There’s still one more game left to play on the 2022 schedule for Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes, but most Iowa fans have their minds on the 2023 campaign rather than the Music City Bowl against Kentucky.
Of course, Iowa fans would love to see their team go out with a win, but beating the Wildcats won’t have that much of an impact on the future of Iowa City.
The right quarterback and a fast start to the 2023 campaign will. Most Iowa fans already have visions of Cade McNamara leading the charge in 2023 before handing the reins to Marco Lainez or James Resar in 2024. Pair a competent offense with another strong effort on defense, and it’s easy to see Iowa shooting to the top of the Big Ten West in 2023.
With the Big Ten schedule already out, we know exactly who Iowa will face next season, so it’s an ideal time to look at the important matchups on the schedule. Here’s what will determine how 2023 will go for Ferentz’s team!
Sept. 9: At Iowa State
Losing Matt Campbell and Iowa State in a vacuum isn’t a sign of trouble. Losing to what might have been Matt Campbell’s worst Iowa State team since his first season in Ames at the Cy-Hawk Trophy should have caught the attention of everyone at Iowa. The Hawkeyes simply didn’t play offense well enough to win that game, gaining only 150 yards for the day.
Most appalling was the fact that Iowa gave the ball away three times, undoing three forced turnovers by the Hawkeye offense. And that, more than anything, was why Iowa lost to Iowa State. Since Campbell arrived in Ames, his teams have been talented but undisciplined. Iowa State lost to Iowa six years in a row because Iowa didn’t turn the ball over and took full advantage of Cyclone’s mistakes.
This will be McNamara’s first real test as the Iowa starter (the Hawks open with Utah State, but should be fine in that game), and he’ll be walking into a hostile environment that’s hungry for a victory at home over the Hawkeyes. The Cyclones haven’t beaten Iowa at Jack Trice Stadium since 2011, and it’s pretty unlikely that Campbell’s crew will turn in another 4-8 season. Iowa needs to play mistake-free football and establish itself as a contender for what lies ahead.
Sept. 23: At Penn State
Iowa’s Big Ten schedule couldn’t get off to a much tougher start than heading to Happy Valley to deal with Penn State’s powerful ground game.
To make matters worse, there’s a better-than-average shot that this might be the White Out game for the Nittany Lions, as the Hawkeyes will almost certainly be in either the Big Noon kickoff spot or the late time spot, depending on how the networks feel about Purdue-Wisconsin.
If they go with the division game, the Hawkeyes will likely play at night in University Park and get greeted with the sight of 100,000+ Penn State fans in white outfits.
Atmosphere aside, this game is critical because the Nittany Lions should be the strongest team on Iowa’s 2023 schedule. The Hawkeyes don’t play Ohio State or Michigan unless they make it to the Big Ten title game, so Penn State’s the big one on the slate for Iowa.
And the good news is that there’s not a lot of pressure on the Hawkeyes outside of this being a tough test in the Big Ten opener. Win, and Iowa puts the Big Ten on notice. Lose, and it doesn’t really affect Iowa’s hopes to win the Big Ten West. This is the final year of divisions, so the Hawks don’t have to worry about Penn State as far as making it to Indianapolis.
This game is more about being a measuring stick for Iowa. Can they slow down the ground tandem of Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton? Can they get pressure on new Penn State quarterback Drew Allar and force him to make bad decisions? Can their own offense attack what’s historically been a top-tier Big Ten defense? Iowa has to answer these questions before it can think about Indianapolis.
Oct. 7: Vs. Purdue
The Hawkeyes finally solved the Purdue curse this year — we think. Iowa stuffed the Boilermakers in a 24-3 win in West Lafayette, a game that gave the Hawkeyes a chance to claim the Big Ten West title.
Purdue should take a step back in 2023 after losing quarterback Aidan O’Connell and watching coach Jeff Brohm depart for Louisville, but it’s still critical for Iowa to avoid stubbing its toe in this matchup.
Iowa’s lost two of Purdue’s past three visits to Kinnick Stadium, and the Hawkeyes have several tough games following the Purdue clash this year.
Under no circumstances can Iowa afford to lose here if it wants to win the Big Ten West. Each time Purdue has triumphed, the Hawkeyes have allowed 20 or more points to the Boilermakers. That has to be the target number to keep Purdue under.
Oct. 14: At Wisconsin
The Badgers collapsed to a 6-6 mark in 2022 and barely squeezed into a bowl game, which led to both permanent coach Paul Chryst and interim coach Jim Leonhard getting dismissed from Madison. So now Luke Fickell takes over, which means Wisconsin is likely to remain a defense-first program that puts a lot of stock into its pass defense. Fickell built a strong pass defense at Cincinnati and turned the Bearcats into winners, and the talent level isn’t bare at Wisconsin.
This game is also critical because it’s one of just three true road games on the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten schedule this season. Northwestern won’t play at Ryan Field in 2023 because of renovations, so that’s going to feel more like a neutral site contest, and the Hawkeyes have five Big Ten home games. Winning in Madison would go a long way toward claiming the division.
Oct. 21: Vs. Minnesota
The Golden Gophers are easily one of Iowa’s biggest threats to claiming the division title. But Iowa has owned this series over the past decade-plus, winning 10 of 11 against Minnesota and keeping Floyd of Rosedale at home in Iowa City. The Gophers keep falling short against the Hawkeyes under P.J. Fleck, but not by much.
Three of the past four meetings have been decided by five points or less, and even though Kirk Ferentz is a master of winning these kinds of close games, Fleck is going to figure this out at some point.
Iowa has to make sure that it’s not this season. Minnesota will be a team in transition with a new quarterback and running back after losing Tanner Morgan and Mohamed Ibrahim, but the Gophers will still play great defense under Fleck. This will likely be another one-possession game, and Iowa has to hold its nerve.
Nov. 18: Vs. Illinois
This might actually be the biggest game on the schedule for Iowa next year, given what Bret Bielema is building in Champaign. The Fighting Illini’s progress this season was no fluke, and neither was their defense. Illinois very nearly took the Big Ten West title in 2022, and the Illini also don’t play Ohio State or Michigan in 2023.
This team is built in the mold of Bielema’s old Wisconsin teams, and longtime Iowa fans remember how much Bielema tortured his alma mater when he was in Madison.
Bielema went 3-2 against Iowa at Wisconsin, and if the Badgers hadn’t been put into the Leaders Division during that ill-fated era where Iowa and Wisconsin were in separate divisions, Bielema likely would have picked up another two wins over the Hawkeyes in that stretch.
Iowa will have to win this game in the trenches because that’s exactly where Illinois intends to fight.
Nov. 24: At Nebraska
The Cornhuskers put Iowa on notice last month when they easily handled the Hawkeyes in the first half and actually held on for the victory, earning the Heroes Game Trophy for the first time since 2014. Iowa has won five straight games over Nebraska in Lincoln, but the Huskers have a new coach Matt Rhule on the sidelines, which could change this rivalry quite a bit.
Rhule is known as both a program builder and one of the sharpest minds in college football, and unlike previous stops at Temple and Baylor, he’s not starting from scratch in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers should have bowl eligibility taken care of when Iowa rolls into Lincoln, and the Hawkeyes will likely be facing a team that won’t beat itself this time around.
This version of the Huskers won’t be the Scott Frost teams that consistently made dumb mistakes on special teams and allowed the Hawkeyes to take control of games in the fourth quarter.
Iowa’s going to have to win this game rather than lose it, and that’s where the new offensive personnel needs to ride to the rescue. If this game holds meaning for the Big Ten West title, it’s because Iowa did its job and got the offense going to the point where the Hawkeyes can reasonably think about a prime bowl destination.