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Our 13th annual preseason Top 25: No. 20 Iowa hopes to topple Buckeyes in Big Ten

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras, left, calls a play during the Hawkeyes' final spring practice in May. Petras finished his first season as a starter strong, throwing for 431 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in easy victories over Illinois and Wisconsin.

For the last 12 years, the American-Statesman's sports staff has spent July breaking down our own preseason Top 25 rankings. Last year's eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, second, third and ninth in our 2020 poll.

No. 20 Iowa

After finishing 16th in last season's final Associated Press poll, there's plenty of optimism for 2021. With the core of last year's starting lineup intact, including quarterback Spencer Petras, Hawkeyes fans believe they can challenge Ohio State for Big Ten honors. Iowa, which started last season 0-2 before rattling off six straight wins, has had eight consecutive bowl seasons.

Iowa was ranked 23rd in our preseason poll last year. The Hawkeyes finished 15th in the final CFP and coaches polls, and 16th in the AP.

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About the Hawkeyes

2020: 6-2 — all in the Big Ten — and second in the West Division. The Music City Bowl matchup against Missouri was canceled.

Coach: Kirk Ferentz (180-127 overall at Maine and Iowa, 168-106 in 22 seasons with the Hawkeyes)

Returning starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)

Shoes to fill: Three starting offensive linemen — LT Alaric Jackson (a four-year starter), RT Mark Kallenberger (retired) and LG Cole Banwart (Titans, UFA) — as well as OL coach Tim Polasek (Wyoming OC); receivers Brandon Smith (Cowboys, UFA) and Ihmir Smith-Marsette (Vikings, 5th round); DTs Daviyon Nixon (Panthers, 5th round and the Big Ten defensive player of the year) and Jack Heflin (Packers, UFA); DE Chauncey Golston (Cowboys, 3rd round)

Iowa running back Tyler Goodson, who will be a junior this season, became the 50th player in Iowa history to rush for 1,000 career yards last year, and he ranks 29th on the school's all-time rushing list heading into this season.

Catching up

The NFL took a heavy load of talent from last year's defensive line (Nixon was an All-American end) and offensive line. While Iowa searches for new offensive weapons to replace Smith and Smith-Marsette, Tyrone Tracy Jr. has blossomed as their possible successor; he caught only 14 passes for 154 yards last year but should get more targets. ... Former OL coach Tim Polasek, who left after four seasons, was replaced by George Barnett, who had been hired by Tulane in December 2020 but never coached a game there. The Hawkeyes plucked the former Miami (OH) assistant three months later. ... Former Hawkeyes QB Jason Manson (2005-06) was named Iowa's director of player development.

Returning leaders

Passing: Spencer Petras 126-220-1,358, 7/5 (led team)

Rushing: Tyler Goodson 132-656-6 (led team)

Receiving: TE Sam LaPorta 26-260-1 (led team), Nico Ragaini 17-189 (4th)

Tackles: LB Seth Benson 43 (2nd), DB Jack Koerner 39 (4th), DB Riley Moss 38 (5th)

Sacks: DL Zach VanValkenburg 3.5 (3rd)

Interceptions: DB Jack Koerner 3 (led team), DB Riley Moss 2 (T-2nd)

Returning all-conference

Offense: RB Tyler Goodson (1st team), C Tyler Linderbaum (2nd), OL Cody Ince (hon. mention), OL Kyler Schott (hon. mention), TE Sam LaPorta (hon. mention)

Defense: DL Zach VanValkenburg (2nd), DB Jack Koerner (2nd), DB Dane Belton (hon. mention), DB Riley Moss (hon. mention)

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Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz talks with defensive lineman Deontae Craig during the Hawkeyes' final spring practice on May 1. Ferentz will be coaching Iowa for the 23rd season this fall.

FYI

How the pandemic affected Iowa: The pandemic hit the Hawkeyes hard, starting with Ferentz, who's the country's longest-tenured coach with one program. Ferentz, 65, tested positive for COVID-19 in December. All told, there were 14 cases within the athletic department. And the Music City Bowl was called off after Missouri pulled out of the game, citing a rise in cases within its own program. The regular season game against Michigan also was called off because of Wolverines issues.

Back for more: It always helps to have an experienced quarterback in the fold, and the Hawkeyes hope to see Petras take the next step. He showed improvement late in his first season as the starter, passing for 431 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in easy victories over Illinois and Wisconsin.

Goodson's good year: Tyler Goodson, a junior, became the 50th player in Iowa history to rush for 1,000 career yards last season, and he ranks 29th on the school's all-time rushing list heading into this season. In 2019 he became the first true freshman to lead the Hawkeyes in rushing, when he finished with 638 yards and five touchdowns.

2020 national stat rankings

Where Iowa ranked nationally in various statistical categories last season — and how the Hawkeyes ranked in 2019.

Scoring: 40th (2019 — T-88th, +48 spots)

Scoring defense: 6th (5th, -1)

Total offense: 87th (99th, +12)

Total defense: 8th (12th, +4)

Passing: 97th (68th, -29)

Pass defense: 34th (19th, -15)

Rushing: 58th (97th, +39)

Rush defense: 10th (14th, +4)

Sacks: 31st (37th, +6)

Interceptions: 23rd (31st, +8)

Red zone offense: 10th (4th, -6)

Red zone defense: T-12th (34th, +22)

Turnover margin: T-6th  (14th, +8)

Time of possession: 76th (22nd, -54)

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25 Ole Miss: Rebels have plenty of firepower to work with

No. 24 Washington: Huskies back for more after 3-2 season

No. 23 Louisiana: Ragin' Cajuns out to prove that they belong

No. 22 Penn State: Nittany Lions want to keep the momentum going

No. 21 Oklahoma State: Cowboys have offensive questions, for a change

No. 20 Iowa

Coming tomorrow

Our No. 19 team. Want a hint?

This school has been playing football for just 18 years and has had only three head coaches; their names are Bennett, Moglia and Chadwell.