Athlon Sports picks the Hawkeyes second in the West

Offensive pessimism aside, there are plenty of reasons to love the Iowa Hawkeyes heading into the 2023 college football season.

Iowa added quarterback Cade McNamara, who won the Big Ten championship along with tight ends Erick Allo and Luke Lachey. Wide receiver Nico Ragaini decided to return to Iowa City, and the Hawkeyes went out and brought in Charleston Southern wide receiver Seth Anderson. Diante Vines, Brody Brecht, Jacob Bostick and Alec Wick will be other names to watch on the wide stage.

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Additionally, running back Kaleb Johnson is an easy candidate to have a season where his numbers increase from an already impressive freshman campaign of 779 rushing yards and six scores on 151 carries. Of course, it will depend on everything else around him, but it is not impossible to imagine.

Let’s hope the experience finally pays off for Iowa’s offense. There’s another addition up front in Saginaw Valley State transfer offensive tackle Daijon Parker who should help with that.

Then there’s a defense that has every possible talent and that people expect to be stingy again. Defensive back Cooper DeJean returns and looks like one of the best players in college football in the country. He and fellow Hawkeye defensive back Xavier Nwankpa had a pick-six in TransPerfect’s 21-0 Music City Bowl win over Kentucky.

That duo along with defensive backs Sebastian Castro, Jermari Harris, Jamison Heinz, Quinn Schulte and TJ Hall should make for a nice collection of secondary talent.

On defense, Iowa returns kickers Noah Shannon, Logan Lee, Yahya Black, Joe Evans, Deontae Craig and Aaron Graves.

Linebacker will be an area of ​​greatest concern through 2023. Iowa will replace Butkus Award-winning linebacker Jack Campbell and longtime starter Seth Benson. Jestin Jacobs was in the Hawkeyes’ plans, but transferred to Oregon.

That means Jay Higgins, Kyler Fisher and Karson Sharar will be counted on to step into the lead roles.

All told, Iowa has to be on the short list of Big Ten West contenders. Steven Lassan of Athlon Sports certainly thinks so. He picked the Iowa Hawkeyes second in the West in his early 2023 Big Ten predictions.

Linebacker Jack Campbell, lineman Lukas Van Ness and cornerback Riley Moss have moved on to the next level, but the strength of Iowa’s ’23 team is once again expected to be its defense. After averaging just 17.7 points per game last year, offense remains a major concern. Will coach Kirk Ferentz make any coaching changes here? Michigan transfer Cade McNamara should be an upgrade at running back, and the backfield has no shortage of talent with Kaleb Johnson, Leshon Williams and Jaziun Patterson vying for carries. With most of the line returning, there should be reasons to be optimistic about improved play in the trenches next fall. – Lassan, Athlon Sports.

Buckle up. Another offseason question is “can Iowa’s offense improve?” There are reasons to believe the Hawkeyes can.

Additionally, the defense itself must have Iowa as one of the short-listed teams to win the West. After all, even with all the offensive setbacks in 2022, the Hawkeyes were one win away at Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium from representing the West again in the Big Ten Championship game against Michigan.

Lassan predicted the Big Ten West order of finish as follows: Wisconsin first, Iowa second, Minnesota third, Illinois fourth, Nebraska fifth, Purdue sixth and Northwestern in the basement.

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