By Mike Jones on February 17, 2020 at 2:47 pm
The Juice
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

With the coming and going of the "original" National Signing Day, we’ve reached the end of what I’d consider the 2019 football season. Iowa made nearly all of their moves during the early signing period back in December, only adding one new player, a signee from the past and a long list of walk-ons this February. The new player is Tory Taylor, a 22-year old freshman punter from Melbourne, Australia. LeVar Woods flew to Australia to recruit him, so bet on Taylor being your preferred punter of the future.

The signee from the past is Michael Lois, who committed to the Hawkeyes back on September 1st, 2018. Then, Lois was a 3-star defensive line prospect from Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Two weeks after committing, he suffered a catastrophic spinal injury that left him temporarily paralyzed. Now, in 2020, Lois is continuing his journey to get back on the football field but has yet to be cleared for contact. Ferentz honored the scholarship despite the injury and will continue to do so, regardless of whether or not Lois ever steps on the field.

The biggest addition for 2020 came weeks before signing day with the announcement that Coy Cronk was joining the team as a graduate transfer. Cronk was a multi-year starter at Indiana before injuring his ankle in 2019. Due to the timing of the injury, he was able to retain one year of eligibility and will use it at Iowa. With Tristan Wirfs leaving early for the NFL Iowa needs a new right tackle, and Cronk will have a leg up on the competition.

The Recruiting Class

247 Sports, which uses a composite system, ranked Iowa’s 2020 class at 34th in the nation and 8th in the Big Ten. Using that same metric, this would be Iowa’s best class since 2011, when they were ranked 26th in the nation and signed the likes of Jordan Walsh, Austin Blythe, Rodney Coe (whoops) and Darian Cooper. This class doesn’t feature any superstar players; the highest ranked and sole 4-star recruit is Logan Jones, a defensive tackle from Council Bluffs. With only one 4-star recruit you might be asking yourself “Well, then why is Iowa so high in the rankings?” The answer is because there aren’t any “low end” 2-star recruits that typically fill out a Kirk Ferentz recruiting class. This is one of the most balanced classes Iowa has put together in years.

Returning Starters

We talked about this in detail in January but overall, Iowa will return 8 “starters” on offense including Tyler Goodson, Brandon Smith, Smith-Marsette, Sam LaPorta, Alaric Jackson, Cole Banwart, Tyler Linderbaum and Kyler Schott. Starters comes in quotations because LaPorta and Banwart started in multiple games, although they didn’t hold their position for the majority of the season. 8 starters are good news! The bad news is that the two new guys are in somewhat important positions: quarterback and right tackle. We originally had Mark Kallenberger filling Wirfs’s role but with the transfer of Cronk, who knows how that will play out?

On defense, you’ve got Chauncey Golston, Daviyon Nixon, Austin Schulte, Nick Neimann, Dane Belton, Dillon Doyle, Matt Hankins, DJ Johnson and Jack Koerner coming back. That’s a lot of names. 9 “starters” to be exact. The big questions are: who replaces A.J. Epenesa and what on earth is going to happen at safety? Is Joe Evans as good as his sack numbers suggested last season? Is Phil still riding with the Jack Koerner Experience? Is Kaevon Merriweather finally stepping up to the plate? Hello, Dallas Craddieth?

The Schedule

September: Northern Iowa, Iowa State, @ Minnesota, Northern Illinois

Iowa’s opening slate is full of familiar faces and zero pushovers. First off, there’s UNI, who had another impressive NCAA FCS playoff run this year before ultimately losing to eventual FCS runner-up James Madison. Iowa State returns Brock Purdy but will have to replace several impact players like Julian Good-Jones, Ray Lima, Marcel Spears, Deshaunte Jones and La’Michael Pettway. Still, the past three games have been extremely competitive and Matt Campbell will push his team to the limit (and another seven-win season).

Good news for Iowa and the rest of the Big Ten: Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson has graduated so he can no longer terrorize us any longer! Sure, there’s still Rashod Bateman and Tanner Morgan is throwing the ball, but Johnson was the straw that stirred the drink. Minnesota returns a lot of their team but with Johnson gone, workhorse running back Rodney Smith graduating and Antoine Winfield leaving early for the NFL, they're losing a lot of talent. Longtime NIU coach Rod Carey took the Temple job in 2018, so the Huskies turned to alumnus Thomas Hammock to take the job. The first season was met with mixed results, primarily due to a tough schedule, and the Huskies went 5-7.

October: Michigan State, @ Ohio State, @ Penn State, Northwestern

October does not look like it will be a kind month for the Hawkeyes. Michigan State was always a physical game under Mark Dantonio but he’s gone (a dorm fight will be held in his honor) and Mel Tucker is now helming the Spartans. Tucker has an excellent coaching pedigree but his record is…not the best. Nothing much needs to be said about Ohio State and Penn State. Justin Fields and JK Dobbins will be back, a year wiser, and that’s a sight to behold. Penn State will field pretty much the same offense that Iowa saw last year except for KJ Hamler, who decided to enter the NFL early. The good news is that the Nittany Lion defensive line that punished the Hawkeyes will be a shell of itself: three out of the four linemen are either graduating or leaving for the NFL Draft.

I don’t know what to think about Northwestern. They finally fired Mick McCall – a very bad offensive coordinator that Iowa State hired lol – but it’s unclear as to whether or not he was directly responsible for their quarterbacks regressing to a 4th-grade football player. Hunter Johnson, a one-time 5-star recruit, completed 46% of his passes and threw one touchdown to four interceptions. Aiden Smith, the team’s “best” quarterback, completed 50% of his passes and threw three touchdowns to nine interceptions. I mean…that pains the eyes to read.

November: @ Illinois, Nebraska, @ Purdue, Wisconsin

Remember when Illinois had all of that juice after beating Wisconsin? Then they lost to Iowa. Then they lost, in tremendous fashion, to that terrible Northwestern team we just talked about. Northwestern rushed for 378 yards on the Fighting Illini lmao. Yes, I know 2020 is different, but it’s comical how it looked like things were changing for Lovie Smith and then you get exposed as a fraud by Pat Fitzgerald.

Speaking of frauds, Scott Frost and Nebraska will be visiting in mid-November instead of Black Friday and the world rejoices.

Purdue had a lot of injuries last season and was probably better than their record indicates. Still, Jeff Brohm has gotten worse with every progressive season and something needs to happen this year for a guy who makes nearly $5 million. Wisconsin is finally without Jonathan Taylor, who is forgoing his senior season, but that doesn’t mean they just won’t replace him with someone else exactly like him.

What Does It All Mean?

Iowa’s offense in 2020 will be substantially the same and chances are they’ll rely on the running backs while presumed starter Spencer Petras finds his sea legs. The true question about the offense is whether or not it has better play calling, because in 2019 the Hawkeyes were brutal at doing things like “moving the ball” and “scoring points”. The defense will have a lot of fresh old faces, especially on the defensive line. Daviyon Nixon will finally have his chance to shine, Golston will anchor the outside and Niemann or Colbert will be your veterans at linebacker. Cornerback is fine, but safety is a huge question mark.

The schedule isn’t terrible, but September is full of teams that will give Iowa their best shot. That means Petras is going to immediately find himself under fire. With the road trips to State College and Columbus in October, I’d argue that this schedule gets easier on the back end, culminating in the Battle for the Heartland Trophy.  Eight wins are probably your starting point. Expect Iowa’s defense to carry the day, as usual. If the offense does things a little better, you’ll have a better season. If not, well, Iowa hasn’t been to Tempe in a while.  

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