Howe: Ranking ’20 Iowa Football Opponents from Worst to First

September 25, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa Football caught a break when the revised Big Ten schedules were released last week. Conference favorite Ohio State fell off the slate after being on the first two iterations.

The Hawkeyes still face a challenging group of 2020 opponents. A West Division title would be well earned.

Here’s how I would rank Iowa’s eight scheduled opponents:

8. Michigan State – Go Green! Go White! Go to the end of the line! I’m pretty low on the Spartans – new coach, new quarterback and recruiting has fallen off in recent years. MSU should be solid on defense but it will be the worst offense the Hawkeyes face this fall.

7. Illinois – I think there’s a big gap between eight and seven on this list. The Illini boast a veteran quarterback, an underrated offensive line and dangerous skill players. The questions reside on the other side of the ball. If you put the Illinois offense with the Michigan State defense, you would really have something.

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6. Purdue – This is where things get tricky. I could see the Boilermakers being tougher than teams I place higher on this list. Coach Jeff Brohm knows how to poke holes in the Hawkeye defense and became more likely to do so when star receiver Rondale Moore opted back in on Thursday. Purdue still has to show me it can bounce back from last year’s 4-8 campaign.

5. Nebraska – The Huskers will be well tested before coming to Kinnick Stadium the week of Thanksgiving, but that might not be a good thing for them. The grueling schedule could wear them down. They’re still suspect in the trenches on both sides of the ball and the defense has a long way to go as a whole. Leading receiver JD Spielman transferred to TCU and Nebraska has unproven pieces at the position beyond hybrid playmaker Wan’Dale Robinson.

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4. Northwestern – Try not focusing on what the Wildcats looked like last season and remember how formidable they’ve been against Iowa and others during the last decade. They’ve won three of the last four in the series, including two in a row in Iowa City. Northwestern filled its biggest void from last year with Indiana graduate transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey. If the offense can return to competency and pair with a usually stout defense, there’s a dark horse West Division contender in Evanston.

3. Minnesota – It’s safe to say there’s nobody on Iowa’s schedule that wants to beat it more than the Golden Gophers. They’re trying to end a five-game losing streak in the Battle for Floyd of Rosedale and win for just the second time in the last nine meetings. While Minnesota football is on the rise following last season’s 11-2 mark, it’s hard to put a bow on the ascent if it’s still owned by the Hawkeyes. Quarterback Tanner Morgan is one of the best in the Big Ten, and if favorite target Rashod Bateman opts back in, the offense will be explosive enough to compensate for a defense replacing nine starters.

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2. Wisconsin – The Badgers own Iowa like the Hawkeyes do Minnesota. They’re winners of four in a row in this series and have claimed seven of the last eight meetings. They lose serious offensive firepower with star running back Jonathan Taylor and standout receiver Quintez Cephus off to the NFL, but they find a way to reload in Madison. Quarterback Jack Coan will be asked to do more after managing games in ’19. Wisconsin hangs its hat on a stingy defense and it returns a lot of production on that side of the ball, especially up front and in the secondary. It’s conceivable that the Dec. 12 meeting between Iowa and Wisconsin in Kinnick Stadium could be for a division title.

1. Penn State – After winning eight of nine meetings against Penn State from 2000-2010, the Hawkeyes will be looking to end a six-game skid in this series, the last three games decided by two, six and five points. Iowa benefits from a trip to Beaver Stadium without 100,000 fans rooting against it, but the Nittany Lions provide it with its stiffest challenge from a talent standpoint. Quarterback Sean Clifford teams up with a talented stable of skill players in tight end Pat Freiermuth, receiver Jahan Dotson and running back Journey Brown in operating behind an experienced offensive line. All-world linebacker Micah Parsons opting back in would boost a defense replacing some key starters.

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