Utah State vs Iowa Odds & Prediction: Keep Fading Hawkeyes’ Offense?
Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Iowa running back Kaleb Johnson.
Utah State vs Iowa Odds
Iowa opens the new season with the second-shortest odds to win the Big Ten West when it hosts Utah State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday at noon ET.
The Utah State Aggies had a dreadful start to last season as they lost five of their opening six games, including a 35-7 beatdown at home by FCS program Weber State. However, the Aggies finished strong by winning five of their final six games to get to a bowl game.
They lose a lot of production on both sides of the ball, but Blake Anderson returns his starting quarterback and added transfers to help with depth.
Iowa is coming off one of the worst offensive seasons by a Power 5 school, so to fix that, Kirk Ferentz went into the transfer portal and grabbed Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara to help improve the offense. The Hawkeyes will once again boast an elite defense and special teams, so there's a lot of excitement for this season in Iowa City.
Let's dive in and see if we can find any value here, with everything you need to know about Utah State vs. Iowa odds and picks in this NCAAF betting preview for September 2.
Utah State replaces a lot on offense, but the good news is that the Aggies return starting quarterback Cooper Legas.
Legas, who was thrust into the starting role after Logan Bonner got hurt, didn't put up eye-popping numbers last season. He threw for a 57.4 PFF passing grade and averaged just 6.8 yards per attempt, but Blake Anderson is now taking over play-calling duties, and another year in his system should yield progression.
Utah State does lose top running back Calvin Tyler, but Robert Briggs averaged more yards per carry and only had a slightly worse PFF rushing grade on 74 totes, so there shouldn't be a drop-off in the backfield.
However, there's a lot of inexperience across the Aggies' offensive line, which is going to be a big problem against the Hawkeyes.
The Aggies had a pretty strong defense last year, especially against the run. They finished 45th in Defensive Line Yards, 14th in Stuff Rate and 55th in Power Success Rate Allowed, which is very important against a run-first team like Iowa. They do return four starters in their front seven and added some JUCO transfers to help fill the void, so there really shouldn't be a massive drop-off.
The problem for the Aggies is they only have one true starter returning in their secondary, which is a problem considering they ranked 76th in EPA/Pass Allowed and 105th in coverage grade.
The biggest question mark in this game is the status of McNamara. At the time of writing, Ferentz has said he's medically cleared to play, but there remain questions about whether or not he'll start.
Cade McNamara says he’ll let the coaches determine his status for Saturday. Not proclaiming he will start. pic.twitter.com/uDbpve9xAm
— Chad Leistikow🆑 (@ChadLeistikow) August 29, 2023
At this point, it's becoming more unclear how effective McNamara can be if he does play. This means Iowa's backup quarterback, Wisconsin transfer Deacon Hill, may start instead.
McNamara is an immediate upgrade at quarterback over Hill, but Iowa will still have better skill-position players than it did last season.
The level of improvement on the offensive line will also be a key factor for the Hawkeyes. Last season, Iowa was very inexperienced, and it fielded one of the worst offensive lines in Ferentz's tenure as head coach. Iowa finished 126th in PFF pass-blocking grade and 54th in PFF run-blocking grade, when normally Iowa is among the nation's elite at developing offensive linemen.
When McNamara was the starter at Michigan in 2021, he wasn't a quarterback when facing pressure, so it's paramount for the Iowa offensive line to keep him upright.
Image via PFF.
The Iowa defense was historically strong last year, as the Hawkeyes finished second in EPA/Play Allowed, third in Finishing Drives and allowed just 4.1 yards per play, which was the best in the nation.
Iowa will have some holes to fill with Jack Campbell and Seth Benson gone at linebacker, Kaevon Merriweather and Riley Moss gone from the secondary and Lukas Van Ness and John Waggoner gone on the defensive line.
The Hawkeyes brought in Virginia middle linebacker Nick Jackson, who has compiled over 300 tackles in his career. And in the secondary, Cooper DeJean and Quinn Schulte are back, and five-star recruit Xavier Nwankpa will now be a full-time starter following his pick-six in Iowa's shutout bowl win over Kentucky.
Xavier Nwankpa. That’s the tweet. pic.twitter.com/Xc0tmV5i6i
— Iowa City NIL Club 🐤 (@IowaCityNILClub) December 31, 2022
Iowa's defense may not put up historic defensive numbers like last season, but it will be an elite unit and a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
Utah State vs Iowa
Betting Pick & Prediction
McNamara's unknown status — both in terms of if he plays and how effective he can be — is a reason to back off the Hawkeyes
Iowa's inexperienced offensive line was poor last season, and there's nowhere to go but up. However, it's also unclear how much better this key unit can get. Utah State has talent returning in its front seven, so we may see Iowa's offensive line issues continue.
Iowa's offense isn't going to magically go from being one of the nation's worst to being above average because Brian Ferentz remains the offensive coordinator.
I only have Iowa projected as a -18.9 favorite, so I like the value on Utah State at +24.5 and would play it down to +22.5.