Key returning starters: QB C.J. Beathard, RB LeShun Daniels Jr., TE George Kittle, RG Sean Welsh
The Hawkeyes must find a dynamic wide receiver to complement tough senior Matt VandeBerg, who led the team in receiving last season. Sophomore James Daniels should solidify the center position, but Iowa needs another tight end to emerge to play with George Kittle in the Hawkeyes’ frequent multi-tight end sets.
Key returning starters: DT Jaleel Johnson, LB Josey Jewell, CB Desmond King
This unit had just six sacks in its final six games last season, struggling mightily with its pass rush after losing now-departed defensive end Drew Ott to injury. Jaleel Johnson and Parker Hesse are capable pass rushers, but they’ll need help from others to take pressure off Desmond King & Co. in the secondary.
Leader in rushing: Akrum Wadley. He’s more explosive than steady starter LeShun Daniels Jr. and should get more carries coming off last season’s impressive average of six yards per rushing attempt.
Leader in receiving: Matt VandeBerg. He’s faster than he looks, which makes him more of a down-the-field threat than he seems, but he’s asked to catch a lot of short passes over the middle.
Leader in sacks: Johnson. Interior players don’t get as many opportunities for sacks, but he’s being depended on to be even more disruptive than last season when he had three and a half sacks.
Leader in interceptions: King. This shouldn’t be a surprise for the nation’s reigning Jim Thorpe Award winner (given to the nation’s best defensive back) after his eight interceptions last season tied for second-most in the FBS.
Opposing coach's take
“In his first year as a starter, [senior] C.J. Beathard surprised last season when he opened with 12 straight wins. He’s a pretty accurate passer who makes his receivers better. He’s also got an unreal ability to keep plays alive with his feet. He’s just dangerous enough to scare you. I saw recently that offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Beathard could be the best quarterback he’s ever coached. That’s something, considering Davis had Vince Young and Colt McCoy at Texas.
As usual, they’ll have one of the nation’s best offensive lines. It doesn’t matter who they lose there, because they just plug in guys. The same applies to running back because of their run-first scheme and how good they are up-front.
I like their linebackers—they were a little young last year, but they’ve got good length and are more athletic than you think. They also do a good job rerouting receivers and are sure tacklers. They’re very fortunate Desmond King didn’t leave after last season for the NFL. He’s a real playmaker, not just in coverage but also as a returner.
They’re tough because they’ll shorten the game and just beat you up physically. You’ve got to force their offense into passing situations. That gets them out of their rhythm. And you better attack their defense in space to see if you’ve got any advantages speedwise—that’s how Stanford routed them in the Rose Bowl. I just don’t know if anyone in the Big Ten West can do that.”
Beathard's health. He played most of last season at half speed because of a hernia—which required surgery last January—and still showed he’s an NFL-caliber QB. His vast trick-shot arsenal lets him get the ball off in tough situations.
8: Interceptions by now senior cornerback Desmond King, who also had 72 tackles to earn the 2015 Thorpe Award.
155: Consecutive passes—over five games—without a pick by C.J. Beathard, who threw for 2,809 yards and 17 touchdowns.
24.6%: Passing offense accounted for by receiver Matt VandeBerg, who caught 65 balls for 703 yards as a junior in 2015.
9: Tackles per game for outside linebacker Josey Jewell as a sophomore, tied for 35th in the country.
121.4: Rushing yards allowed per game last season, 15th best in the nation.
|Sept. 3||Miami (Ohio)|
|Sept. 10||Iowa State|
|Sept. 17||North Dakota State|
|Sept. 24||at Rutgers|
|Oct. 8||at Minnesota|
|Oct. 15||at Purdue|
|Nov. 5||at Penn State|
|Nov. 19||at Illinois|
Top 25 rankings
|24||San Diego State|