We're counting down the weeks until kickoff by profiling a different Big Ten team each week. We decided to switch up the order to reflect 11W's predicted finish for the upcoming season, which can be found here and we'll also reach out to fellow bloggers for their inside opinion on important matters.
This week we take a look at Iowa, a team that has lead the nation in arrest over the last 2 years, but have a chance to place in the top 3 of the Big Ten this year and earn a second straight January bowl bid.
The Hawkeyes went 9-4 last year and finished fourth in the Big Ten at 5-3. They return 14 starters, including 8 on defense and possess perhaps the best set of offensive tackles in the conference. For the local expertise, we lean on Hawkeye State of BHGP, the fine, funny Hawkeye blog, with a deep hatred of the Buckeyes.
COACHING: Ferentz has taken some heat recently for the off field problems of his program and his 21-17 record over the last three years isn't that great, but Iowa still signed him to a 7-year extension in the off-season, keeping him in Iowa City until at least 2015.
Ferentz is the second longest tenured coach in the B10, winning 2 COY honors and registering a 43-37 conference record in his 10 years there. Norm Parker (DC) and Ken O'Keefe (OC) have been with Kirk since the beginning of his time in IC and will once again lead their respective sides.
OFFENSE: Ricki Stanzi, the 6'4" junior is back after throwing for 1956 yards and 12 TD's last season. The Mentor, Ohio native, who started 11 games last year, ranked 4th in passing efficiency amongst B10 quarterbacks, while completing just over 59 percent of his tosses. His improvement and understanding of the offense will be the catalyst for this team, as he looks to squeeze his name into the group of Williams, Clarks and TP.
Last season, Shonn Greene came out of nowhere to rush for 1850 yards and 20 touchdowns, rushing for over 100 yards in every game and capturing the Doak Walker Award, after being left off their preseason watch list (Sound familiar Penn State fans?). We asked BHGP is there was another back ready to make the Shon Greene plunge and help this team control the clock.
He's not necessarily out of nowhere, but it's looking increasingly likely that sophomore Jewel Hampton will be the starter. Hampton acted as Greene's understudy last year, racking up 463 yards on 91 carries as a true freshman. He doesn't have Greene's size (he's currently listed at 5'9", 210), but he has the same bruising style and a little more elusiveness. There have been rumors he suffered a knee injury in late July, however, and while Hampton and Ferentz have said it's all systems go for fall camp, the backups might get some work.
The name that might come from nowhere is Jeff Brinson, a redshirt freshman from Florida who was actually a more highly-rated recruit out of high school but picked up an injury last August and missed camp. He's currently the co-backup, but has been drawing positive reviews in spring ball (when Hampton was injured again) and has had a good summer. If Hampton is injured or picks up another ding during the season, Brinson is the most likely replacement. Behind this offensive line, that's enough to make you a star.
Receivers is where this team could struggle. Derrel Johnson-Koullianos, another Ohio native, lead the team in receptions with 44 for 639 yards last season, while injury riddled TE's Allen Reisner amd Tony Moeaki return to give a veteran presence at that position. Beyond DJK, the Hawkeyes are very green. Former QB Marvin McNutt will try his hand at receiver and senior Troy Stross also returns after snagging 13 balls a year ago. Freshman WR Keenan Davis, a 4-star local Cedar Rapids product, could make a first year impact.
As mentioned, Iowa might have the best tackles in the B10. LT Bryan Bulaga could be the best player at any position in the conference, while RT Kyle Calloway joined Bulaga on the 2nd team all-conference last year. Ferentz is a OL coach at heart and has produced a number of good linemen that have gone onto Sundays, so it shouldn't be a shock if the interior line of 2 seniors and a junior develops into one of the conference's best. If they can get close to last year's 189 YPG rushing and keep Stanzi upright, that game in November against the Buckeyes could have more implications than we want to believe right now.
DEFENSE: The Hawkeyes have 5 of their top 6 tacklers back and could boast the conference's best secondary. Iowa gave up just 13 points a game last season, giving up more than 23 only once, a 21-27 defeat at Illinois. Norm Parker uses a base 4-3 defense and has been known to develop some D-Linemen that wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks and according to Hawkeye State of BHGP, that's where we should look for a couple of new names this season.
There are 8 returning starters on defense, so there aren't too many new names to draw from, but there could be two getting some attention. First, Karl Klug is a defensive tackle who (1) is replacing Mitch King in the "crazy undersized nutjob high-motor defensive tackle" role, (2) is the only defensive tackle guaranteed to play every down he can, and (3) is named Karl Klug, thereby continuing the Iowa defense's tradition of fielding at least one player with a kickass-sounding name (Mike Klinkenborg, Mike Humpal, and Pat Angerer being the original members) and guaranteeing slobbering praise from Brent Musberger for anything he does.
The other possibility is Broderick Binns, who is currently a backup defensive end but should see plenty of snaps, especially in passing situations. Iowa's defensive line is inverted: the two ends are 20 pounds bigger than the two tackles. On first and second downs, that might be passable. On third down, though, Ferentz would be crazy not to shift one of the ends (probably strongside end Christian Ballard) inside and bring in Binns, who has long arms and greasy quick lightning speed from the corner. Klug will almost certainly play more, but Binns might make more spectacular plays and draw more accolades.
All 3 linebackers(and their backups) are back, including senior Pat Angerer and junior Jeremiha Hunter, who lead the team in tackles last year, with 107 and 80 respectively. Senior AJ Edds flanks the outside and recorded 59 tackles himself. This unit might get overshadowed by OSU and PSU, but don't be surprised to see all 3 of these guys on the All Big Ten teams.
The secondary, who gave up just 9 TD passes last year, will be lead by Amari Spievey, whom Adam Rittenberg thinks is the best cover corner in the league. Spivey was 3rd on the team in tackles and picked off 4 passes. He will be joined by veterans Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood at safety. Sash had a stellar freshman campaign last year, breaking up 6 passes and picking off another 5. Greenwood, a junior, was 4th in tackles with 68, breaking up 6 and intercepting 2. The other corner spot is up for grabs, but Jordan Bernstine should have the edge coming out of camp.
KEY GAME: September 26, at Penn State: Arizona visits the week before and the Hawks should take care of them, but if they slip, this game becomes more critical. Iowa was the only B10 team to take down PSU last year and that loss prevented them from battling for a MNC. The Hawks have the defense to stop PSU again and have given up just 33 points in their last 2 trips to Happy Valley. Penn State will be ready and if the Hawks drop this one, there is a home game against Michigan 2 weeks later, followed by roadies against Whisky and MSU.
BEST-CASE: Again we go back to the local expert.
OK, best case reasonable scenario? Probably 10-2. Iowa's schedule is pretty brutal; the conference road games are against Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. Throw in a game at the little shop of horrors we call Ames, Iowa, and the Hawks can win 3 of 5 at most. With that said, the home slate is all winnable. Iowa should be at least a touchdown favorite against every team that comes to Kinnick (two cupcakes, Arizona, Northwestern, Michigan, Indiana, and Minnesota). My over/under is 8 wins, which is a little low among our readers, but I can't see Iowa winning enough road games to get to 11 before bowl season.
WORST-CASE: Will the momentum continue for the Hawks? The Hawks have some depth at most positions, but if they have QB or RB issues, they could lose some close ones down the stretch. I don't see this team winning 10 games, but if they play like they should, there is no reason this team will be worse than 7-5, losing all 4 conference road games and either to UM or Arizona.