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What if Iowa football had Zach Wilson at quarterback this season?



PROVO, Utah – It’s hard to believe, but current BYU quarterback Zach Wilson was recruited by the Iowa Hawkeyes at one point. The fate of Wilson’s collegiate career hinged on the decision of another player, though.

Wilson was set to officially visit Iowa in Dec. 2017, but the night before his visit, Spencer Petras committed to the Hawkeyes. Subsequently, Iowa canceled Wilson’s visit. Petras was the only quarterback signee in Iowa’s 2018 recruiting class.

Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s safe to say that Kirk Ferentz and Co. made the wrong decision by not even giving Wilson a chance to visit.

In his first season as Iowa’s starting quarterback in 2020, Petras was objectively bad in several areas, while Wilson exploded onto the national stage and propelled himself into the conversation as a potential top-10 NFL Draft selection.

So, what if the Hawkeyes had offered Wilson a scholarship back in 2018?

For starters, Iowa’s passing numbers would be much, much better this season. And the Hawkeyes’ receiving corps would have equally gaudy statistics.

In 12 games this season, Wilson threw for 3,692 yards, 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions while averaging 11.0 yards per pass. He also added 10 rushing touchdowns and 254 rushing yards.

Conversely, Iowa’s current starter (Petras) threw for 1,569 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions while averaging 6.0 yards per pass in eight games played. He had two rushing touchdowns, but minus-4 rushing yards.

And that’s not all. Wilson ranks second in the FBS in passing efficiency (196.44), while Petras ranks 89th (118.98). Wilson’s completion percentage? 73.5, compared to Petras’ 57.1.

As bad as Petras’ statistics look, the numbers still don’t tell the full story. The eye test was arguably worse. Far too often this season we saw Petras lock onto receivers without weighing other options. His inability to read a defense and make sound decisions cost the Hawkeyes several times.

Wilson was the opposite. He never really had a bad game this season, unless you count his performance against Coastal Carolina in which he had one day to prepare after BYU scheduled the game on a Friday.

We can play the ‘What if?’ game all we want, but it’s probably fair to say the Hawkeyes would have had a much more explosive offense this season with Wilson leading the charge.

Iowa, currently with a record of 6-2, lost two games this season by a combined five points. In those games, Petras made his first two career starts, throwing just one touchdown and three interceptions while completing roughly 54 percent of his passes. His turnovers against Northwestern undoubtedly cost the Hawkeyes a win. Would Wilson have made similar decisions?

Just think about it. Quarterback is the one position on Iowa’s roster in need of an immediate upgrade. It’s hard to imagine the Hawkeyes would have lost any games with Wilson at quarterback this year, likely putting them in the conversation for the College Football Playoff.

Of course, Iowa would have had to get past Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, but with their top-10 ranked defense, the Hawkeyes offense might have only needed to score 24 points. After all, Iowa’s defense has gone 22 straight games allowing 24 or fewer points.

Instead, the Hawkeyes are headed to the Music City Bowl as a double-digit favorite to face a 5-5 Missouri team.

We’ll never know how Wilson would have fared as a member of the Iowa Hawkeyes, but it’s fun to imagine. Would Iowa have been a national contender with the future NFL starter as their quarterback? The world will never know.