IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Hawkeyes are in an unfamiliar position as they gear up for their first game of the 2016 season Saturday afternoon against Miami (OH).
Iowa, which is coming off an unexpected 12-2 season and a Rose Bowl appearance, heads into this year's campaign ranked No. 17 in the AP Poll and the clear favorites to repeat as Big Ten West champions. The expectations around this team are the highest they've been in years, from inside the program to the passionate fan base.
“It’s just a new season and a new approach," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Basically, you start from scratch and obviously you have a group of players back with you that form your nucleus. But you know, it’s a journey and it’s week to week. There are so many twists and turns that can take place during the course of a year, and really it just gets down simply to focusing on what’s important.”
This year's squad is led by four well-known returning players who were key factors in Iowa's historic run last season to an initial 12-0 record. The four 2016 captains are quarterback C.J. Beathard, wide receiver Matt VandeBerg, linebacker Josey Jewell and 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner Desmond King.
However, this team also saw 21 seniors graduate and is less experienced than many think upon further examination of the depth chart, which includes eight true freshman on the two-deep roster. Saturday's matchup against the Redhawks will be the first step into the spotlight for many.
"I think like everybody in the country, we’re eager to get on the game field, and we probably need to," Ferentz said. "I think that’s probably true of everybody that’s playing. Overall, our experienced guys made good progress. They did a good job of leading, and then we’ve got a lot of newcomers with 21 seniors graduating, a lot of newcomers that are going to be entering the fray, and some of those guys will be first-year players.”
Miami (OH) is coming off a 3-9 season competing in the MAC and is overmatched in this upcoming Iowa City matchup, but it's still the first step in a season-long progress for a new Hawkeye team with something to prove. It'll be a welcomed sight for Iowa after battling each other as teammates throughout weeks of camp.
“Coming out in the swarm and getting back into Kinnick is very exciting after being against our offense for three long weeks in camp,” King said. “It feels good that the season is finally approaching.
“I feel like this will be the first test for us to see what kind of team we have this year,” King added. “We know what ability we have this year going into this season, but like I said, the first test is going to be this Saturday."
Iowa is 14-3 all-time in season-openers under Ferentz and hasn't lost at Kinnick since Nov. 28, 2014 (Nebraska). This opener should be a clear victory, but there's more on Ferentz's mind than simply starting off the season with a win.
"It's about getting ready and feeling good about the way we're preparing and then, more importantly, coming off the field feeling good about the effort we played with and the energy, did we play smart, and all those things that determine success or non-success," Ferentz said. "Over the course of 12 games, if you do that consistently, you have a chance. If you don't, you run a risk of not having a good outcome."
Prediction: Iowa 38, Miami (OH) 10
Location: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa
Time: 2:30 p.m. (CT)
All-Time Series Record: Iowa is 3-0 against Miami (OH)