Iowa Football

A 2018 Iowa football prediction worth a penny, tops: Hawkeyes go 9-3

But don't concede Big Ten West to Wisconsin just yet

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley. (The Gazette)
Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley. (The Gazette)

Sports predictions are like pennies. We carry and distribute them, but they’re basically worthless.

Besides, no one remembers when the predictor is the blind squirrel who stumbled upon an acorn except the squirrel, er, predictor. Yet, here we go, anyway.

I’m tempted to gingerly crawl out on a limb and say this year’s Iowa football team surprises folks and wins the Big Ten West. I see lots of goodness on Iowa’s roster, and just as much on the schedule. Only two of the 12 opponents are in the preseason Top 25. Two isn’t many.

On the other hand, we’ve seen this movie before. Iowa being Iowa, it usually plays in a lot of close games and close games usually go both ways. We’ll get back to the schedule, but on the third hand …

Nate Stanley.

A talented, seasoned quarterback with a lot of remaining upside is a starting point that can lead you where you want to go.

Last year sophomore Stanley was ordinary in some games, good in others, and special at times. He threw five touchdown passes at Iowa State and five at home against Ohio State. That alone gets you free something at a downtown Iowa City establishment, right? Or would if you ever went to downtown Iowa City, which Stanley says he avoids.

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Last year, Stanley’s voice on his team probably wasn’t quite a Baker Mayfield or Lamar Jackson voice. Still, he had 26 touchdown passes and only six interceptions.

How many years would you happily take 26-and-6 from your QB? If you didn’t answer "all of them,” you lose your fan certificate.

Stanley didn’t shrink against Iowa State and Nebraska on the road, Penn State and Ohio State at home, and when it mattered most in the Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College.

All signs point to his voice getting deeper, and with a collection of pass-receiving targets that could become imposing. If, that is, the offensive line reaches Iowa’s high standards. And if a deep-threat wide receiver or two — a Smith-Marsette or a plain old Smith — join slot receiver Nick Easley and tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson as producers.

Fant was Fant-tastic (OK, I vow to never write that again) last year. Eleven touchdowns and 16.5 yards per catch for a sophomore tight end? You’ll typically see that in a program about zero times per lifetime. And, it seemed every catch Hockenson made a year ago was big.

Iowa certainly has uncertainties. A green group of linebackers, questionable defensive team speed and unproven punting aren’t tiny things. But would you trade Stanley for any quarterback in the Big Ten West?

So let’s return to the schedule. A great way to be commit arson to yourself in preseason football jabber is to fixate on a team’s schedule rather than the team itself. There have been other seasons in which Iowa’s slate looked favorable, but it either was an optical illusion or the Hawkeyes didn’t take advantage of it.

But there also was 2015, when Iowa glided to 12-0 and missed each of the East’s top four teams until it met Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.

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This year’s sked is as favorable as you’ll get. Iowa has West rivals Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska at home. Playing Indiana, Maryland and Penn State is far from the toughest block of three East games a West team faces. Nebraska plays Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. Night-o, Huskers.

Wisconsin is everyone’s pick to win the West. The Badgers are a consensus top-five team nationally. ESPN.com and USA TODAY say they have four first-team preseason All-Americans.

But the Badgers will play their first road game and best opponent of September when they come to Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 22. If there’s an ideal time and place to catch them and get a leg up in the division ...

It isn’t a one-game season, of course. If you objectively look at all 12 games the Hawkeyes play, you may see 12 with potholes. Or 11. Maryland has too much bad juju.

So, no prediction here, just an expectation it will be an interesting season with interesting possibilities.

Aw, who’s zoomin’ who? I’ll say 9-3 and the Holiday Bowl against Stanford. Which almost surely will be wrong, and that’s fine. Who wants to be a blind squirrel?

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.