Big Ten Preview – Iowa
Offense – Returning Starters – 7; Key Departures – WR, Marvin McNutt (6th round, Eagles). OT Reily Reiff (1st round, Lions). OG, Adam Gettis (5th round, Redskins).
Iowa lost their offensive coordinator and starting running back this past season to more money and buffoonery, but no bother, this is Iowa. James Vandenberg is back to lead the Hawkeye offense, and that is a very good thing. Vandenberg is the best quarterback you haven’t heard of, and despite losing his top target from a year ago he will find open receivers and direct the offense. Vandenberg had a 25-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year and returns three of his top four targets, including the talented Keenan Davis and monster tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. A large part of Iowa’s offensive success can be attributed to their offensive line play. Since Kirk Ferentz took over at Iowa he has transformed his lines into bright, athletic, zone-blocking machines and has just replaced the names. Do you remember how good Robert Gallery looked at Iowa? Well he hasn’t looked that good since. Ferentz puts his lineman in places to succeed and it works, over and over again. Last year’s 1,000 yard rusher Marcus Coker is gone (continuing the string of rotten luck Iowa has with running backs), but sophomores De’Andre Johnson and Damon Bullock both filled in well this spring. Bullock is the more talented of the two and could be a home run hitter if he takes care of the football. Johnson has been dismissed from the team after a pair of arrests (speaking of that luck), so the load will have to go to Bullock.
Key – Iowa has proved over the years from Albert Young to Shonn Greene that running backs will never be a problem. Behind a Hawkeye offensive line the sophomore backs will learn to take what is given and run hard through the point of contact. Iowa’s key will be finding a no. 1 receiving threat even remotely equal to Marvin McNutt. If Vandenberg can become a threat downfield, opposing safeties and linebackers have to adjust their drops and open up larger rushing lanes for the young tailbacks.
Defense – Returning Starters – 8; Key Departures – DT, Mike Daniels (4th round, Packers). CB, Shaun Prater (5th round, Bengals). DE, Lebron Daniel.
Iowa’s defense also lost their coordinator, but at the heart this was a defense to match Ferentz mentality. Iowa has done very well on all three levels of defense,finding marginal prospects and coaching them up into NFL players. History repeats itself and although the 2012 defense doesn’t have as much preseason hype,expect a few standouts to emerge. You can start with cornerback Micah Hyde, a 2011 All-Conference selection and watch for youngsters to emerge like Adrian Clayborn before them. The top lineman to watch on this unit are Mike Hardy and Riley McMinn, who have talent and are being groomed as ferocious disrupters on the front four. Despite what new Defensive Coordinator Phil Parker is saying, Iowa isn’t known to blitz and take unnecessary risks, so getting pressure from their front four is essential to its success. If Parker has carte blanche from Ferentz, he’ll utilize quick linebackers Christian Kirksay and Anthony Hitchens in his blitz schemes.
Key – Will Phil Parker adjust to Ferenez’s schemes or will he try and implement his own? Ferentz has been one of the more successful coaches in the country, so Parker would be wise to play it as close to the vest as possible. Keep in mind that Ferentz has also recruited players that fit his system, players who are typically three-star prospects don’t possess the elite talent to just change their style of play mid-career.
And 1 – When you thumb through Iowa’s schedule you might surprise yourself with the final wins vs. losses. Upon close examination, Iowa will be Iowa. They will be a very solid football team that doesn’t beat itself and can grind you out amongst the offensive and defensive lines, but they won’t be world beaters. Yet, when you estimate game-by-game you come away with a top 15 record. Their schedule sets up favorably for a team that will build confidence and then win some 50/50 games such as Northwestern and Nebraska.
Prediction – 10-2 (6-2)
Iowa – 8-9-12
Michigan – 8-10-12
Michigan State – 8-13-12
Northwestern – 8-16-12
Ohio State – 8-17-12
Penn State – 8-20-12
Purdue – 8-21-12
Wisconsin – 8-22-12