Why the Iowa Hawkeyes could pull off another undefeated season
Will we be talking about an undefeated Iowa once again in 2016? What started as a running joke instigated by the Solid Verbal crew became a reality, as Iowa navigated the regular season 12-0 and didn’t taste defeat until the Big Ten title game. The season ended on a sour note with the Rose Bowl shellacking at the hands of Stanford, but make no mistake, 2015 was a success for Iowa. However, if the Hawkeyes’ 2015 success was unexpected, why should we expect a repeat in 2016?
Returning top talent Beathard under center
Considering Beathard was carrying a groin injury since early October, his +16.7 overall grade (+10.5 passing, +6.7 rushing) was more than respectable, and the best mark among returning Big Ten QBs. Beathard showed an ability to take care of the football, with just five picks in 2015 and seven in his last 454 pass attempts. That’s partly because Beathard didn’t force the ball down the field often — only 13.4 percent of his pass attempts went 20+ yards downfield in the air, ranking 94th out of 128 qualifying QBs.
That’s not a reflection on Beathard’s ability to throw deep — he can — it’s rather a schematic choice. Former Iowa QB Jake Rudock posted an almost identical 13.2 percent in 2014. Beathard is also relatively mobile, and capable of hurting opponents with his feet. Playing injured curtailed that dynamism somewhat in 2015, but he still managed 8.7 yards per scramble, averaged four yards after contact, and 13 missed tackles on just 40 scrambles. The play below shows a fully healthy Beathard scrambling from his own end zone for a 44-yard gain, assisted by some poor tackling.
Clear path to 12-0
In addition to a strong returning roster, the Hawkeyes find themselves with a favorable schedule. Their non-conference schedule features visits from Miami (OH), Iowa State and North Dakota State. The RedHawks and Cyclones managed a combined six wins between them last year, with only four of them coming against FBS opposition. Iowa State are at least a rival, and have won on their last two trips to Iowa City. An FCS powerhouse, the Bison can’t be taken lightly and have defeated the last four Power-5 teams they’ve faced, all on the road, and yet they will be breaking in a new QB.
The Big Ten schedule has also fallen well for the Hawkeyes. All the expected contenders for the Big Ten West have to visit Kinnick Stadium. Of their five road opponents (Rutgers, Minnesota, Purdue, Penn State and Illinois), only the Nittany Lions won more than two conference games in 2015. They do host Michigan, but once again avoid Ohio State and Michigan State from the Big Ten East. 12-0 won’t be easy, but the schedule is once again on the Hawkeyes side, with the proviso that how a schedule looks on paper in the Spring often bears limited resemblance to how the real thing plays out in the Fall.
Going 12-0 again will not be easy, but with things setting up in their favour, the Hawkeyes have a great chance to record another memorable season.