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Know Thy Opponent 2016: Iowa Hawkeyes

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We hate them so much, but they are still the better team right now.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

With roughly eight weeks to go until the start of the 2016 season I realize that I need to get going in earnest on these early season previews. If you haven't been tracking, here are the first five games:

Eastern Kentucky

Cincinnati

Nevada

Maryland

Illinois

Now we move on to the meat of the schedule. The first five games are pretty easy for most teams before Our Most Hated Rivals come to town for homecoming. In Iowa, Purdue faces the defending Division champion and a team that had an undefeated regular season. They have also dominated Purdue in recent seasons.

Purdue might own the overall series lead, but the Hawkeyes have won eight of the last 10 since the 2004 season. Purdue's last win was in Iowa City against a pretty bad Iowa team, but for the most part the Hawkeyes have been rolling. Even though it is Purdue's homecoming Iowa will likely be a big favorite on October 15th.

Iowa Hawkeyes

2015 Record: 12-2, 8-0 Big Ten (West Division Champions)

Bowl result: Lost 45-16 to Stanford in Rose Bowl

Blog Representation: Black Heart Gold Pants

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 46-37-3

Last Purdue win: 11/10/2012 at Iowa 27-24

Last Iowa win: 11/21/2015 at Iowa 40-20

Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (139-108, 127-87 in 18th season at Iowa)

Last Season for the Hawkeyes:

I didn't expect much from Iowa going into last season. In fact, I thought they had a legitimate chance to be upset by Illinois State in the opener. Instead, they rolled through a weak West Division and took advantage of getting Indiana and Maryland from the East for go undefeated before losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. That had them on the cusp of the playoff, but a trip to Pasadena was the consolation prize for the year. Stanford then whipped them pretty good.

That still doesn't take away from a great season. Iowa was a good team, but of their 12 regular season wins only three (Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, and Northwestern) came against FBS teams with a winning record. They were a lot like their basketball team, too. They beat Wisconsin and Northwestern in the first three Big Ten games to establish an early lead then finished off against a pretty mediocre slate. they didn't lose to anyone they weren't supposed to, which is an admirable quality when you consider the number of upsets every year.

This season will be interesting. In the non-conference they have the always strange El Assico rivalry game with Iowa State. They also made the critical mistake of scheduling five-time defending FBS champion North Dakota State, which is a stronger opponent than even bottom level Power 5 conference teams. Given the weakness of the Big Ten West and a trio of Penn State, Michigan, and Rutgers from the East means Iowa could win the West Division yet again.

Hawkeye Offense

Last season Iowa's offense jumped on top of Purdue 20-0 early in the second quarter thanks to two TDs from LeShun Daniels and a TD pass from C.J. Beathard. Beathard will be back as one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Big Ten. His numbers were modest last year, just 2,809 yards and 17 TDs against only five picks, but he completed 61% of his passes and rare made mistakes. Against Purdue he threw for 3 TDs last year, and his best game in 2014 was in West Lafayette when he threw for 245 yards and a score. He didn't even need to throw a lot to dominate Purdue last season, throwing only 20 passes and completing 12.

Daniels is also going to be back and will be the primary back with the departure of Jordan Canzeri. He ran for 646 yards and 8 TDs. Assuming that he and Akrum Wadley survive the surprisingly quiet Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God, the Hawkeyes will once again have a solid ground game to grind teams into submission.

Beathard also gets back his leading receiver in Matt Vandeberg, who caught 65 passes for 703 yards and four scores. Tight end George Kittle, who caught a team high six touchdown passes, is also back. Iowa is not going to rely on the passing too much, but it should be effective when needed.

The offensive line needs to replace Austin Blythe, a seventh round NFL Draft pick and the only draftee from their 2015 team, but it should be solid as always. Sean Welsh and Ike Boettger provide continuity on the right side of the line. Cole Croston and Boone Myers also played extensively on the left side.

Hawkeye Defense

When Iowa has been good under Ferentz his defenses have led the way. They should do so again with Second Team all-Big Ten linebacker Josey Jewell leading the way. Jewell had 126 tackles during his junior season had him as one of the best middle linebackers in the conference. During the decisive phase of last year's game he helped shut down the Shoopfense as hit rolled to two first downs, three punts, and a lost fumble in first four series. Jewell had three sack and four interceptions on the year. The return of Ben Niemann on the outside will also help him have a big year.

The secondary should be very good with Desmond King coming back. King had 72 tackles and a whopping 8 interceptions, tying a single season school record. He was named First Team all-Big Ten for his efforts, was an All-American, and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back. Basically, just don't throw to his side of the field at all. It was a surprise that he did not go to the NFL, but with Greg Mabin and Miles Taylor also returning the secondary is going to be excellent.

Where Iowa may struggle is up front on the defense. There is just not that much experience returning. Jaleel Johnson had 45 tackles and four sacks last season, but for the most part this is a new front four. Matt Nelson is a huge defensive end at 6'8" that played reserve minutes last year and now he moves into a starting role.

Iowa Special Teams

The Hawkeyes will lose Marshall Koehn at placekicker after a season where he hit on 80% of his field goal attempts. In his place Miguel Recinos and Mick Ellis will battle for the job. Iowa must also find a new punter.

The return game should be fine with Desmond King handling both kickoff and punt returns. He averaged 24.4 yards per kickoff return and 14.2 yards per punt return, making him a danger to break one every time he touches the ball.

Game Outlook

What can you say? Iowa is just better than Purdue in virtually every phase of the game and has been for some time. The difference is not quite as pronounced as Wisconsin, mostly because Purdue has actually won a game against Iowa in recent memory, but they are a more disciplined team that is well coached and has more talent. Iowa doesn't exactly wow the recruiting services every year, either. In a year after they were in the top 10 they did not get a single 4-star recruit. Ferentz knows what he is doing, however. He gets the most out of his talent.

Can you say that about Purdue at any position? When I look at Iowa I see what Purdue could be with better coaching and better investment in the program from the school. Under Ferentz Iowa has been to 13 bowl games, won two Big Ten titles, played for a third last season, and is almost always a mortal lock to win seven games. He has built them into a team that won't challenge for the conference every year, but once every five years or so he gets a team that makes a run. The rest of the time it is a solid team with the occasional dip to 2-8 like in 2012.

I don't see any reason why Purdue can't be as consistent as Iowa (Well, aside from Darrell Hazell, the current athletic department, facilities, recruiting, etc.). Right now we would kill to be where they are, and that is a lot better than Purdue.

Way Too Early Prediction

The last time Iowa cam to Purdue the Boilers jumped ahead 10-0 thanks to a Frankie Williams pick six and the defense, for the most part, played well enough to let that hold up. Unfortunately the Shoopfense did no favors by accomplishing virtually nothing over the last three quarters. Really. Purdue had 156 yards of total offense at home and 84 of those yards came in building the 10-0 lead. Purdue gained three first downs after that and the defense wilted.

To be competitive Terry Malone needs to come up with ways to move the ball and score actual points, something John Shoop utterly failed to do against the Hawkeyes. It is a novel concept, I know, but even then Iowa is just better. Iowa 31, Purdue 17