IOWA CITY – The Big Ten West looks wide open heading into 2019, and Iowa has just as much a chance to take the title as any other team. The No. 19 Hawkeyes will try to begin their march toward a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game when they open the 2019 campaign by hosting Miami (Ohio) on Saturday.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1. LINE: Iowa -21.5.
Iowa lost a pair of tight ends to the first round of the NFL draft in the spring but returns senior quarterback Nate Stanley, three top running backs, three starting offensive linemen and a pair of experienced receivers on the offensive side to go with a stout defense. "Our focus, our goals are to become a championship-level football team," Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz told reporters at media day earlier in August. "You look at the polls, we've been picked anywhere from sixth to I guess near the top in our conference. ... It's going to be a strong division, there's no question about that. Competition is going to be strong week in and week out." Iowa could use a fast start in the nonconference portion of the schedule with a Big Ten slate that includes road games at Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska. The RedHawks averaged 28.1 points in 2018 but will be under the guidance of a new quarterback following the graduation of Gus Ragland.
ABOUT MIAMI (2018: 6-6)
The RedHawks could not settle on a quarterback to replace Ragland in camp and will give chances to three players: freshman AJ Mayer, sophomore Jackson Williamson and freshman Brett Gabbert. "We've got three young guys who can make plays," Miami coach Chuck Martin told the school's athletic website. "They're smart and they're tough and they're leaders. They can throw the ball, they can run the ball. Would it be ideal if somebody totally separated themselves from everyone else? That's probably ideal, but in life you don't always get what's ideal, so I'd rather have three options. It'll sort itself out." Martin plans to get at least two of the three quarterbacks snaps against Iowa and figures to take the competition into Mid-American Conference play.
ABOUT IOWA (2018: 9-4)
Stanley is entering his third season as the Hawkeyes' starting quarterback and threw for 26 touchdowns in each of the last two campaigns, including three in the Outback Bowl win over Mississippi State to cap 2018. "Just play the best he can play, and he doesn't have to be the guy that's going to save our team or be the face of Iowa football," Ferentz told reporters of his expectations for Stanley this season. "He's just got to play really well at quarterback. Like all of our seniors, but you hope your quarterback is a leader, and he's been that." Iowa has a leader on the other side of the ball in defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who led the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks in 2018 and was named a preseason All-American.
1. Stanley was named to the Manning Award watch list as one of the top 30 NCAA quarterbacks.
2. The RedHawks lost their top two running backs and will lean on senior Maurice Thomas, who rushed for 233 yards last season.
3. The Hawkeyes are 17-1 in their last 18 season openers, including a 45-21 triumph over Miami (Ohio) in the 2016 opener.
PREDICTION: Iowa 38, Miami (Ohio) 17