Big Ten Countdown - No. 6, Iowa
By Tony Gerdeman
The Hawkeyes enter 2009 with a returning starter at quarterback, but have to replace the Doak Walker Award winner from the year before. There are a few viable options at receiver and tight end, but health and attitude remain concerns. The offensive line returns arguably the top two tackles in the conference and there are several choices to pick from for the interior. The defense only replaces two tackles and a cornerback, so things look very promising on this side of the ball.
Sep.5 Northern Iowa (W)
Sep.12 at Iowa State (W)
Sep.19 Arizona (W)
Sep.26 at Penn State (L)
Oct.3 Arkansas State (W)
Oct.10 Michigan (W)
Oct.17 at Wisconsin (L)
Oct.24 at Michigan State (L)
Oct.31 Indiana (W)
Nov.7 Northwestern (W)
Nov.14 at Ohio State (L)
Nov.21 Minnesota (W)
A Big Ten Championship. There is enough talent here to compete for the conference championship, but when you have Iowa’s roster, you can’t have “compete” as a goal. “Competing” is what Michigan is hoping for.
“The University of Iowa, where average just barely isn’t good enough!”
Five Questions Looking For Answers
1. How does Iowa replace running back Shonn Greene
2. Will the mixes and matches on the interior of the offensive line prove talented enough to be able to run the ball?
3. Can receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos stay out of the doghouse long enough to begin to realize his potential?
4. How can Iowa possibly replace defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul and their 400+ combined starts.
5. Can the secondary remain consistent this season?
Something To Look For
Rotation on the defensive line. Right now, it’s looking like a four-man rotation at defensive tackle between Mike Daniels (6’1” 267), Karl Klug (6’4” 258), Cody Hundertmark (6’4” 280) and Travis Meade (6’0” 285). Klug and Daniels will get the majority of the snaps, but it’s unlikely they will get the number of snaps that Mitch King and Matt Kroul got last year. The defensive ends look to be a three-man troop between Adrian Clayborn (6’3” 282) and Christian Ballard (6’5” 285) with Broderick Binns (6’2” 255) coming in on passing downs. There has been some speculation about either Clayborn or Ballard moving inside at times, and if they do, it would likely be on passing downs when Binns comes in to rush the passer.
Five on offense, eight on defense and both kicking specialists.
Left Tackle Bryan Bulaga. Just a junior, Bulaga is going to have the excruciatingly difficult choice of turning down millions of dollars in the NFL or returning to Iowa after the season--a choice that nobody would envy. Considered a top ten pick by many, Bulaga has done everything the Iowa staff has asked him to do--and has done it well. He started five games at left guard as a true freshman and then during the spring last season, he was moved to left tackle. He ended up as a second-team All Big Ten selection last season and essentially gets better every week.
Cornerback Amari Spievey. Spievey was a part of Iowa’s 2006 recruiting class, but had to take a short stop-over at a JUCO in 2007. All he did was intercept seven passes, block four punts and return two kicks for touchdowns. He was named a first team All-American for his efforts. Last year, he was finally able to see the field for Iowa and proved himself well worth the wait. He started all thirteen games for the Hawkeyes and was named second-team All Big Ten after intercepting four passes and finishing with 68 tackles. More is going to be expected of Spievey this season and there isn’t much to indicate that he won’t come through.
Best Chance For a Big Loss
At Ohio State. I don’t foresee many blowouts for Iowa this year, but if I have to choose--which I do--I’m going to go with Ohio State. But I don’t make this pick without history on my side. Since Kirk Ferentz became Iowa’s head coach, the Hawkeyes have lost 20 games by at least 14 points and one-fifth of those games have come against the Buckeyes. Ohio State has twice as many of these victories as anybody else. And if you want to get even more historical (think “medieval“), in Hayden Fry’s last five meetings with the Buckeyes, his teams went 0-5 and lost by an average score of 40-19.
Most Important Game
At Penn State. Iowa opens conference play by going into Penn State for a night game (and a White Out). The Nittany Lions are looking for revenge after Iowa cost Penn State a likely BCS Championship Game berth last year. Iowa doesn’t necessarily have to win this game, but if they get rolled, it may set the Hawkeyes on a course that they don’t want to be on. And if they were to actually win, then mentally there is probably nothing Iowa doesn’t feel they can’t do.
Best Road Game To Pack Up The Family Truckster And Travel To
At Penn State. Even aside from the chance to experience one of college football’s great environments, there are so many other things to do in the State College area. I don’t know what any of them are, but I’m guessing there are at least three apple butter festivals spread out throughout the county, and nobody can say no to a Phil Dirt and the Dozers tribute band.
Game On The Schedule That Joe Paterno Would Deny Having Any Knowledge Of Scheduling
Northern Iowa. Paterno would claim this game was a clerical error, thinking instead he was scheduling Iowa. He would eventually have to fire his secretary of 53 years after blaming her for her poor dictation-taking on account of her escalated age. And then in a twist that nobody could see coming, he would be sued for age discrimination. During the trial, however, the secretary would be found to be at fault due to her having been dead since 1983.
Game They Shouldn't Lose, But Could
At Iowa State. Iowa State is breaking in a new head coach, but that’s actually a good thing for them. (Although we should probably mention that Gene Chizik was the first Iowa State head coach to beat Iowa in his first season since Charles Mayser did it in 1915.) But this is a rivalry game and the Hawkeyes are on the road, so stranger things have happened. In fact, Iowa hasn’t won in Ames since 2003. It should also be mentioned that Iowa recently lost starting cornerback Jordan Bernstine for the season and the player battling Bernstine for a starting spot was Shaun Prater, who will miss the first two games of the season after being suspended for an arrest. So Iowa will be something less than full strength for this one.
Best Reason They Won't Be Undefeated
The Road Schedule. I have Iowa losing all four road games in conference, but that would be a worst-case scenario for this team. In fact, they are probably more likely to split the four games than to go winless, but ultimately there’s no way they’re going unscathed with this schedule
Best Reason They Will Be Undefeated
Consistency. Rarely does Iowa surprise you with the way they go about their business. The coaching staff knows what they want to get out of each and every player and position, and this season there’s a decent shot of getting everything they want out of each group on the field. For the most part, this is a veteran team that knows what is expected of it, and most importantly, knows how to give the coaches what they’re asking for.
Player People Are Expecting Too Much From
Quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Iowa fans are enamored with what Ricky Stanzi did last year, and what they think he’s going to do this year. However, I have to believe that most of their joy and optimism is simply due to the fact that Stanzi beat out Jake Christensen, who made Brian Hoyer look like Joe Montana. Stanzi ended up starting eleven games last year, but was far from a stand-out. Of course, many times with quarterbacks, it’s more about the intangibles that they bring--and Stanzi brings plenty. I’m just not sure if he is everything that Iowa fans think he is.
Player People Will Be Pleasantly Surprised By
Defensive Tackle Karl Klug. If we just assume that Klug will be a cross between Mitch King and Matt Kroul, then we probably won’t be far off. He has a lot to live up to, given how active King and Kroul were over the years, but being a former running back in high school, Krug fits the mold of the typical atypical Hawkeye defensive tackle. He had 17 tackles in limited duty last year, so don’t be surprised when he’s in the 50s this season like his predecessors always were.
Running Back Jeff Brinson. Brinson is a redshirt freshman who was allowed to redshirt last year on account of Shonn Greene’s Phoenixian re-emergence. Iowa doesn’t have that same fortune this year. Sophomore Jewel Hampton was expected to carry much of the load, but he tweaked a knee a few weeks ago and then just re-aggravated it a day or so ago. By his own account, Hampton was 90-95% of the way back and expected to be fully recovered by game time. Given this latest setback, more is likely to be expected of Brinson in 2009. He had a very good season on the scout team for the Hawkeyes last year and should be at the very least a nice complement to Hampton, assuming the knee tweaking slows down.
Something They Do Well
Find defensive tackles where previously there were none before. Mitch King and Matt Kroul were both linebackers before they were moved down to defensive tackle. Karl Klug was listed as a linebacker by the recruiting services as well. The likely starter at the other tackle spot, Mike Daniels, was listed as a 6’1” 230-pound defensive end when he committed in 2007. The only defensive tackle in the two-deep who actually came to Iowa as a defensive tackle is Cody Hundertmark. If you look at the last two highly-touted defensive tackle recruits to come to Iowa--Ryan Bain and Alex Kanellis, you have to wonder if the staff is tired of being snake-bitten. Bain transferred out and Kanellis had to quit due to too many concussions. Iowa has obviously had better luck by simply moving players down the line, which is further corroborated by the Hawkeyes only signing two defensive tackles in their last three recruiting classes.
Something They Don't Do So Well
Get after the quarterback. Even though the Iowa staff likes active defensive tackles, their desire for activity doesn’t spread to the rest of the defense. Assignments are more important than aggression for Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker, and the sack numbers show it. Iowa finished last in the Big Ten with just 19 sacks last season, of which only eight came in conference play. The Hawkeyes haven’t finished in the top half of the Big Ten in sacks since 2005. The lack of aggression doesn’t just stop at the defensive line, however--it trickles down to the linebackers as well. The Hawkeyes have one of the top linebacker trios in the nation with Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Jeremiha Hunter, but as a group they only combined for three sacks last year.
Quarterback. Jake Christensen is gone and Ricky Stanzi is a year older. This may be the most improved area on the team, but that still doesn’t mean we should be expecting an All Conference season out of Stanzi. If anything, some might wonder if Stanzi will regress the way Drew Tate used to.
What's Gotten Worse?
Running Back. No need to get too extensive here, but when you lose a running back who rushed for 1,850 yards and over 100 yards in every single game last year, you don’t start slapping high fives around the office. The silver lining, however, is the fact that nobody expected a season like that from Shonn Greene last year, so why expect something similar this year. After all, a watched pot never boils a 2,000-yard rusher.
Anything Else We Should Know About?
Wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and the doghouse. DJK has been listed as a second-team receiver on the depth chart for a while now, and it’s obviously a motivational tool. The problem, however, is that DJK is completely aware of the purpose of his demotion, so I wonder if it will truly have its desired effects. If his attitude and effort could match his talents, Iowa would have one of the top five or six weapons in the conference. Unfortunately, the staff can’t trust him enough to utilize all of his abilities. Even though the Hawkeyes coaches don’t like to get fancy, I have to believe they’d love to put more on DJK’s plate if they thought that every last bit of it wouldn’t end up getting spilled on the carpet.
The offensive line returns 99 starts, which is 10th-best in the FBS. But even with that number, the interior of the offensive line may fluctuate throughout much of the season until a lineup is finally settled. All is not lost for the Hawkeyes, however, because they have at least a half-dozen players to choose from for three spots, and nearly all of them have some starting experience.
Brad Pitt Role Or Movie That This Team Resembles
Troy. For as expensive as it was, you’d think it would have been a lot better.
Sophomore safety Tyler Sash will again lead the conference in interceptions--as he did last season as a redshirt freshman even though he missed a game and was banged up through several others.