IOWA CITY, Iowa — Coming off a season in which Iowa played 10 opponents that appeared in bowl games, including five teams that won at least 10 games, the Hawkeyes’ 2018 schedule lightens.
Crossover battles with Ohio State (12-2) and Michigan State (10-3) are replaced by games against Maryland (4-8) and Indiana (5-7). Contests that required trips last fall to Iowa State, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska are played at Kinnick Stadium this year. On a computer screen, it’s a more advantageous schedule.
Iowa’s season projections rarely go as planned, however. The Hawkeyes started as a top-16 team in 2006 and 2010, but combined for a 14-12 record. Iowa expected to challenge for the 2014 divisional title and lost all four trophy games. Then in 2015, the Hawkeyes finished the regular season 12-0. Go figure.
With roughly 11 weeks left until the opener Sept. 1 against Northern Illinois, it’s time to take a glance at Iowa’s upcoming schedule. Here’s how it breaks down.
12. At Illinois (2-10, 0-9 Big Ten) — Since their border series was reborn in 2014, the Hawkeyes have beaten the Fighting Illini four straight times by a 20.5-point average. Illinois started 16 first-year freshmen and played 22 last year, the most of any team in the country. Several players have transferred from Champaign since last season. The Illini finished worse than 100th in 20 major offensive categories and their defense was nearly as bad. It’s time to question whether coach Lovie Smith can turn around the Illini.
- Date: Nov. 17 Time: TBD TV: TBD
11. Maryland (4-8, 2-7 Big Ten) — Maryland’s one-dimensional offense cost the Terrapins a bowl berth last year. At 161.7 rushing yards per game, Maryland could battle for yards with any opponent. But its passing game had the same average, which was 116th nationally. Maryland was dreadful on third down, ranking 128th offensively and 127th on defense.
- Date: Oct. 20 Time: 11 a.m. CT TV: TBD
10. Northern Iowa (8-5, 6-2 MVC/FCS) — This isn’t your typical FCS game where the opponent collects a check and the Big Ten squad picks up an easy win. Northern Iowa always has athletic skill position players — see NFL star running back David Johnson — and is both well-coached and motivated. Northern Iowa won eight games last year, threw 28 touchdown passes and was plus-8 in turnover margin. The Panthers beat three FCS top-10 opponents in 2017 and qualified for the playoffs. There are plenty of overlooked players on Northern Iowa’s roster who have something to prove against the Hawkeyes. That said, Iowa’s size and depth should overwhelm a talented squad.
- Date: Sept. 15 Time: 6:30 p.m. TV: BTN
9. At Indiana (5-7, 2-7 Big Ten) — Indiana usually finds an angle with Iowa that makes for a competitive game. In their 2015 meeting, Indiana’s explosive offense with running back Jordan Howard allowed the Hoosiers to trail by just 1 point early in the fourth quarter. Iowa later scored twice to pull out a 35-27 win. After falling a win shy of a bowl bid, the Hoosiers lost several key playmakers this offseason, including receiver Simmie Cobbs, tight end Ian Thomas, quarterback Richard Lagow and cornerback Rashard Fant. Can their replacements play? That will determine whether this is a competitive game or a blowout.
- Date: Oct. 13 Time: 11 a.m. CT; TV: ABC/ESPN/ESPN2
8. Northern Illinois (8-5, 6-2 MAC) — This is not the easiest MAC opponent to face in an opener. Iowa found that out in 2013 with a 27-24 home loss. The Huskies competed in the Quick Lane Bowl and won at Nebraska. They also boast consensus All-America defensive end Sutton Smith, who led the nation with 29.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries for touchdowns. The Huskies ranked first nationally in tackles for loss (114), fifth in sacks (43) and fifth in rushing yards allowed per carry (2.97). Northern Illinois also has a veteran offensive line. If Iowa can contain Smith and run the ball, it should win. If it does neither, it will be a long, frustrating day.
- Date: Sept. 1 Time: 2:30 p.m. CT TV: BTN
7. At Minnesota (5-7, 2-7 Big Ten) — Iowa has won the last three between these ancient rivals, but none of them were blowouts. Last year at raucous Kinnick Stadium, the Hawkeyes prevailed 17-10. Minnesota has no experienced quarterback returning, which is for the best. The Gophers ranked 122nd nationally in passing yards, 125th in completion percentage (47.2) and 108th in points per game (22.1). Minnesota not only has marked this game for homecoming, it has a premium price point for single-game buyers. Plus, these teams are getting ultra-competitive on the recruiting trail. Expect a spirited effort — as usual — for Floyd of Rosedale.
- Date: Oct. 6; Time: 2:30 or 3 p.m. CT; TV: TBD
6. Nebraska (4-8, 3-6 Big Ten) — There’s really nothing one can take from Nebraska’s 2017 season to analyze the current squad. Iowa has won three straight in this series, including the 56-14 victory in Lincoln in 2017. The Cornhuskers switched coaches this offseason and brought in Scott Frost, who will redefine Nebraska football in short order. Nebraska has talented players — especially at wide receiver — but faces a difficult overall schedule. This game could mean the difference between staying at home or going to a bowl game for the Huskers, who have the potential to turn things around quickly.
Date: Nov. 23 Time: 11 a.m. CT TV: FOX
5. At Purdue (7-6, 4-5 Big Ten) — Purdue’s turnaround last year under first-year coach Jeff Brohm was nothing short of sensational. Brohm’s offensive reputation was on display, but Purdue’s defense made unimaginable strides. The Boilermakers cut their points per game allowed from 38.3 to 20.5, their rushing yards allowed from 238.4 to 132.9 and rushing touchdowns allowed from 35 to 10. The Boilermakers lost eight defensive starters, so some repair is in order. But the offense is virtually intact. Considering Purdue beat Iowa 24-15 at Kinnick last November, this series no longer carries an automatic “W” for the Hawkeyes.
- Date: Nov. 3 Time: TBD TV: TBD
4. Northwestern (10-3, 7-2 Big Ten) — There’s no trophy involved between these teams, but it’s a rivalry in every sense. They compete for recruits, they battle on the field and it’s painful to lose. Northwestern has won the last two meetings, including the 17-10 overtime game last year. The Wildcats defense was one of the nation’s best in 2017, ranking in the top 10 in yards per carry (3.25), rushing yards per game (107.7) and red-zone defense (73.2). Northwestern’s chances could depend on quarterback Clayton Thorson’s health and how the team replaces all-time great running back Justin Jackson. Either way, this game often serves as a barometer for the teams.
- Date: Nov. 10 Time: TBD TV: TBD
3. Iowa State (8-5, 5-4 Big 12) — Every fall on the second Saturday in September, every corner of the state tunes into the annual Cy-Hawk clash. No matter the records or prospects, it’s a big deal. The anticipation might be higher for the 2018 game than any other in the last decade. Iowa won the overtime epic last year in Ames, 44-41. Later that season, both teams knocked off top-5 teams — Iowa State did it twice — won eight games and picked up a bowl victory. With as many as 100,000 fans tailgating for a late-afternoon kickoff, it could get wild in downtown Iowa City. The key returnees for both squads, such as Iowa State running back David Montgomery, ensure the game could match the feverish environment.
- Date: Sept. 8 Time: 4 p.m. CT TV: FOX
2. At Penn State (11-2, 7-2 Big Ten) — There is no more difficult road environment for Iowa next fall than at Happy Valley. In 2016, Penn State rolled up 599 yards to flatten the Hawkeyes 41-14. Iowa bounced back last year with a diligent performance, but the Nittany Lions scored on the game’s final play at Kinnick to win 21-19. Penn State returns plenty of starters — although no running back Saquon Barkley — from a team that won the Fiesta Bowl last year. Quarterback Trace McSorley returns for Penn State, which has beaten Iowa four straight times.
- Date: Oct. 27 Time: TBD TV: TBD
1. Wisconsin (13-1, 9-0 Big Ten) — The Badgers have taken control of this border rivalry with victories in five of the last six meetings. Wisconsin pulverized Iowa’s offense last year in a 38-14 trouncing. The Hawkeyes managed just 66 yards, their lowest total in any game since 1944. While Iowa has struggled to overcome Wisconsin’s defensive prowess for several years, many of the issues were self-inflicted. The winner has claimed all four Big Ten West Division titles, and it could happen again in 2018. In the last 10 seasons, Iowa is 4-1 against top-5 competition at Kinnick Stadium. If the Badgers are ranked that high and the game is played at night, it will become a must-see event.
- Date: Sept. 22 Time: TBD TV: TBD