Iowa is on the best five-year run in program history and now turns to Spencer Petras to continue it.
Petras, who will replace three-year starting quarterback Nate Stanley, couldn’t walk into a much better situation. The 6-foot-5, 231-pound sophomore from San Rafael, California, will have plenty of experience around him at all positions, including what could be the best group of receivers in coach Kirk Ferentz’s 22 seasons.
“We’re really pleased with what we know about him, what we have seen of him on the field, off the field, the way he works with his teammates,” Ferentz said. “We feel really good about him, but the facts are that he hasn’t played yet, really hasn’t played any significant snaps. But we can say that about a lot of our players.”
The Hawkeyes enter 2020 on a roll. They finished last season 10-3 after four straight wins, including a Holiday Bowl victory over Southern California. They were No. 15 in the final Top 25, their best showing since winning the Big Ten West and ending up No. 9 in 2015.
Petras stayed in Iowa City to work out with receivers after the coronavirus pandemic forced the university to go to online learning. Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Tyrone Tracy and Nico Ragaini return and Brandon Smith will be back after going out late in the season because of injury.
The running game is solid and deep. Tyler Goodson was the first true freshman to lead the team in rushing, Mekhi Sargent is back for his senior season and Ivory Kelly-Martin returns after playing in four games and taking a redshirt.
The offensive line lost first-round NFL draft pick Tristan Wirfs. But tackle Alaric Jackson returned to school instead of declaring for the draft and the emergence of center Tyler Linderbaum in 2019 will give Iowa another strong line.
Chauncey Golston, who worked opposite of A.J. Epenesa at end, is coming off a strong season and will be the most experienced defensive lineman. Djimon Colbert was set to lead the linebacker corps, but he decided to opt out because of coronavirus concerns.
Matt Hankins returns at cornerback, and Kaevon Merriweather looked promising in limited action at free safety.
SUMMER OF CHANGE
Iowa’s football program was a focal point in sports as racial tension roiled across the nation over the summer.
Former players spoke about a culture in which Black players weren’t allowed to be their authentic selves and were treated unfairly by some members of the coaching staff. Concerns were aired at team meetings, strength coach Chris Doyle was fired for mistreating players, and an outside investigation looked into the issues raised.
Ferentz formed an advisory committee of former players and vowed to create a more welcoming environment, and several Black players have said they’ve seen positive changes.
A GOOD RUN
Iowa’s bowl win gave it 47 wins since 2015, the best five-year run since the Hawkeyes won 46 games from 1983-87. Only eight schools have won more games since 2015.
The Hawkeyes bring back a consensus All-American in kicker Keith Duncan, who set the Big Ten single-season record with a nation-leading 29 field goals. The former walk-on found out he was going on scholarship after he kicked a 48-yard field goal with one second left to beat Nebraska in the final regular-season game.
Iowa briefly paused workouts in all sports in early September because of a spike in COVID-19 cases on campus. The athletic department had 10 positive results out of 652 tests last week and 247 positives out of 6,494 tests since May 29.
Ferentz said disruptions caused by the virus in the spring and summer left his players at varying levels of conditioning entering preseason practice.
“You have guys coming out of quarantine, all those kind of things, and (it was) really hard to quantify where we were at,” Ferentz said. “So we really went slow at the start. We really tried to be as cautious as we possibly could, as smart as we possibly could, trying to avoid any injuries that would be avoidable in a normal season.”
The Hawkeyes have a manageable first three games, starting at Purdue on Oct. 24. Next up are Northwestern and Michigan State at home. Their toughest crossover game is at No. 9 Penn State on Nov. 21.
Two popular nonconference games, against Iowa State and Northern Iowa, were supposed to be played in Iowa City in September. The series against ISU resumes in 2021. There are no scheduled games against UNI.
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