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IOWA CITY — 'Tis the season for preseason hype, and it’s on a whole new level.
Why? Because after a year of not being in the stands, a shortened season and a canceled bowl game, Iowa Hawkeye fans are starved for football.
But before the gates of Kinnick Stadium open on Sept. 4, there are a lot of questions and things to know before the No. 18 Hawkeyes take on the No. 17 Indiana Hoosiers.
First, yes, Iowa is ranked No. 18 in the USA TODAY Sports American Football Coaches Association poll, which is conducted weekly during the preseason and voted on by 65 FBS coaches.
But that doesn’t answer the question: “How are the Hawks going to be this year?” Here are some questions that immediately come to mind going into Iowa football media day Friday.
1. What does the chemistry look like with Spencer Petras and his receivers?
Petras put in the extra work this offseason with private quarterbacks coach Tony Racioppi and by throwing the ball around with his receivers during his off time. With a shortened season of starting, a spring season and extra work under his belt, players have noted he’s improved, but in what ways? Petras will have a variety of playmakers to pass to despite the departure of his two top wide receivers, including Tyone Tracy Jr., junior Nico Ragaini, true freshman Keagan Johnson and junior tight end Sam LaPorta.
"We’re locker buddies, so for us to connect on the field we got to connect off the field,“ Tracy said at Big Ten Media Days. ”We have throwing sessions twice a week and then we also have a walk-through. We go through all the situations that happened on the field, mentally, like it ain't like full speed. But you are getting those mental reps.“
2. Will true freshman wide receiver Keagan Johnson take the field this fall?
Johnson came in as a highly-anticipated four-star recruit out of Bellevue West in Nebraska with a dad who is no stranger to winning championships. He enrolled early and made his name known during spring practice.
“He’s very explosive, when he comes up to the ball he looks pretty fast,” Tracy said. “He’s just all-around good wide receiver, but he does have some stuff to work on. Every freshman would. But if he fine tunes the nitty-bitty details, there's no limit to how great he can be.”
3. Has the team’s vaccination rate improved since Big Ten Media Days?
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said that his team’s vaccination rate was just below 70 percent at Big Ten Media Days and that they were doing their best to educate the players on the vaccine.
Petras recorded a social media video asking people to get vaccinated. Is he having the same conversations within his team? Outbreaks can potentially result in forfeited games, so it’s certainly a cause for concern with conference opponents nearing higher vaccination rates.
4. Will we see UNI graduate transfer Xavior Williams in Game 1?
Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker said Iowa picked up Williams because of uncertainty at the cornerback position before senior Matt Hankins decided to use his extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic to stay. Because Williams enrolled at Iowa in the spring and UNI didn’t play a fall season, he hasn’t played since 2019. But in 2019, Williams was first-team all-Missouri Valley Football Conference with 26 solo tackles and 24 assists, 14 pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown and an interception.
“He's very, very athletic and he like broke the vertical record like three weeks being here,” Iowa defensive back Riley Moss said in June. “He brings a lot to the table in terms of him being a veteran, too, even though he's a transfer, he knows how to watch film and how to prepare.”
5. How has Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz handled the new NCAA practice guidelines set on May 19?
At the end of spring practice in May, Ferentz expressed expressed concern over new proposed practice guidelines by the NCAA.
The legislation passed two weeks later, reducing contact days from 21 to 18, limiting full-padded practices to nine and increasing the acclimatization period from 5 to 7 days. It also limits full-padded practices to no more than 75 minutes of full contact and no more than two consecutive days of full-contact. It also banned straight-line contact drills. I’m curious to see how this changed the practice schedule and if he finds the changes still unnerving.
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