IOWA CITY, Iowa - Are you wondering how the 2021 Iowa Football season unfold? Well, you've come to the right place.
I've taken a shot at this exercise every year for longer than I'd care to remember. Sometimes I've been money. Other times I've been way off.
Here's my stab at what I see for this fall:
Indiana, Sept. 4, 2:30 p.m. CT
Point Spread: Iowa -5 (Draft Kings)
Thoughts: It's definitely different starting with a Big Ten opponent as opposed to an FCS or MAC matchup. I'm interested to see how the Hawkeyes respond against a Top 25 foe out of the shoot. The Hoosiers are ranked 17th, one spot ahead of Iowa in the preseason coaches' poll.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. will be a handful for Iowa's rebuilt defensive line, and Indiana's veteran secondary will force Hawkeye signal caller Spencer Petras into making smart reads.
It's a coin-flip game in my estimation. When that's the case, home field can be the difference.
Prediction: Iowa 24, Indiana 20
At Iowa State, Sept. 11, 3:30 p.m. CT
Point Spread: Iowa State -5 (Draft Kings)
Thoughts: Let's hope the weather is much better than what we experienced two years ago when these teams met in Ames. It would be a shame if Mother Nature impacted one of the most highly-anticipated installments in series history.
The Cyclones are favored. They should be. They return more proven talent and are home. It will be the first road game playing in front of fans for quite a few Iowa players, including quarterback Spencer Petras.
Iowa brings a five-game winning streak in the series into the contest after the Cyclones had won three of four. Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz is 12-9 against his cross-state rival.
Prediction: Iowa State 27, Iowa 24
Kent State, Sept. 18, 2:30 p.m. CT
Point Spread: TBD
Thoughts: Kinnick Stadium has played host to some impressive Group of Five quarterbacks throughout the years. Miami's Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Allen of Wyoming were among them.
It's way too premature to put Dustin Crum (6-3, 207) up there with a future NFL hall of famer and an emerging star in the league, but the Kent State's senior signal caller is a good one. One Yahoo writer ranks him ahead of Wisconsin's Graham Mertz and Minnesota's Tanner Morgan among '22 NFL Draft prospects.
While the Golden Flashes boast a dangerous offense (they scored 27 touchdowns on 50 drives in '20), their defense is dismal. They're coming off a season in which they allowed 38.0 points and 262.0 rushing yards a game.
Prediction: Iowa 49, Kent State 21
Colorado State, Sept. 25, TBD
Point Spread: TBD
Thoughts: It's a coaching rematch from the '17 Pinstripe Bowl with Ferentz facing off against Steve Addazio, then leading Boston College. He's looking to improve on a 1-3 first season in Fort Collins, where the Rams averaged 22.2 points (106 nationally), allowed 35.8 (104), and saw three kicks blocked and returned for scores.
Whether it's good news or bad has yet to be determined, but 17 starters return from '20. Three defensive line starters are back after utilizing the extra year of eligibility granted because of COVID-19.
The offense is coordinated by Jon Budmayr, who coached Wisconsin quarterbacks the last three seasons. It looks like Temple graduate transfer Todd Centeio will begin the campaign behind center for the Rams.
Prediction: Iowa 41, Colorado State 10
At Maryland, Oct. 1, 7 p.m. CT
Point Spread: TBD
Thoughts: The Hawkeyes jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead in their only trip to College Park back in '14. Then Stefon Diggs and the Terrapins took over in a 38-31 victory. Ferentz was very annoyed with his team's effort and execution.
The coach likely will be telling stories about that day in preparing for this matchup. A rare Friday night road game halfway across the country will require high concentration levels.
Maryland recruits well and can be dangerous, as evidenced by wins against Minnesota and at Penn State last season. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa returns for a second year as a starter with plenty of weapons around him. For the Terps to ascend in the Big Ten, they'll need major improvements on defense, where they yielded 32.0 points and 230.0 rushing yards a game in '20.
Prediction: Iowa 31, Maryland 24
Penn State, Oct. 8, TBD
Point Spread: Iowa -3
Thoughts: The Hawkeyes would love it if this game lands under the lights at Kinnick Stadium. Good results occur against name brands in that scenario.
No matter what time it kicks off, expect a closely contested affair. That's the norm when these teams face off, last year's 41-21 Iowa rout in State College not withstanding.
The Nittany Lions stumbled to an uncharacteristic 0-5 start in '20 before finishing with four wins in a row. They suffered some key injuries and lost their best player, linebacker Micah Parsons, to an opt-out during the pandemic-impacted campaign.
PSU will need more consistent play from quarterback Sean Clifford, who has two of the conference's top receivers, Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington, at his disposal. It's replacing four starters on the defensive line.
Prediction: Iowa 27, Penn State 20
Purdue, Oct. 16, 2:30 p.m. CT
Point Spread: Iowa -14.5 (Draft Kings)
Thoughts: Jeff Brohm's offense challenges Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker's stingy defense as much as any team in the conference. Purdue attacks the Hawkeyes' bend-but-don't break plan downfield instead of taking what it gives it.
It helps that the Boilers feature top-flight receivers annually. Iowa will need to be more sound against true junior David Bell, who has caught 26 balls for 318 yards and four scores against it the last two seasons. Milton Wright is a nice complement to Bell at the other starting receiver spot.
Purdue will have a new defensive coordinator for a second year in a row in Brada Lambert as Brohm continues trying to sure up that side of the ball. End George Karlaftis is one of the country's top players at his position.
UCLA transfer Austin Burton is pushing veterans Jack Plummer and Aidan O'Connell in the quarterback competition. Brohm is trying to stop the revolving door at the position created by injury and ineffectiveness in recent years.
Prediction: Iowa 34, Purdue 24
At Wisconsin, Oct. 30, 11 a.m. CT
Point Spread: Wisconsin -5 (South Point Vegas)
Thoughts: A morning affair in Madison kicks off a crucial three-game stretch for the Hawkeyes. It likely will determine if they capture their first West Division title since 2015.
Iowa ended a four-game skid in the series with a 28-7 drubbing of the Badgers last year in Kinnick. While the Hawkeyes deserve all the credit for removing the gorilla from their back, Wisconsin was hit harder by COVID-19 than most Big Ten teams in '20.
Expect Bucky to be seeking revenge but it still has to show last year was a one off for the West's most dominant program during the last decade. Mertz is talented and could be the key to the offense getting back on track. Jalen Berger, who chose Wisconsin ahead of offers from Alabama and others, looks like the next workhorse at running back. Four starters return on the O-Line as does all-league tight end Jake Ferguson.
The Badgers' 3-4 defense, that has given Iowa fits in the past, brings back eight starters. Inside linebackers Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal are among the best in the league at their position.
Prediction: Wisconsin 20, Iowa 16
At Northwestern, Nov. 6, TBD
Point Spread: Iowa -8.5 (Draft Kings)
Thoughts: A win at Wisconsin would add even more significance to one of the more hotly-contested series in the West. Either way, this matchup usually factors heavily into who wins this division.
The Wildcats pulled off the upset in Iowa City last season en route to their second Big Ten Championship game appearance in three years. They've won the last three times they visited Kinnick and are 3-1 in their last four meetings with the Hawkeyes.
Northwestern replaces long-time defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz with Jim O'Neil and quarterback Peyton Ramsey with another transfer in South Carolina's Ryan Hilinski. If those changes can be relatively seamless, it should be in the West race again.
Overall, the Wildcats bring back only seven starters. Replacing stalwart linebackers Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher along with cornerback Greg Newsome II, a first-round draft pick, will be a chore.
Prediction: Iowa 17, Northwestern 13
Minnesota, Nov. 13, TBD
Point Spread: TBD
Thoughts: It's turned into one of the juicier rivalries for the Hawkeyes. Ferentz added some fuel to the fire following last year's 35-7 victory in Minneapolis by burning all of his timeouts in the closing minutes. His explanation for doing so grabbed headlines and ruffled some feathers.
Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck's "energy" seems to rankle Ferentz and Hawkeye fans. He doesn't blame the Hawkeye coach for using his timeouts last year. While he's saying that publicly, you can bet his 0-4 record in the series eats away at him.
The Gophers' offense took a big step back last year after coordinator Kirk Ciarroca left for Penn State. Quarterback Tanner Morgan fell off after a 3,000-yard, 30-touchdown season in '19 despite having the league's top running back in Mohamed Ibrahim.
Minnesota also took a plunge on defense, allowing 30.1 points and 207.1 rushing yards a contest. That led to bringing in eight transfers on that side of the ball this offseason.
Prediction: Minnesota 23, Iowa 20
Illinois, Nov. 20, TBD
Point Spread: Iowa -20.5 (Draft Kings)
Thoughts: A once-heated rivalry received a necessary shot in the arm this offseason when former Hawkeye player and coach Bret Bielema was hired in Champaign. He's already starting butting heads with Iowa on the recruiting trail, particularly in Illinois, a state the Hawkeyes have mined well with the Illini floundering.
It's going to take time for Bielema, but he inherits a roster not completely void of talent. It will be interesting to see what type of progress, if any, the program makes by this point of Year 1.
Eight starters return on offense, including veteran quarterback Brandon Peters and four offensive linemen. There's talent at running back and tight end, but replacing Josh Imatorbhebhe will be a tall task.
Butkus Award candidate Jake Hansen returns for another year at linebacker. A porous defense will be looking to improve from a '20 season that saw it yield 34.9 points and 230.1 rushing yards an outing.
Prediction: Iowa 38, Illinois 13
At Nebraska, Nov. 26, 12:30 p.m. CT
Point Spread: Iowa - 5 (South Point Vegas)
Thoughts: Mike Riley and Shawn Eichorst's plan to sink the Black Friday game between Iowa and Nebraska went up in smoke, aided by a shifting schedule due to COVID-19 a year ago. At least one good result came from the pandemic.
It took awhile, but finishing the season on Friday against the Huskers feels right. It helps that the series has seen some memorable finishes, not the least of which was Keith Duncan's game-winning kick in Lincoln two years ago.
Coach Scott Frost drags an 0-3 record against the Hawkeyes into this game and Husker fans are still waiting for him to fulfill his bold claims of returning Nebraska to the great heights he experienced as a player in the '90s. Optimism again seems high in Big Red Country, but a 9-17 Big Ten mark during the last three seasons creates caution.
The time is now for veteran quarterback Adrian Martinez to guide Nebraska with consistent play and to prove Frost's scheme will work in this conference. And that might not even matter if the eight returning starters on defense can't comprise a tough enough unit to compete in the West.
Prediction: Iowa 30, Nebraska 24