Schedule breakdown: Looking at the Iowa football team’s 2020 opponents

A new opponent to open the season and a brutal two-game stretch to end it were two features of Iowa's new 2020 football schedule that was released Wednesday.


Katie Goodale

Iowa WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette catches a pass during the Iowa football vs. Penn State game in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 17-12.

Robert Read, Sports Editor

The Iowa football team is about a month away from kicking off its 2020 season. Or at least that’s what the schedule says.

The Big Ten released its new football schedule on Wednesday. Iowa is currently set to play 10 games, all against Big Ten opponents. The schedule is subject to change depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts college football.

Iowa will play nine teams it was already expecting to play in 2020, plus one additional crossover game against Maryland.

Here is how the schedule (currently) looks:

Maryland (Sept. 5)

2019 record: 3-9

Last meeting: 2018 — No. 19 Iowa defeated Maryland, 23-0, at Kinnick Stadium

The matchup: Iowa has a month to prepare for Maryland after the team was added to its schedule on Wednesday. Maryland scored 142 points in its first two games of the 2019 season, and then only 161 points over its final 10 games, nine of which were losses.

The Terrapin defense gave up 34.7 points per game and heads into this season without Keandre Jones, who led the team in tackles for loss (14.5) and sacks (seven) in 2019 as a senior.

Quarterback Josh Jackson, along with five of his teammates, are opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, head coach Mike Locksley announced Friday morning.

At Purdue (Sept. 12)

2019 record: 4-8

Last meeting: 2019 — No. 23 Iowa defeated Purdue, 26-20, at Kinnick Stadium

The matchup: After a bowl appearance in 2018, Purdue didn’t live up to the expectations last season. Part of that was due to injuries. Three quarterbacks saw significant snaps for the Boilermakers last season. The starting spot seems to be up to a competition this year, but whoever wins it won’t have the luxury of throwing to Rondale Moore, one of the best players in the conference who opted Thursday to sit out the season to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

David Bell, who topped the 1,000-yard mark as a freshman last season, takes over as the team’s No. 1 receiver.

At Minnesota (Sept. 19)

2019 record: 11-2

Last meeting: 2019 — No. 23 Iowa defeated No. 7 Minnesota, 23-19, at Kinnick Stadium

The matchup: Minnesota surprised a lot of people last season. Quarterback Tanner Morgan threw 30 touchdowns last season as a sophomore and led the Gophers to their best season in decades. His biggest returning weapon, Rashod Bateman, has opted out of the 2020 season due to concerts with COVID-19 and will instead start preparing for the NFL Draft. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound wide receiver caught 60 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.

The team had already lost top receiver Tyler Johnson, who graduated last year after catching 13 touchdown passes. Minnesota’s top rusher, Rodney Smith, is also gone — although all five of the starting offensive linemen he ran behind are back. New playmakers will have to step up and help out an offense that scored 34.1 points per game last season.

The team’s best defensive player from last season, Antoine Winfield Jr., now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He intercepted seven passes for the Gophers last season, including two in a crucial win over Penn State.

Nebraska (Sept. 26)

2019 record: 5-7

Last meeting: 2019 — No. 19 Iowa defeated Nebraska, 27-24, at Memorial Stadium

The matchup: Maybe year three is the year for the Cornhuskers under Scott Frost. Nebraska holds a 9-15 record in Frost’s first two years as head coach. The team entered last season ranked before an early-season loss to Colorado knocked it out of the poll.

Quarterback Adrian Martinez took a step back last season after a promising freshman year. Much of the team’s potential success lies in its signal caller’s hands. The team’s leading receiver from last season, JD Spielman, transferred to TCU this offseason — a major blow to the offense.

Nebraska, along with Minnesota, comes into the 2020 season with a five-game losing streak against Iowa.

RELATED: New Big Ten football schedule structured to ‘maximize flexibility’

Northwestern (Oct. 3)

2019 record: 3-9

Last meeting: 2019 — No. 20 Iowa defeated Northwestern, 20-0, at Ryan Field

The matchup: Last season was rough for Northwestern, particularly on offense. After representing the Big Ten West in the Big Ten Championship Game in 2018, the Wildcats only averaged 16.3 points per game last season.

Quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who transferred from Indiana, could help turn the passing game around. He threw for 2,454 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior for the Hoosiers.

Running back Isaiah Bowser only played five games last season. He was a key component to Northwestern’s offense two seasons ago. He ran for 165 yards and a touchdown against Iowa in 2018 as a freshman.

Northwestern’s defense was its biggest strength last season. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has nine starters returning on that side of the ball this season.

At Illinois (Oct. 10)

2019 record: 6-7

Last meeting: 2019 —  No. 19 Iowa defeated Illinois, 19-10, at Kinnick Stadium

The matchup: The Illini were much improved last season compared to 2018, when the Hawkeyes won 63-0 in Champaign. Quarterback Brandon Peters threw for 18 touchdowns last season as a junior. The offense struggled at points last season and has plenty of question marks going into 2020, but the defense has potential to be among the best in the Big Ten West.

At Penn State (Oct. 24)

2019 record: 11-2

Last meeting: 2019 — No. 10 Penn State defeated No. 17 Iowa, 17-12, at Kinnick Stadium

The matchup: Sean Clifford had the daunting task of taking over for longtime starting quarterback Trace McSorley last season. Clifford caught on quickly, throwing for 2,654 yards and 23 touchdowns and running for 402 yards and five touchdowns. The second-year starter will be working with new offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Kirk Ciarrocca, who came over from Minnesota.

One of the best linebackers in the Big Ten, Micah Parsons, has opted out of the 2020 season and will instead prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft — a huge loss for the Nittany Lions.

RELATED: Iowa limiting capacity at Kinnick Stadium for 2020 home football games

Michigan State (Oct. 31)

2019 record: 7-6

Last meeting: 2017 — Michigan State defeated Iowa, 17-10, at Spartan Stadium

The matchup: Mel Tucker is at the helm of the Spartan program now after veteran head coach Mark Dantonio resigned in February. The Michigan State defense was consistent last season and should be a strength in 2020. The biggest question is at quarterback. Starter Brian Lewerke graduated, so it will likely be up to Rocky Lombardi to lead an offense that has struggled in recent years.

Wisconsin (Nov. 14)

2019 record: 10-4

Last meeting: 2019 — No. 16 Wisconsin defeated No. 18 Iowa, 24-22, at Camp Randall Stadium

The matchup: The first game of a brutal two-game stretch to end the season starts with the Badgers. Star running back Jonathan Taylor is in the NFL now after three record-breaking years at Wisconsin. Top receiver Quintez Cephus also entered the NFL Draft, leaving another hole on offense.

Jack Coan threw for 18 touchdowns compared to only five interceptions in his first season as Wisconsin’s full-time starter. To stay productive, he will need other playmakers to step up.

Defensively, Wisconsin allowed only 16.9 points per game last season. The unit should be strong again in 2020.

At Ohio State (Nov. 21)

2019 record: 13-1

Last meeting: 2017 — Iowa defeated No. 3 Ohio State, 55-24, at Kinnick Stadium

The matchup: The best opponent on Iowa’s schedule is also the last. The only game Ohio State dropped last season was against Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal. Quarterback Justin Fields enters the season as maybe the best player in the country and a favorite for the Heisman Trophy. He accounted for 51 touchdowns last season.

Ryan Day’s squad is the heavy favorite to win the Big Ten this season. On offense and defense, the Buckeyes are among the best in the country — meaning this will be a tough task for the Hawkeyes.

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