4. Davis' ability to identify what was and wasn't working and adjust on the fly made a significant difference for the Iowa attack.

So what's most likely to work in 2016?

  • Running back depth. Iowa has options in the backfield, and Davis, who seems perfectly willing to run the ball a ton if he's got the horses, will likely be able to do so. Granted, Wadley's proven more over two years (and 44 fewer carries) than Daniels has and probably deserves more of the carries; meanwhile, Mitchell was fantastic in limited opportunities. Of course, they'll all get carries, and that they come in different shapes and sizes can only help.
  • Tight end play. Losing Henry Krieger Coble after a breakout year isn't a good thing, but George Kittle could be ready for a star turn. Of the 799 FBS players targeted at least 20 times in 2015, he was the only one with a success rate of at least 65 percent, a catch rate of at least 80 percent, and a per-catch average of more than 14 yards. More targets will tamp down those averages a bit, but the upside is immense. And one just assumes that backups like Jon Wisnieski will do well if called upon. This is Iowa, after all.

The biggest concern comes at receiver. Iowa's passing numbers improved with VandeBerg as a No. 1 target, but his numbers regressed considerably. Instead of Tevaun Smith serving as his No. 2, now it's going to be either a little-used youngster like sophomores Jerminic Smith and Adrian Falconer (or junior Jonathan Parker) or a walk-on like Riley McCarron. Smith averaged 23.5 yards per catch but caught only six of 19 balls; meanwhile, "senior walk-on" doesn't exactly scream "upside!"

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Matt VandeBerg WR 6'1, 185 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7848 94 65 700 69.1% 26.2% 7.4 61.7% 47.9% 1.44
Tevaun Smith WR 62 32 563 51.6% 17.3% 9.1 51.6% 40.3% 2.10
Henry Krieger Coble TE 50 36 440 72.0% 13.9% 8.8 42.0% 44.0% 1.86
Jacob Hillyer WR 32 16 212 50.0% 8.9% 6.6 53.1% 40.6% 1.46
Jordan Canzeri RB 31 20 208 64.5% 8.6% 6.7 35.5% 38.7% 1.60
George Kittle TE 6'4, 250 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8107 23 20 290 87.0% 6.4% 12.6 69.6% 65.2% 1.84
Derrick Mitchell, Jr. RB 6'1, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8398 20 15 141 75.0% 5.6% 7.1 25.0% 40.0% 1.58
Jerminic Smith WR 6'1, 187 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8274 19 6 141 31.6% 5.3% 7.4 42.1% 31.6% 2.19
Riley McCarron WR 5'9, 186 Sr. NR NR 9 5 56 55.6% 2.5% 6.2 55.6% 55.6% 1.17
Akrum Wadley RB 5'11, 191 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683 6 6 94 100.0% 1.7% 15.7 83.3% 83.3% 1.76
Macon Plewa FB 3 2 7 66.7% 0.8% 2.3 66.7% 0.0% 0.00
LeShun Daniels, Jr. RB 6'0, 225 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8093 2 1 9 50.0% 0.6% 4.5 100.0% 50.0% 0.75
Jon Wisnieski TE 6'5, 250 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8722
Jonathan Parker WR 5'8, 188 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7852
Jay Scheel WR 6'1, 195 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8833
Adrian Falconer WR 6'1, 190 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8145
Noah Fant TE 6'5, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8665
Devonte Young WR 6'0, 195 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8401

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 103.8 2.78 4.07 35.9% 71.4% 17.6% 90.0 7.4% 6.4%
Rank 51 81 3 103 35 35 77 111 47
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Jordan Walsh RG 14 37 2015 All-American, 2015 1st All-Big Ten
Austin Blythe C 14 49 2015 2nd All-Big Ten
Sean Welsh C 6'3, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8575 14 24
Boone Myers LG 6'5, 305 Jr. NR NR 10 10
Cole Croston LT 6'5, 307 Sr. NR NR 10 10
Ike Boettger RT 6'6, 307 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8097 6 6
James Daniels LG 6'4, 295 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8909 2 2
Keegan Render RG 6'4, 308 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8282 0 0
Eric Simmons C 0 0
Steve Ferentz C 6'2, 282 Sr. NR NR 0 0
Ryan Ward LG 6'5, 295 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8898 0 0
Dalton Ferguson RT 6'4, 310 So. NR NR 0 0
Landan Paulsen OL 6'5, 305 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8755

Levi Paulsen OL 6'5, 305 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8745

Jake Newborg OL 6'3, 290 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8569

Brett Waechter LT 6'5, 290 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8291

Alaric Jackson OL 6'7, 285 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8596

5. Good at the right things

Iowa's overall line stats weren't amazing; the Hawkeyes ranked just 51st in Adj. Line Yards and 77th in Adj. Sack Rate. But they were good at the things they needed to be good at. They were in the top 40 in both short-yardage success and stuff rate, and the sack rate on passing downs was actually better than on standard downs. They kept defenders out of the backfield when they needed to, in other words, and they converted third-and-2s.

Of course, that was with two all-conference interior linemen. Jordan Walsh and Austin Blythe combined for 86 starts in Iowa City, and while five others with starting experience return (including two-year starter Sean Welsh, who likely moves to center), any drop-off on the interior could hurt those short-yardage numbers. That could derail this entire slow-motion train.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.12 8 IsoPPP+ 113.6 30
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.3% 36 Succ. Rt. + 106.3 45
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 32.0 27 Off. FP+ 32.2 21
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.9 26 Redzone S&P+ 117.6 17
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.5 ACTUAL 27.0 +3.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 22 34 45 30
RUSHING 15 25 48 14
PASSING 60 44 43 45
Standard Downs 29 37 24
Passing Downs 38 68 30
Q1 Rk 41 1st Down Rk 59
Q2 Rk 61 2nd Down Rk 58
Q3 Rk 34 3rd Down Rk 34
Q4 Rk 59

6. Even more Iowa than before

You know what you're going to get with the Iowa defense. The Hawkeyes are going to bend and bend, playing sound football, avoiding mistakes, and preparing to pounce if you make one. It was the way of the late Norm Parker, and it is the way of his (unrelated) successor, Phil Parker.

Only one thing really changed for Iowa in 2015: The Hawkeyes were a little bit better across the board. They prevented big plays better, they played a little bit better in the redzone, they improved from 45th to 25th in Rushing S&P+, and they improved from 89th to 44th in Passing S&P+. They defended about the same on passing downs but forced a lot more passing downs.

This was what Iowa defense is supposed to be. After slumping to 67th in Def. S&P+ in 2014, the Hawkeyes rebounded to 32nd; granted, that's not the No. 10 ranking they boasted in 2013, but it was a major step in the right direction.

In theory, you could see another step in 2016. Five of the top seven tacklers on the line return, as do three of four linebackers, and six of eight defensive backs. And the defense has some outright stars in players like corner Desmond King and linebacker Josey Jewell.

At the same time, injury luck skewed very much in Iowa's favor, and that doesn't tend to happen two years in a row. Twelve Hawkeyes averaged at least one tackle per game; 11 of them played in all 14 games. That is some significant luck, even if the one injury (end Drew Ott) was costly.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 98.8 2.95 3.35 34.0% 63.8% 16.4% 114.5 4.4% 9.7%
Rank 70 78 79 23 52 104 41 89 23
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Nate Meier DE 14 53.5 7.5% 10.5 6.5 0 1 1 0
Parker Hesse DE 6'3, 250 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8256 14 34.0 4.8% 3.0 2.0 1 2 1 0
Jaleel Johnson DT 6'4, 310 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9184 14 33.5 4.7% 5.5 3.5 0 1 0 0
Nathan Bazata DT 6'2, 285 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8119 14 30.0 4.2% 5.0 2.0 0 1 0 0
Matt Nelson DE 6'8, 282 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8619 13 11.5 1.6% 1.5 0.5 0 0 1 0
Drew Ott DE 6 9.5 1.3% 7.5 5.0 0 0 3 0
Faith Ekakitie DT 6'3, 290 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9197 12 9.0 1.3% 1.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Kyle Terlouw DT
9 2.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Melvin Spears DE 6 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jake Hulett DT 6'3, 285 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) NR
Sam Brincks DE 6'5, 270 So. NR NR
Brady Reiff DE 6'3, 250 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8436
Michael Slater DT 6'2, 285 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8345
Anthony Nelson DE 6'7, 250 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8337
Cedrick Lattimore DE 6'5, 260 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8698
Romeo McKnight DE 6'5, 235 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8563
Chauncey Golston DE 6'5, 227 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8491
Brandon Simon DE 6'1, 236 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8438

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Josey Jewell MLB 6'2, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7844 14 94.0 13.3% 7.5 2.5 4 6 1 0
Cole Fisher WLB 14 88.0 12.4% 5.5 2.5 1 6 1 0
Ben Niemann OLB 6'3, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7985 14 33.5 4.7% 6.5 3.0 0 2 0 0
Bo Bower OLB 6'1, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 14 9.5 1.3% 1.5 1.0 1 1 0 0
Travis Perry MLB 14 8.5 1.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Aaron Mends WLB 6'0, 212 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8216 12 2.5 0.4% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Jack Hockaday WLB 6'1, 227 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8332 8 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Angelo Garbutt MLB 6'2, 230 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8404
Nick Wilson OLB 6'2, 217 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7511
Kyle Taylor LB 6'2, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8574
Barrington Wade LB 6'1, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8498








7. Run defense will be fine

Even the good Iowa defenses tend to be good because of how well they react, not how well they attack. The Hawkeyes didn't have much of a presence in the backfield against the run, but aside from what Christian McCaffrey did to them in the Rose Bowl, they did a spectacular job of limiting big-play opportunities.

I doubt that changes. Losing Nate Meier and Ott means having to replace your two best pass rushers, but the tackle position appears stacked, and the return of Jewell and battery mate Ben Niemann should assure that Iowa still pursues quite well near the line of scrimmage.

Jewell has developed into one of the Big Ten's most well-rounded linebackers. His five non-sack tackles for loss led the team, his 10 passes defensed were second, and he proved he could be a blitzing weapon at certain times. He is the satellite around which the entire front seven revolves. Iowa will be in good shape as long as he's in there.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jordan Lomax FS 14 71.0 10.0% 1 0 1 6 1 0
Desmond King CB 5'11, 203 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8330 14 59.0 8.3% 1 0 8 13 0 0
Miles Taylor SS 6'0, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8377 14 53.5 7.5% 2.5 0.5 1 4 0 0
Greg Mabin CB 6'2, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8224 14 45.5 6.4% 0.5 0 2 8 1 0
Maurice Fleming CB
14 13.0 1.8% 0 0 0 5 0 0
Brandon Snyder FS 6'1, 210 So. NR NR 13 8.5 1.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Joshua Jackson DB 6'1, 185 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8006 14 8.0 1.1% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Anthony Gair SS 6'2, 210 Sr. NR 0.8465 10 6.5 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sean Draper CB 13 4.0 0.6% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Kevin Ward DB 6'1, 205 Jr. NR NR 14 3.5 0.5% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Jake Gervase FS 6'1, 210 So. NR NR 6 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Ojemudia CB 6'2, 190 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8107
Amani Hooker DB 6'0, 203 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8645
Manny Rugamba DB 6'0, 172 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8568








8. A scary lack of depth

Good news: Three of four starters return from a secondary that was perfectly decent last year. King and Greg Mabin combined for 10 picks and 21 break-ups in 2015, and Miles Taylor entered the rotation with great effect last year.

Bad news: Iowa basically only played five DBs last year. The Hawkeyes got away with a tiny rotation becaus ethey were mostly injury-free, but what if they're not in 2016? They have to replace safety Jordan Lomax and corner Maurice Fleming, and if anyone else gets hurt, they'll be dipping into a pool of walk-ons or freshmen pretty quickly.

Talking about depth is a tricky thing. Technically you might get away with doing exactly what Iowa did last year, and if that's the case, the Hawkeye pass defense could be excellent. But we know injuries happen. And two injuries could cause the secondary to implode.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Dillon Kidd 59 40.2 4 21 21 71.2%
Marshall Koehn 8 40.9 0 0 3 37.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Marshall Koehn 81 63.4 47 0 58.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Marshall Koehn 47-53 8-10 80.0% 8-10 80.0%
Miguel Recinos 6'1, 190 So. 2-2 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Desmond King KR 5'11, 203 Sr. 29 24.4 0
Riley McCarron KR 5'9, 186 Sr. 3 21.0 0
Desmond King PR 5'11, 203 Sr. 17 14.2 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 22
Field Goal Efficiency 22
Punt Return Success Rate 12
Kick Return Success Rate 3
Punt Success Rate 114
Kickoff Success Rate 25

9. A one-man special teams unit

Iowa's special teams unit was a boon in 2015, with sturdy output in the place-kicking, kickoffs, and kick and punt return categories. But those four departments were basically occupied by two guys: kicker Marshall Koehn and return man Desmond King.

That two-man special teams unit is now a one-man unit. Koehn's gone, as is punter Dillon Kidd. But King should assure at least a decent special teams output ... at least, as long as the sport hasn't outlawed kickoffs before September.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Miami (Ohio) 107 22.4 90%
10-Sep Iowa State 71 10.4 73%
17-Sep North Dakota State NR 26.3 94%
24-Sep at Rutgers 87 7.7 67%
1-Oct Northwestern 46 6.5 65%
8-Oct at Minnesota 42 -2.4 44%
15-Oct at Purdue 88 7.8 67%
22-Oct Wisconsin 37 3.4 58%
5-Nov at Penn State 28 -6.6 35%
12-Nov Michigan 6 -7.7 33%
19-Nov at Illinois 76 4.2 60%
25-Nov Nebraska 26 0.1 50%
Projected wins: 7.4
Five-Year F/+ Rk 8.6% (48)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 49 / 51
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 11 / 6.5
2015 TO Luck/Game +1.7
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 72% (72%, 72%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 10.0 (2.0)

10. The expectations game

Iowa went 8-0 in the Big Ten last year and returns quite a few key contributors, including the quarterback and probably the two best defenders.

Iowa squeezed out a top-50 S&P+ ranking last year and probably has enough to improve on paper and find itself right in the thick of the Big Ten West race.

Both of these sentences are true. And the two set drastically different expectations for 2016. By now, you know that I lean more toward the latter. The 2015 season was wonderful for Iowa -- it reignited fan enthusiasm, it provided all sorts of bragging rights, it gave Ferentz one more gleaming bright spot. But it's over. And while you can always roll a 12 twice in a row, odds are good that Iowa will go back to being a top-40 team in a division full of them.

That said, the schedule should assist again. The Hawkeyes have a 67 percent chance or greater of winning in five games, per S&P+, and they have a 33 percent chance or lower in just one. That leaves six games in the middle, and if they can still maneuver through close games as well as they did last year (which could be tricky without Koehn's booming leg and with a rebuilt pass rush), they could again approach nine wins, perhaps even 10.

The odds favor something closer to seven or eight wins, though, which would smash them in with Nebraska, Minnesota, and seemingly every other West squad.