By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo sees the University of Iowa football team as a player in the Big Ten West Division in 2018.
“They are going to challenge Wisconsin in the West,” DiNardo said Monday as BTN made its 11th stop on the BTN Bus Tour. “Their crossovers are favorable and this is a team that seems to take it game-by-game.
“If they’re not competing in the West until the last week of the season I’ll be surprised, based on what I saw at today’s practice.”
Fellow BTN analyst Howard Griffith says the Hawkeyes passed the eye test, especially at the line of scrimmage.
“They look physically more developed than they did last year,” said Griffith. “When you look at the offensive line, you know they’re going to be well-coached and physically, the defensive line looks impressive.
“When you start to look at the skill positions and receivers, they’re going to make a big jump.”
But it all starts with junior quarterback Nate Stanley, who enters his second season as Iowa’s starter. Stanley threw for 2,437 yards as a sophomore in 2017, tossing 26 touchdowns to just six interceptions.
“There is an old expression where teams make their greatest progress from game one to game two,” said DiNardo. “I would say the same thing with first-year to second-year starters, especially at quarterback. It will be more of the same for Nate, but better and more efficient.
“It looks like there is going to be an offensive evolution. It looks like they’re going to do some different things by formation.”
Although Iowa lost 1,000-yard rusher Akrum Wadley to graduation, Griffith likes the potential of Iowa’s running backs in Ivory Kelly-Martin, Toren Young, and junior-college transfer Mekhi Sargent.
“Their running game will develop,” said Griffith. “There are some unproven guys, but they’ll be household names at the end of the season with the way they run the football. It’s a matter of them getting comfortable and seeing if they’re going to need a bell cow, but they have three guys that are going to be more than capable of leading this team.”
Both DiNardo and Griffith referenced the 2013 season when asked about the challenge of replacing starting linebackers Josey Jewell, Bo Bower, and Ben Niemann.
That season Iowa graduated starting linebackers James Morris, Anthony Hitchens, and Christian Kirksey. Jewell made a name for himself the following season; this time around, it’s junior Amani Jones.
“Amani could have played two years ago, but he had talented guys in front of him,” said Griffith. “When you have a middle linebacker with the athleticism and talent that he has, that will give you a chance.
“The defensive line is going to set the tempo. They’re going to have a young secondary, but they’ll be fine because they find a way to coach them up when they lose guys.”
Iowa opens the 2018 season Sept. 1, hosting Northern Illinois at 2:30 p.m. (CT). Tickets are available at hawkeyesports.com/tickets.