Hawkeyes look ahead
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
There are plenty of reasons to think that Iowa can compete for the Big Ten West title in 2017.
None of them will matter if the Hawkeyes can’t fix their passing attack in the offseason.
Iowa (8-5, 6-3 Big Ten) finished an unpredictable season in highly predictable fashion Monday. The Hawkeyes got blown out in yet another bowl game, falling to Florida 30-3.
The Hawkeyes’ inability to put together a passable passing game caught up to them against the Gators. Iowa completed just seven of its 24 passes for 55 yards — with just one reception coming from a wide receiver.
Iowa finished 2016 ranked 118th out of 128 FBS teams with 153.2 yards passing per game. Florida handed Iowa its fifth consecutive bowl loss.
“I thought our game plan was good, and there were just some things that we didn’t execute, and those little details mean a great deal to us. I mean, they’re just really important for us,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
The Hawkeyes will get a major boost next fall when leading receiver Matt VandeBerg returns from a foot injury.
But Iowa will still need a few of its other receivers to emerge if it hopes to compete in the Big Ten and beyond.
VandeBerg played just four games and yet still ranked third among Iowa’s receivers with 19 catches. Jerminic Smith had his moments as a sophomore, but he caught just 23 passes for 314 yards. Fellow sophomore Jay Scheel failed to live up to his potential, catching just five balls in 12 games.
Iowa also will break in a new quarterback, most likely sophomore-to-be Nathan Stanley, so huge improvements from its receiving corps will be needed if it hopes to compete with the likes of Wisconsin and Nebraska in 2017.
Still, Iowa has a decent amount of talent coming back.
The Hawkeyes will bring back five starters from an offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s top line. Explosive running back Akrum Wadley is also scheduled to return, although he said after Monday’s Outback Bowl that he might enter the NFL Draft.
Iowa will need to replace cornerback Desmond King, one of the best players in school history, and talented defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson. But the Hawkeyes have plenty of intriguing pieces along its line, most notably ends Matt and Anthony Nelson, and Josey Jewell will spearhead a veteran group of linebackers.
Iowa’s schedule toughens in 2017 as well.
The Hawkeyes will face an improving Iowa State on the road, and they’ll also have to travel to Wisconsin and Nebraska. Iowa opens Big Ten play against Penn State at home, and it’ll start November by hosting Ohio State.
Iowa was the favorite to win the West in August, but a stunning home loss to North Dakota State of the FCS was the first sign that the Hawkeyes didn’t have enough to repeat as division champions.
A three-game winning streak in November, highlighted by huge home wins over Michigan and Nebraska, rescued what had looked like a lost season.
But after a month off, Florida exposed the Hawkeyes inept passing attack.
“Certainly we’re disappointed to lose, but it doesn’t define this football team. This team has been great to work with. They’ve had a lot of good moments on and off the field,” Ferentz said Monday.