Four questions for Hawkeye football

Quarterback hype, inexperienced linebackers, no Josh Jackson, and the receivers in year two – four questions the DI football staff wants to see answered.

Iowa+quarterback+Nate+Stanley+looks+to+throw+during+an+Iowa%2FMinnesota+football+game+in+Kinnick+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+28%2C+2017.+The+Hawkeyes+defeated+the+Golden+Gophers%2C+17-10.+

Joseph Cress

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley looks to throw during an Iowa/Minnesota football game in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. The Hawkeyes defeated the Golden Gophers, 17-10.

DI Staff

A new football season is almost upon Iowa City, which means the anticipation for the first Kinnick Swarm is in full effect. But there are plenty of questions surrounding the Hawkeyes going into the opening weekend against Northern Illinois.

Will Nate Stanley live up to the hype?

A few weeks ago, Colin Cowherd made Iowa headlines in a positive light (for once) when he proclaimed Nate Stanley to be “the best quarterback … maybe in the country.”

Now, with people speculating about the possibility of Stanley going in the first round of the next NFL Draft, there certainly is no shortage of hype surrounding Iowa’s junior quarterback.

He put up solid numbers last season, throwing for 26 touchdowns with only 6 interceptions and a 55.8 completion percentage. However, last season, no one knew Stanley, and now opponents have a year’s worth of tape on him and more pressure has been mounted on Stanley’s shoulders.

Stanley seems fully capable of taking on the new challenges, and his first chance to prove that will be this weekend against Northern Illinois. Because Northern Illinois isn’t a particularly strong team, it should be an easy game in which Stanley can show off his potential.

— Jordan Zuniga

How will the three new linebackers fare?

Arguably one of Iowa football’s biggest questions going into the season-opener against Northern Illinois is the efficiency of the new trio of linebackers. Last season, the group was strong: Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann, and Bo Bower led the charge as seniors. Now, with all three of them in the midst of NFL preseason, younger guys have had to step up.

Really though, we’re all wondering if the linebacker group is going to be the weak link of this Iowa defense with the loss of the top three guys. Nick Niemann is going to fill in at his older brother’s vacant role, and Amani Jones has grabbed the middle linebacker leadership position. But the weak side? Who knows. And this is a problem.

With tough teams coming into town early in the season (Wisconsin, I’m looking at you) if the defense isn’t locked down, the Hawkeyes better be prepared or be ran over by the Badger Elite.

I’m a little worried, but the first step is Northern Illinois. By halftime on Saturday, hopefully, we’ll have an idea about how the new group of linebackers will play out.

— Anna Kayser

How will the secondary hold up without Josh Jackson?

Replacing Josh Jackson is nearly impossible. His 8 interceptions led college football last season, and he has proved his worth at the next (preseason) level already with two Pick-6s (one of which was called back).

But with a relatively experienced corner in Michael Ojemudia alongside Matt Hankins, who came on strong and earned a starting spot at the end of last season, anything can happen. After all, Jackson was inexperienced going into his record-tying junior season.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker has raved about true freshman Julius Brents, who has solidified himself as the third cornerback. Throw in redshirt freshman Josh Turner, who inserted himself into the top-four on the depth chart, and there is plenty of potential with the young corners.

A lot of the future depends on how much the youthful group can soak up in their on-field action. With a strong safety group that can help bail them out, the cornerbacks are free to play to their strengths while showing what they can do on the field.

— Pete Ruden

Will the receivers step up?

OK, so hear me out: On paper, Iowa’s passing game could be the best it’s had in years. From top to bottom, the potential is there.

The tight ends are, and always have been, a major staple in the air attack (you know, death, taxes, tight-end use), but the receivers are the wild card.

Last season, the wide-receiver group was put together on the fly, essentially. There was no chemistry entering the season, and there were times where it showed.

Enter Year 2 — every big contributor on the receiver side is back. Nick Easley stepped up as a somewhat consistent pass catcher. Ihmir Smith-Marsette has big-play ability, especially with his speed, something that could open up the passing game immensely. Add Brandon Smith into the equation, and you’ve got a recipe for a solid all-around group.

It’s just a matter of building that ever-growing chemistry with Easley and proving it on the field.

— Adam Hensley

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