IOWA CITY, Iowa – So many factors besides talent help to determine the success of a football team.
Injuries, luck and circumstances also play significant roles because the best teams don’t always prevail.
Winning takes a collaborative effort and the ability to withstand things that are beyond a team’s control, most notably injuries.
Here are five things that should go a long way in determining Iowa’s level of success this season.
The Hawkeyes, ranked 17th by the Associated Press, will face Miami (Ohio) in the season opener this coming Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
1. C.J. Beathard’s health: It’s hard to think of an Iowa football player whose health has meant more to his team than Beathard.
He is the heart, soul, arm and sometimes the legs for the Iowa football team. Beathard is also the only quarterback on the 2016 roster with legitimate game-time experience.
Sophomore backup Tyler Wiegers is the only other quarterback on the roster with any game experience. But that was just four appearances in mop-up duty last season.
True freshman Nathan Stanley also has pulled even with Wiegers on the depth chart in barely two weeks of practice.
It’s hard to know without seeing practice every day whether it is more a case of Stanley being real good or a case of Wiegers not progressing in his third season.
Whatever the case, keeping Beathard healthy will be paramount to Iowa’s success. He avoided disaster last season with regard to injuries, but just barely.
Beathard also has had two close calls in practice, including earlier this month when an undisclosed linebacker rolled up on his leg, causing a sprain in Beathard’s left knee.
Football is a violent sport and defensive players are taught to always be on the attack.
But with Beathard, the area of protection in practice changes with each close call.
“It’s getting bigger,” sophomore defensive end Parker Hesse said to reporters.
Hesse was sort of half joking and being serious at the same time because even the thought of Beathard getting injured is no laughing matter.
2. Keith Duncan’s accuracy: Not since fellow kicker Nate Kaeding arrived on the scene in 2000 has a true freshman carried this much responsibility for the Iowa football team.
And if you remember, Kaeding struggled early in his career, but did so for a team in 2000 from which little was expected.
Duncan will face different circumstances as the staring kicker for a nationally ranked team that is coming off a 12-win season. The games in 2000 were equally important to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, to his players and to the fans, but the results didn’t have national ramifications, as will be the case this season.
Duncan’s accuracy could be the difference between Iowa competing for a Big Ten title and a national playoff spot or for just another bowl invitation.
3. The Iowa State effect: A loss to the Cyclones doesn’t just ruin the day and hurt the morale of Iowa fans, it often sends a sobering warning that trouble is looming.
Iowa has lost to Iowa State 10 times since 1998 and is 8-9 against the Cyclones under Ferentz. You could argue that all but two of the 10 losses came in seasons in which Iowa either underachieved, was overmatched or both.
The two exceptions would be 2001 and 2002 when Iowa finished 7-5 and 11-2, respectively. In those two losses against Iowa State, it was more a case that Iowa just didn’t have an answer for Cyclone quarterback Seneca Wallace than anything else.
Iowa State also was at its pinnacle under former head coach Dan McCarney at that time.
Iowa’s 2005 squad was probably the biggest underachiever to lose to Iowa State. The game wasn’t even that competitive as the Cyclones rolled to a 23-3 victory in Ames. Iowa suffered a devastating blow in that game when all-Big Ten quarterback Drew Tate was injured in the first half and didn’t return.
But the offense was sputtering before Tate’s injury. He returned the following week and played for the rest of the season, but Iowa still only finished 7-5 despite having a talent-packed roster that included linebackers Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge, offensive lineman Marshal Yanda and receivers Clinton Solomon and Ed Hinkle.
4. The law of averages: This covers everything from how and where the ball bounces to whether a game-winning field goal from long-distance works in your favor.
Almost everything seemed to work to Iowa’s advantage last season, from Marshall Koehn drilling a game-winning 57-yard field goal against Pittsburgh to Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave fumbling near the Iowa end zone after stepping on somebody’s foot to Minnesota’s onside kick sailing out of bounds with barely one minute to play. You name it and the Hawkeyes seemed to benefit from it during the 2015 regular season.
The concern now is that things will start to even themselves out this season. Imagine how different last season would’ve been if Koehn had missed the field goal against Pittsburgh or if Stave hadn’t stumbled and fumbled against Wisconsin or if Minnesota had recovered the onside kick and then scored a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds.
Win or lose, the difference is usually razor thin for the Iowa football team, which means the law of averages are a key factor.
5. The hunted instead of the hunter: The mental side of football often gets overlooked because of the physicality associated with the sport.
But football is also a thinking man’s game.
Iowa won’t have the luxury of sneaking up on opponents after what it accomplished last season. Opponents will likely give Iowa their best shot, at least from a mental standpoint.
The Hawkeyes have struggled in this role before, two examples being the 2005 and 2010 seasons when Iowa started both seasons nationally ranked only to stumble at the end.
Iowa stayed mentally strong throughout last season, but more as the hunter than the hunted.
That won’t be the case this season with Iowa being picked by many to defend its Big Ten West Division title.
"Overall, there were a lot of things that we were pleased about with camp," Ferentz said. "I think the attitude was good, and logistically it ran real smoothly, very few problems with guys sleeping in, that type of thing."
That sounds like a team with mental toughness.
Iowa will needs lots of it this season as one of the Big Ten’s hunted.