WHO: #17 Indiana Hoosiers (0-0)
WHEN: 2:30 PM CT (Saturday, September 4)
WHERE: Kinnick Stadium (Iowa City, IA)
RADIO: Hawkeye Radio Network (TuneIn, or local listings) | SiriusXM Ch. 195
MOBILE: Fox Sports app
TWITTER: @IowaFBLive | @IowaAwesome | @IowaOnBTN
WEATHER: temps in the low 70s, partly cloudy
LINE: Iowa -3.5 (TOTAL: 46)
We made it, folks. Iowa football is finally BACK. And back with fans, bands, tailgates, , and everything else we cherish about the college football experience. Last year's college football was a strange, bastardized version of the experience (for understandable reasons), but the real deal is on tap today. And what a way to welcome fans back into Kinnick Stadium for the first time in 22 months with a Top 20 slugfest between #17 Indiana and #18 Iowa.
Previewing Week One games is always difficult because you have so little idea of what to expect from a team; they haven't played yet this season, so they haven't set any sort of baseline for performance. Looking back at last season's performance for guidance about the current season is always difficult, but it's nigh-impossible with last season's performance, given how much COVID warped things. Which teams were for real? Which teams weren't and benefited from COVID-induced absences among their opponents?
Indiana has been credited as one of the "for real" teams in 2020 and tipped for a strong showing in 2021 as well, largely because of the talent they return from last year, especially at the skill positions. QB Michael Penix threw for 1645 yards and a 14-4 TD:INT ratio before an injury ended his season prematurely. His most explosive target, Ty Fryfogle, is also back after hauling in 37 receptions for 721 yards and seven touchdowns. Averaging almost 20 yards per catch on 30+ receptions is a pretty eye-popping result; Fryfogle is a big play waiting to happen. Penix was not without his flaws, though -- his completion percentage was a fairly pedestrian 56% last season.
The Hoosiers have a new face at RB after last year's leading rusher, Stevie Scott, departed in the offseason. Scott ran for 561 yards and 10 touchdowns on 156 carries (3.6 ypc) last season. His primary replacement is USC transfer Stephen Carr. He'll be running behind an offensive line that returns several experienced players, though no standout performers.
On defense, the Hoosiers' strengths and weaknesses mirror Iowa: a lot of returning talent and experience in the back seven, but some question marks up front. Indiana's defensive line lost two players to the NFL Draft last season, so restocking and rebuilding the defensive front could be an issue for a Hoosier pass rush that was one of the Big Ten's best last season. They keyed the way for a defense that led the Big Ten in sacks (25) and turnovers forced (20).
But, as previously noted, the Hoosiers return a lot in the back seven, led by All-American linebacker (and leading tackler) Micah McFadden. The Hoosiers also return all of their top cornerbacks and one of their top safeties (Devon Matthews). They have the talent in the back seven to make things difficult for Spencer Petras and his less-experienced collection of wide receivers.
The key questions for Iowa in this game:
- Can the Iowa pass rush get to Penix and force him into hurried decisions and bad throws?
- Can the Iowa secondary contain Fryfogle? Iowa's defense is built around preventing the big play, but Fryfogle is a big play waiting to happen.
- Can Petras avoid turnovers against a talented and experienced Hoosier secondary?
- Both Iowa and Indiana have rebuilt offensive and defensive lines -- whose new look unit in the trenches gets up to speed fastest?
I've had a nervous feeling about this game for months. Iowa is a notoriously slow-starting team under Ferentz; they have a dazzling Week One record largely because they schedule for success. They almost never play Power 5 opponents in Week One, let alone a Top 20-ranked foe. The best two teams Iowa has played in season openers since 2001 -- Northern Illinois in 2013 and, arguably, Purdue last season -- both recorded wins, largely because Iowa wasn't sharp enough yet. Indiana is definitely good enough to make Iowa pay for moments of sloppiness today. We'll need to see an Iowa team that's better out of the gate than they've ever been in the Ferentz Era.
And yet... I can't bring myself to pick the upset, either. I expect sloppiness on both sides, but I think Tyler Goodson, Tyrone Tracy, and Sam LaPorta will make enough plays on offense, while we see some breakout moments on defense from the likes of Yahya Black and Noah Shannon. I think it's close, but Iowa prevails.
PREDICTION: Iowa 27, Indiana 21