In the weeks leading up to the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ season opener on Thursday, Aug. 29, we are previewing each of the Gophers’ Big Ten West opponents by subjecting contributors from their respective SB Nation sites to an intense Q&A session.
Every team in the Big Ten West has question marks. But what are the areas of your team that have periods for punctuation or even exclamation points?
Benjamin Ross: Well, the biggest period is at quarterback, where Nate Stanley is poised to become a third-year starter and perhaps break more than a handful of significant Iowa passing records. He’s our go man. Unfortunately, we’re not able to label this as an exclamation point, since he hasn’t quite yet elevated his play to mythic levels. Yet.
I’d give exclamation points to our offensive tackles—Alaric Jackson on Stanley’s blind side and Tristan Wirfs opposite. They’re both juniors and both likely draft picks.
And then of course there’s A.J. Epenesa. He could be the best defensive lineman in the Big Ten and that’s not an exaggeration. He was Iowa’s best recruit, ever, and notched 9.5 sacks as a backup last season. He’s going to be an absolute terror monster this year as a junior year in his first full season as a starter.
The last guy I’ll point out is Ihmir Smith-Marsette, because he’s probably my favorite player on the team. He’s Iowa’s most explosive player, and will be a dynamic piece in Iowa’s special teams this year.
Okay, now I have to ask about the question marks. What are they?
BR: Question marks are numerous on the offensive side of the ball, where Iowa has to replace its top three pass catchers. Iowa’s two leading returning receivers—Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith—had a combined 700 yards and five touchdowns last year, so there’s certainly room for improvement there. And we’re gonna be breaking in two new tight ends, who with all due respect, likely won’t live up to the expectations that Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson set.
After that, there’s some questions on the interior offensive line, but it’s Iowa, so I’m not super worried about that. The defensive line could be record-breaking, the linebackers are experienced, Geno Stone will be Iowa’s next great safety and we’re just hoping the corners improve after a less-than stellar 2018. In Phil Parker we trust.
Is there a non-conference or early season game that will serve as a barometer for the rest of your season?
BR: I mean yeah it’s Iowa State next question.
What game do you have circled on your calendar? It can be your most anticipated matchup or perhaps Iowa’s toughest test (or both).
BR: Honestly I think Iowa State is the game I’m most anticipating. Michigan and Wisconsin and Nebraska are always fun to watch, but the Iowa-Iowa State game usually helps predict how Iowa’s season is going to shake out, and this literally could be Iowa State’s best team ever. This game could feature two ranked teams for the first time ever and if Iowa can win in Ames, then they can probably hang with the rest of the Big Ten.
If you had to pinpoint a trap game on the schedule, what would it be?
BR: Purdue and Northwestern are both trap games, because Jeff Brohm and Pat Fitzgerald literally trap Kirk Ferentz in a suburban mall food court on those Saturdays.
Make the case for why the Hawkeyes will win the West.
BR: Because Wisconsin is regressing and Nebraska is fake news and we’re not losing to Purdue AGAIN.
Okay, now make the case for why the Hawkeyes won’t win the West.
BR: Because we can’t have nice things and Kirk Ferentz is still our head coach.
I can’t let you go without an actual prediction on the record. Who wins the West?
BR: I think Wisconsin wins the West, just because that’s what Wisconsin does. But if not, it’s Hawkeyes all day baby.
Bonus question I didn’t even ask: Rate your favorite ice cream parlors in the Twin Cities.
BR: Weird question, but OK!
- Edina Creamery
- Sebastian Joe’s
- Grand Ol Creamery