IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa is a 100/1 shot to win the national championship this season. Rivals Iowa State and Nebraska carry the same odds. Clemson (3/2), Ohio State (11/4) and Alabama (4/1) rank as the Top 3 choices.
As you can see, even a pandemic can’t shake up the college football on-field power structure. Or can it? Time will tell how COVID-19 further impacts a sport that’s already adjusted. It’s running the show in 2020.
Since we don’t know how this movie ends, approaching it with an open mind and hoping for the best outcome seems reasonable. No one should be surprised if more plans are altered.
In the Big Ten, that’s a conference-only schedule. That affects win totals and statistics. Comparing them to past years would be apples to oranges.
Keep that in mind when reading following fearless predictions. It’s more accurate measuring by percentages than totals.
Here we go:
- Spencer Petras will complete at least 63 percent of his passes – Iowa’s first-year starter will experience growing pains but he has a lot in his tool box. He’s more accurate than his predecessor, Nate Stanley, who completed 59.4 percent of balls thrown in ’19. A 63.0 percent success rate for Petras will put him firmly in the top half of FBS quarterbacks and lift this offense to new heights.
- Daviyon Nixon will lead Iowa in sacks and tackles for loss – I’m not slighting Chauncey Golston, the most experienced defensive lineman. I think he’ll be a marked man and draw extra attention. That should free up the dude playing next to him. And that plan will backfire on opponents because Nixon is Iowa’s best NFL prospect on defense.
- Tyler Linderbaum will be faced with a tough decision at season’s end – The sophomore center from Solon very well could be Iowa’s top NFL prospect for the ’21 draft. After hitting a few speed bumps last fall, his first as a starter, he’s poised for a breakout campaign and the hype will arrive with it. T.J. Hockenson left the Hawkeyes after his redshirt sophomore year. Linderbaum could follow.
- Iowa will employ an eight-man rotation on the offensive line – Linderbaum and Alaric Jackson are locked in at center and left tackle, respectively. They likely won’t leave field barring injury. Beyond them, you have Cole Banwart, Coy Cronk, Kyler Schott, Mark Kallenberger, Justin Britt and Cody Ince, all of whom deserve playing time. There are others, but the eight guys mentioned are starters on a lot of teams.
- Djimon Colbert will lead the team in tackles – The junior from Kansas City reminds me of former Hawkeye WIL Anthony Hitchens, another former safety turned linebacker. Colbert is healthy now after off-season shoulder surgery, an injury that impacted his play in ’19. Iowa boasts some beef at defensive tackle that should help to keep Colbert clean and free to rack up stops.
- The Hawkeyes will win at Penn State – They normally play the Nittany Lions close even though Iowa has dropped six in a row in this series. Penn State will welcome East Division rival Ohio State to State College the week after hosting the Hawkeyes. It’s a prime spot for an upset.
- Iowa will lose at Purdue – The road trip to West Lafayette is sandwiched between home games against rivals Nebraska and Wisconsin. The Boilermakers are loaded at receiver and coach Jeff Brohm knows how to get those guys the ball, as Iowa knows all too well. It’s a tough matchup for the Hawkeyes
- Brandon Smith will lead the team in receptions – The senior from Mississippi was on a course to pacing the Hawkeyes in catches a year ago before a leg injury took him off the field for most of four games. He still ended up only nine behind the leader, Nico Ragaini. Smith is a big target with strong, sure hands. Petras is going to like him a lot.
- Dane Belton will pace the Hawkeyes in interceptions – It remains to been seen if Belton lines up at strong safety or returns to CASH. Perhaps he sees time at both. It doesn’t matter. The sophomore from Florida makes plays and might take the biggest step forward out of anybody on defense this season. He’s a combination of Amani Hooker and Geno Stone.
- Iowa will average at least 160 rushing yards per game – It might not appear to be a bold prediction, but it would be a major improvement for a program that’s struggled running ball consistently in recent years. The Hawkeyes look to improve on the 137.6 ground yards in ’19, which ranked 97th of 130 FBS programs – their third year in a row in the 90s. Iowa should have a powerful offensive line and three talented backs in Tyler Goodson, Mekhi Sargent and Ivory Kelly-Martin.