2018 Iowa Hawkeye football projections on the Hour Glass
By Peyton Aldridge
Want to talk about a sleeper team? Well here is a possible option and a team that I personally think may surprise the entire nation. Head Coach Kirk Ferentz ball club finished with an overall record of 8-4 last season and a conference record of 4-5, playing in the West Division of the Big 10. They did lose a few key players in the draft but one thing we all know about Ferentz, is that he has what we call a “plug and play” system. While the offense was very inconsistent, scoring 55 vs Ohio State then only 20 vs Nebraska, the defense was strong willed and helped maintain a decent season for them in 2017. So enough about 2017, let’s look at what they have in store for 2018.
QB Nate Stanley
WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette
TE T.J. Hockenson
TE Noah Fant
SS- Amani Hooker
DL- Anthony Nelson
RB Akrum Wadley
OL James Daniels
OG Ike Boettqer
C Sean Walsh
ILB Josey Jewell
OLB Bo Bower
Even though this offense lost 3 of its starters on the offensive line and the star RB Akrum Wadley, if you take a closer look you will see that what they return has all the experience needed for a big run. QB Nate Stanley had a few consistency problems but overall put up a decent year in 2017, throwing the ball for 2432 yards with 26 TDs to just an amazing 6 interceptions. This Iowa offense was very good with not turning the ball over, something that will help them improve on that 8-4 record this year. A couple things that will help Stanley is the return of his strong duo of receivers in Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Nick Easley. While Smith-Marsette didn’t have amazing numbers, he showed true potential every time he got the ball and I would expect for him to be Stanley’s go to man this 2018 season. One hole to fill will be the running back position. Iowa lost not only the Wadley but also his backup James Butler. As of now, it looks as though that role will be shared between 2 guys, Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin. Young has the size and durability to be the lead guy but look to see Kelly-Young come in on 3rd downs and most passing plays. Kelly-Young had an average of 9.2 yards per carry, though on just 20 carries. He looks to have the most potential in that back field. While they did lose those starters up front, 4 of the 5 guys returning still played a considerable amount last season. The group of big men will be led by Keegan Render. Though he played most of 2017 at RG, id look for him to move to center replacing James Daniels. On paper, this looks like the weakness of this Iowa team but after doing much film study and knowing how Coach Ferentz works, I expect absolutely no drop off for this group. Last but not least for this offense is what I would consider the most talented TE duo in the country. T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are both back to wreak havoc on defenses. Hockenson has great hands and is an amazing blocker while Fant has a rare blend of size and speed and is an absolute matchup nightmare for defenses in the redzone. I feel this offense is going to be the bright spot of this team and will be one of the best in the Big 10.
Offensive Newcomer to Watch
WR Nico Ragaini- Nico is an early enrollee who is a great route runner and shows great hands. I expect him to see the field some in 2018 and could become a good 3rd down option on passing plays.
This defense wan fantastic in the 2017 season and did everything right in some of the bigger games. They do have to do a complete overhaul at the linebacker position as they are losing their 3 leading tacklers on the team in Josey Jewell, Bo Bower and Ben Niemann. They also lost star CB Josh Jackson, but I see plenty of worthy guys to help make this defense solid again in 2018 so let’s take a look! On that defensive line are 2 extremely talented ends. Coming off a standout season as a freshman is A.J. Epenesa. He was a 5-star recruit coming out of high school and has been nothing short of great. On the other side of that defensive line will be Anthony Nelson who had a team leading 7.5 sacks last season. Nelson really knows how to get to the QB but also looks good stopping the run. This very well could be Nelson’s last season as I expect you to hear his name called a lot throughout the year. Looking at the group of linebackers and trying to figure out who will be playing is no easy task. As we mentioned above, they lost all 3 starters here and those 3 were the top 3 leading tacklers. In the middle I expect Kristian Welch to takeover. Welch only had 6 total tackles last year which goes to show how depleted this group is. On the outside, I expect Aaron Mends and Nick Neimann to start. Neimann is the younger brother of Ben and he looks to have the tools to fill in his brother’s shoes. Also look for some of the incoming freshman to possibly get some shots here as the Hawkeyes signed 4 linebackers in there 2018 class. In the secondary, Iowa brings back three cornerbacks with starting experience. Manny Rugamba started eight games last season after starting three in 2016. Michael Ojemudia, had four starts last year and by the final two games, Matt Hankins had beaten out both players in his first season on campus. Rugamba finished with 36 tackles and 4 pass breakups, while Ojemudia had 29 tackles and Hankins finished with 21 so I don’t expect a drop-off here after losing star CB Josh Jackson. Playing in that strong safety spot is my pick as a possible Big 10 first team All American. Amani hooker looks to be the next stud to come out of that Iowa secondary as he has everything you want to see in a safety and Senior Brandon Snyder is also back after dealing with an ACL injury during the 2017 season. As far as special teams, Iowa returns both the starting Kicker and Punter and I would look for WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette to be the key return man.
Defensive Newcomer to Watch
OLB Dillon Doyle- Doyle is coming in at a very good point playing a position in much need of help. Dillon’s dad, Chris Doyle, is Iowa’s Strength and Conditioning coach so Dillon is very familiar with the Iowa program. Dillon is also an early enrollee and I expect him to provide much needed depth and even get to compete for a starting spot as a freshman.
My 2018 Outlook
Iowa is one of my 2018 sleepers in all of college football. While they did lose some key pieces, this 2018 schedule sets up very nice for them. They don’t have to play Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State this year and get Wisconsin, Nebraska and rival Iowa State all at home. One big game of the year for me will be when Iowa travels to take on the Nittany Lions of Penn State. With an improved offense led by star QB Nate Stanley and a defense that I believe will surprise many people once again, my predictions is that the Iowa Hawkeyes finish the season 11-1 with a shot at the Big 10 title and playoff hopes on the line!
Hour Glass National Recruiting Ranking: 43rd – Outside our Realistic College Football Playoff Bust Line on our talent index.
National Coaching Rank for Kirk Ferentz on HG Scale: 10th nationally. (Ferentz Stamp at 18) – Average coaching value for 2018 set at 3.75.
Returning Iowa quarterback play rated 7th in the country out of 130 teams. Average quarterback stamp nationally for 2018 is 8.3. Iowa has a stamp of 21.3.
2018 Hour Glass Projections 11-1
2017 Hour Glass Projections were at 6-6; finished 7-5 (92 percent accuracy)