IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Though Iowa won 10 games last season, concluding the best five-year stretch in the program’s history, it wasn’t easy, coach Kirk Ferentz said Monday.
“Unless you’ve got a boat full of guys, it’s hard to win in college football,” Ferentz said at his postseason news conference. "There’s a lot of parity, a lot of good teams, a lot of good coaches. We’re seeing that in our conference. Top to bottom, there aren’t any easy outs. It’s hard to win.”
The Hawkeyes, who went 10-3 last season, won 47 games in five seasons. (Those three losses last season were by a combined 14 points.) Only eight other Football Bowl Subdivision teams won more over that period. Three of those — Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State — were in the Big Ten with Iowa.
“If you’re not giving yourself a chance to win, you’re not going to win,” Ferentz said. “At least we’ve done a pretty good job of that. I can’t control how people feel about 10, nine, eight, 12 (wins). More is better, I get that.”
The Hawkeyes finished the season with four consecutive wins, including a 49-24 victory over Southern California in the Holiday Bowl. It was only the sixth season of 10 or more wins since 1999, Ferentz’s first season as coach.
There is a lot of work ahead for the Hawkeyes, who finished the season ranked 15th in the AP Top 25. They lose senior quarterback Nate Stanley, a three-year starter. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa and offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs are skipping their final seasons to enter the NFL draft — both are considered first-round picks. Safety Geno Stone and running back Toren Young also plan to forego their last season for a shot at the NFL.
Epenesa and Wirfs were All-Americans. Stone was third on the team in tackles.
For Ferentz, the loss of players means new opportunities. It’s especially true at quarterback, where the depth chart is what Ferentz calls “streamlined.”
Spencer Petras, Stanley’s backup last season, has two seasons in the Hawkeye system but doesn’t have much game experience. Petras played in just three games last year, completing 6 of 10 passes for 25 yards. He appeared in two games in 2018 as a true freshman, throwing just one pass, and took a redshirt season.
Alex Padilla, a freshman who joined the Hawkeyes for spring practice last year, didn’t play in a game last season. Incoming freshman Deuce Hogan figures to be in the QB competition, too, but he won’t arrive on campus until the summer.
“I think going into this year, my assessment is Petras, he’s the next guy up,” Ferentz said. “He’s going to have to earn it every day. He’s there, but he’s like everyone else on the roster — if you’re there, you’ve got to keep it there. That’s part of the fun of it, to see how everyone is going to do, how everyone is going to react.”
Ferentz doesn’t have a problem going with a young quarterback.
“I think Spencer, especially in December, he looked like a college football player,” Ferentz said. “You always worry about a guy who hasn’t played — I always spend a lot of time thinking about things when it comes to football. We’ve played with a lot of first-year quarterbacks who have done fine. At some point, a guy has to jump in the water.”
The Hawkeyes return all four of their top receivers — Nico Ragaini, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith and Tyrone Tracy — and running backs Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent, who combined for 1,261 rushing yards. Left tackle Alaric Jackson also comes back.
“We clearly a better group of wide receivers than we had a couple of years ago, three years ago,” Ferentz said. “(Petras) is walking into a (good) situation. But he’s got the most important job on the offense. He has to be able to deliver. He’s prepared himself well, and I think he’ll handle the challenges that are awaiting him.”
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