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2020 Big Ten Opponent Preview: Iowa

Michigan State travels to Iowa City on Nov. 7. Here is what to know about the Hawkeyes.

Iowa v Northwestern Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

As the 2020 Big Ten football season gets closer and closer, we continue our Michigan State Spartans’ opponent previews with the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Spartans and Hawkeyes battle in Iowa City on Nov. 7, in what would be considered Week Three of the conference schedule.

To help paint the pictures of what Iowa looks like heading into the regular season, Jonah Parker of Black Heart Gold Pants — the quintessential site for all things Hawkeyes — gives great insights and analysis into the Big Ten foe.

Here is what we need to know about Iowa:

List your team’s key departures:

  • Nate Stanley, quarterback
  • Tristan Wirfs, offensive tackle
  • AJ Epenesa, defensive end
  • Geno Stone, safety
  • Michael Ojemudia, cornerback
  • Kristian Welch, linebacker

List your team’s key returnees:

-Ihmir Smith-Marsette, wide receiver/kick returner
-Brandon Smith, wide receiver
-Tyrone Tracy, wide receiver
-Sam LaPorta, tight end
-Alaric Jackson, offensive tackle
-Tyler Linderbaum, center
-Tyler Goodson, running back
-Chauncey Golston, defensive end
-Daviyon Nixon, defensive tackle
-Matt Hankins, cornerback
-Dane Belton, safety
-Djimon Colbert, linebacker
-Nick Niemann, linebacker

List a few true freshmen or transfers that will make an instant impact:

  • Coy Cronk, offensive tackle, transfer from Indiana
  • Jack Heflin, defensive tackle, transfer from Northern Illinois
  • Matt Lorbeck, defensive end, transfer from Northern Illinois
  • Elijah Yelverton, four-star tight end
  • Luke Lachey, three-star tight end

Brief overview of 2020 team:

This season has all the makings of a stress-induced heart attack for Iowa fans. The offense has more weapons than we’ve seen in a decade and an offensive line that should have at least two All-Big Ten players. But they’ll also be breaking in a new quarterback and the offense is run by a Ferentz (offensive coordinator, Brian Ferentz).

On the defensive side of the ball, Iowa loses one of the best pass rushers they’ve had under Kirk Ferentz and lost at least one starter at each position. Iowa fans have blind faith when it comes to Phil Parker and the secondary, but finding a way to generate pressure up front will be a question mark at least early on.

At the end of the day, this looks like your stereotypical 8-4/9-3 Iowa team that beats someone they shouldn’t and stubs their toe a time or maybe two. On an abbreviated eight-game schedule without the FCS and MAC matchups early on, that’s likely to translate to a 5-3/6-2 record depending on a few key matchups.

What’s your team’s biggest strength?

This is the best set of skill position players the Hawkeyes have had in over a decade. Ihmir Smith-Marsette is a game-breaker in all facets (as he proved against USC in the Holiday Bowl) while Brandon Smith is a prototypical possession receiver and Tyrone Tracy is somewhere in between. The Hawkeyes bring back ALL receiving options from a year ago, but add in a pair of highly-touted freshmen tight ends to add to the mix. Add to that year two of the Tyler Goodson experience and first-year starter Spencer Petras has all the weapons a young quarterback could hope to have in an Iowa offense.

What’s your team’s biggest weakness?

The biggest question mark entering the year is where the edge pressure will come from. AJ Epenesa was a disruptive force but needs replaced. Chauncey Golston has played alongside Epenesa for two seasons and had success, but now he’ll need to elevate his game if Iowa wants to have a top tier defense again in 2020.

How does your fanbase feel about your coach and his staff?

In general, the fanbase is OK with Kirk Ferentz and his staff, though certainly not enthused. The offseason drama surrounding racial inequality within the strength program caught many fans off guard given the strong relationship between Ferentz and Chris Doyle and the foundation which the program has been built upon. However, all signs have pointed to the surfacing of the issues as being a very good thing for the direction of the program with players feeling more included, closer together, and ready to move forward as one unit.

Who is your team’s MVP this season and why?

This team is likely to live and die by Spencer Petras. As noted, the line and the weapons are there. If he delivers, this will be a good team that competes for the division title. If he falters, the season is likely to head south and there won’t be an MVP worth talking about.

Predict your team’s record, its best win, and a potential surprise loss:

Prediction: 6-2; Best Win: Wisconsin; Surprise Loss: Purdue

Thank you to Jonah for the in-depth analysis regarding Iowa. You can catch him on Twitter, and to keep up with news about the Hawkeyes, definitely follow Black Heart Gold Pants as well.