Iowa football faces tough road to Indianapolis

The Hawkeyes will have their hands full going against a daunting schedule of opponents in 2019.

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Iowa football faces tough road to Indianapolis

Iowa defensive lineman A.J. Epenesa returns a fumble for a touchdown during Iowa's game against Illinois at Memorial Stadium in Champaign on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini 63-0.

Iowa defensive lineman A.J. Epenesa returns a fumble for a touchdown during Iowa's game against Illinois at Memorial Stadium in Champaign on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini 63-0.

Nick Rohlman

Iowa defensive lineman A.J. Epenesa returns a fumble for a touchdown during Iowa's game against Illinois at Memorial Stadium in Champaign on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini 63-0.

Nick Rohlman

Nick Rohlman

Iowa defensive lineman A.J. Epenesa returns a fumble for a touchdown during Iowa's game against Illinois at Memorial Stadium in Champaign on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini 63-0.

Robert Read, Sports Reporter

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Iowa football this season will return a quarterback who could become the program’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns. The team has two offensive-tackle prospects who could hear their names called early in the NFL Draft next year. They have A.J. Epenesa.

The only thing standing between the talented roster and a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game is: a daunting schedule.

On paper, which at this point is the only thing to go by, Iowa possesses one of the most challenging schedules in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes will face nine teams that earned bowl-game berths in 2018, and at the beginning of October, they will begin a five-game stretch against Michigan, Penn State, Purdue, Northwestern, and Wisconsin.

This stretch, the heart of the Iowa schedule, will likely determine whether Hawkeye fans should start reserving hotel rooms in Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship weekend.

In addition, annual games against Iowa State, Minnesota, and Nebraska are all possible trap games.

The reigning Outback Bowl champion Hawkeyes have their work cut out as they look to put together another strong season, and The Daily Iowan took a look at the games that will prove to be the most challenging.

Michigan The Woverines provide Iowa with likely the most challenging game on its slate. Traveling to the Big House, the Hawkeyes will face a Jim Harbaugh-led program that is looking for revenge.

In 2016 — the last meeting between the two teams — Iowa walked off against the then-No. 2 ranked Wolverines at Kinnick Stadium.

Madness ensued. The field was stormed. Michigan’s college-football playoff hopes were derailed.

Those do not seem like things Michigan will have forgotten.

This season’s version of this game will see Iowa up against another highly ranked Michigan team, with returning quarterback Shea Patterson trying to prove that the best team in the conference resides in Ann Arbor.

Iowa State

Iowa State is looking for its first win in this rivalry series since 2014. The difference from past years, however, is that the Cyclones will likely be the favorites.

Matt Campbell is firmly cemented in his role as Iowa State’s head coach, and he now has a no-question starter at quarterback in Brock Purdy. The defensive front seven should also be a strength.

Iowa State will enter the season as one of the favorites to win the Big 12, perhaps only behind Oklahoma and Texas.

Ames will undoubtedly be a madhouse for the Cy-Hawk matchup.

Penn State

Iowa has suffered heartbreaking losses to Penn State in consecutive years now, and it will be another game to circle on the calendar. Fans may be especially excited about the contest after the announcement that Iowa will wear alternate uniforms.

The Nittany Lions are without program-favorite quarterback Trace McSorely after his graduation, but penciled-in starter Sean Clifford has a deep roster of talent around him to make the transition smooth and provide Iowa with a challenging opponent.

Nebraska

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost has a history of big leaps in production from Year 1 to Year 2, and many believe that will continue at Nebraska.

Adrian Martinez will likely be an even bigger problem for opposing defenses in his sophomore season; he torched Iowa for 260 passing yards and 76 rushing yards with 3 touchdowns in the matchup last season.

Nebraska’s defense should also be significantly better, although many in Lincoln may find it hard that the defense could have been any worse.

Both the offensive and defensive lines still need to show a lot of improvement, specifically if they want to beat Iowa. But if the trenches are more formidable for the Cornhuskers, the Black Friday matchup could quite possibly have important conference standings implications.

Wisconsin

The Badgers are always a handful for Iowa, no matter the quarterback situation for the Badgers. The defense-dominant rivalry is always an old-school, highly anticipated conference matchup.

The last time Iowa was in Madison, Josh Jackson took 2 interceptions to the house, providing more points for the Hawkeyes than the Iowa offense.

Last season, the Badgers sucked the air right out of Kinnick as they avoided the upset Hawkeye fans had hoped for.

Jonathan Taylor will again suit up in the Red and White after rushing for a staggering 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. Both times he has faced Iowa in his college career, he has rushed for at least 100 yards, a rarity against a Phil Parker defense.

If Iowa wants to break the losing streak against Wisconsin, containing Taylor will be key.