Opinion | Bold predictions for the 2021 Iowa football season

All four members of the DI’s football staff are going big with their takes as the new season kicks off.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell (left) chases after Iowa wide receiver Keagan Johnson (right) during a spring practice at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, May 1, 2021.

The Daily Iowan’s football staff is going bold to start the season.

All four members of the DI staff dedicated to covering the Hawkeye football team made a bold prediction ahead of Iowa’s season-opener on Saturday against Indiana.

Here are their takes.

Jack Campbell earns Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year

You want bold? Here’s bold.

Jack Campbell made quite the impression when he finally saw the field in 2020. Originally from Cedar Falls, Campbell missed the first three games of his sophomore season last year with mononucleosis. He appeared in the final five games of the shortened season. And he excelled.

This season, he’s going to win the conference’s defensive player of the year award.

Campbell recorded 29 tackles, 3.5 for loss, a sack, and an interception a year ago — all while splitting reps at middle linebacker. The “mike” spot is all Campbell’s this year. And he could very well be the next great Iowa linebacker.

There aren’t many 6-foot-5, 243-pound linebackers. And among those that are, I’d doubt many are as quick from sideline-to-sideline and in coverage as Campbell.

I think Campbell, now healthy and a solidified starter, will take the jump that other Hawkeyes like Daviyon Nixon and Josh Jackson have made lately. He will go from a solid, impact player to being the standout defender in the Big Ten.

— Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Spencer Petras will be benched in favor of Alex Padilla

One thing has been consistent on each of the three depth charts Iowa football has released this offseason: Junior Spencer Petras is the Hawkeyes’ starting quarterback, and sophomore Alex Padilla is his backup.

Petras may be the start now, but if he struggles like he did last season, he won’t stay on the field very long.

It’s difficult to predict when exactly Padilla will make his first appearance. But when Petras is benched, Padilla won’t relinquish control of the Hawkeyes’ offense.

According to The Athletic, Padilla narrowed the gap between himself and Petras this offseason. With little separating Petras and Padilla, perhaps Kirk Ferentz will be less hesitant to make a change at quarterback if Petras struggles.

It seems unlikely that Ferentz would make a change at quarterback in-between games. If Petras stumbles during a game, however, Ferentz may keep him on a short leash and turn to Padilla mid-game to spark Iowa’s offense.

If Padilla takes over in the middle of a game and leads Iowa to a victory, there will be no going back to Petras at QB. The momentum both Padilla and the Hawkeyes would gain from a come-from-behind Padilla win would make it impossible to go back to Petras, barring an injury.

With Petras bound to struggle eventually, count on Padilla taking command of the Hawkeyes’ offense and becoming Ferentz’s full-time starter at some point this season.

— Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

Keagan Johnson will replace Nico Ragaini as the No. 2 wide receiver

There’s only one lock at wide receiver: Tyrone Tracy Jr. Barring injury, Tracy will remain the Hawkeyes’ No. 1 wide receiver for the entirety of the 12-game season.

Who will suit up in the starting lineup on the opposite side of the offensive line, however, is up for grabs.

Right now, junior Nico Ragaini is listed as the Hawkeyes’ other starting wide receiver. Ragaini had a down year in 2020 behind former Hawkeyes Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith (who are both now pursuing NFL careers). He recorded 18 catches for only 191 yards.

As a four-star recruit out of Bellevue, Nebraska, Keagan Johnson is currently the second-string wide receiver behind Ragaini — one of two true freshmen listed on the Hawkeye football depth chart.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound wide receiver graduated from high school early to participate in the Hawkeyes’ spring practice.

With a head start to his college football career, Johnson has high potential for his freshman year. As he already made it to the two-deeps of the Hawkeye football depth chart, expect to see Johnson taking on a starting role for Iowa sometime this season.

— Chloe Peterson, Assistant Sports Editor

Kicker Caleb Shudak will not miss inside of 45 yards this season

Iowa kicker Caleb Shudak has been surrounded by excellence ever since he arrived at Iowa in 2016 as a walk-on.

He was behind Keith Duncan in 2016, then Miguel Recinos took the job from Duncan in 2017 and 2018 before Duncan finished out his career with two stellar seasons in 2019 and 2020.

Now, in his sixth year with the program, it’s Shudak’s time. Although Shudak has been no stranger to the field, handling all of the kickoff duties in 2019 and 2020, this season will mark his first as the team’s primary field goal man.

Shudak has attempted just one field goal in the Black and Gold, hitting the right upright and missing from 52 yards last year against Northwestern as time expired in the first half. Shudak made his only collegiate PAT attempt in 2018 against Illinois.

Shudak hasn’t attempted a field goal inside of 45 yards in his Hawkeye career, which also means he hasn’t missed one in that range. He’s perfect.

— Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

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