116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Every game has equal value, every opponent is tough. Yada, yada, yada.
You heard that ad nauseam Friday at Iowa football media day.
There’s merit to that way of thinking, obviously. It’s the way you have to do it.
You never want your team to get too high or too low emotionally, want it to build as the season goes along so it’s playing its best at the end and in a bowl game.
That stuff doesn’t change for these Hawkeyes, though they don’t really have the luxury of easing into the 2021 schedule. The first-week opponent is Indiana at home, then it’s a Week 2 trip to Ames to play Iowa State.
Indiana went 6-2 last season, lost a close game to Mississippi in the Outback Bowl and finished 12th in the final Associated Press poll. Michael Penix Jr. might just be the best quarterback in the Big Ten.
Iowa State … well, everyone around here knows about the Cyclones, their legit Heisman Trophy candidate Breece Hall and the fact this could be the best team the school ever has had. They’ll be top 10, for sure, when the AP releases its preseason poll Monday.
“Obviously we’ve got two ranked opponents right off the bat,” said Iowa All-America center Tyler Linderbaum. “It might be three, you never know what happens to what third opponent could be (Kent State) … But there is a little bit of urgency that we’ve got to get going. We’re going to focus on Iowa right now, focus on fundamentals. Once it comes time for Indiana, we’re going to prepare, we’re going to lock in and get going.”
Sense of urgency. You heard that, too, from multiple guys Friday.
“It’s kind of the same year by year, but there’s kind of an added emphasis going into this year,” said safety Jack Koerner. “We’re playing really tough teams, our schedule is really tough. There are no easy games in the Big Ten. So we’re not looking past anybody, not really placing an emphasis on any specific team. We started a little slow last season, so that’s something that is sticking a little bit in the backs of our minds, adding a little bit of motivation to come out of the gates strong.”
Oh, yeah, last season. Iowa lost its first two games of that weird, the Big Ten-decides-to-play-at-the-last-second 2020 campaign by a combined five points. That was to Purdue and Northwestern.
Somehow the Hawkeyes regrouped and won their final six games. Losing your first two isn’t usually a recipe for ultimate success, and these guys know that.
“To start with the Big Ten is a big deal,” said Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras. “Every Big Ten game is competitive, it’s hard, we play in an extremely competitive league. That’s a huge challenge. Then, obviously, the Cy-Hawk game every year is close, it’s competitive. Both of those first two games are exciting, they’re going to be challenging. But, really, every game on the schedule is challenging. There are no easy wins.
“We know we have an opportunity ahead of us to start the season strong, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Iowa was breaking in Petras last season as a first-year starter who didn’t have the luxury of spring football because of the COVID-19 pandemic and didn’t have much of a summer, either, for the same reason. He’s had a full year of preparation this time around, showed improvement at the end of last season, both things that should help this team get out of the gates quicker.
The mere presence of running back Tyler Goodson will help, too. Sam LaPorta has the opportunity to be the next great Iowa tight end, and there is talent at the receiver position.
Linderbaum is one of the best offensive linemen in the country. Defensively, Iowa’s secondary is experienced and good, certainly one of the Big Ten’s best.
The linebacker position looks solid, especially with the emerging Jack Campbell. The rest of the offensive line and the defensive line, minus end Zach VanValkenburg, are the biggest question marks.
“This is the start of camp, and what's really important about it is now for us to figure out what our identity is going to be, see how it shapes and see how guys are moving along,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “And it's day to day, I can assure you that, like it is every year. It's a process, and there are good days, bad days.
“Some days, not that guys aren't trying, but some days it seems, and yesterday was one of those things where a lot of things seem to go wrong. So that's stuff we have to push through. We're going to have to do the same thing during the season, and we're experiencing that a little bit right now, but today was a little better effort.”
Ferentz acknowledged his teams always haven’t hit the ground running, so to speak, at the beginning of a season. It has to here.
Indiana and Iowa State are just too good.
“The margin for error is always tight, and we traditionally, you know, have not always been sharp early, or at least where we need to be. Last year is a good example of that. It's a good reminder for all of us that we don't have time to waste,” Ferentz said. “Not every day is going to be perfect, but we need to be working hard. We need to be trying to improve. Then, you know, at some point, we have to figure out how the pieces of the puzzle go together.
“We're not really worried about cohesion, as much as just individual growth. We're kind of still in that individual growth period. But at some point, we're going to have to start putting it together and making things look harmonious, and it's really going to be true this year because nobody can guarantee both of those teams (Indiana and Iowa State) are going to be playing at a top level. But I would imagine that's going to be the case.”
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