No. 38: Iowa
By Paul Myerberg // Jul 27, 2011
Here’s some good news for Iowa: the Hawkeyes have entered the season unranked in The Associated Press poll four times under Kirk Ferentz since 2002. No, that’s not the good news. The good news is this: Iowa ended three of those seasons with a national ranking, coming out of relative obscurity to factor into the national mix. The Hawkeyes did so in 2002 and 2003, starting both years with little acclaim but ending them ranked No. 8 nationally, and entered the 2008 season unranked but ended with a No. 20 ranking. Conversely, Iowa entered 2005, 2006 and 2010 with a national ranking but ended up outside the poll. So there’s something to the general idea that Iowa plays its best football when counted out; there’s some statistical proof. Just so you know, it seems that a fairly long shot that Iowa will be ranked entering the 2011 season.
Big Ten, Legends
Iowa City, Iowa
10 (5 offense, 5 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 3
- Sept. 10
at Iowa St.
- Sept. 17
- Sept. 24
- Oct. 8
at Penn St.
- Oct. 15
- Oct. 22
- Oct. 29
- Nov. 5
- Nov. 12
- Nov. 19
- Nov. 25
Last year’s prediction
Yes, landing their three prime Big Ten competitors at home will help the Hawkeyes. Yet I can escape the idea that this team will lose at least one game it shouldn’t — like Northwestern in 2009 — and one of those three at home; Ohio State, more than likely. What could prevent Iowa from reaching another B.C.S. bowl? Injuries, as noted. Another year of turnover-prone play won’t help. Losses against one of the less-talented teams on its schedule — Indiana or Minnesota, for example — would cripple Iowa’s B.C.S. hopes. When all is said and done, however, I do think Iowa will be back in a major January bowl: if Ohio State reaches the national title game, the Hawkeyes should go to the Rose Bowl.
In a nutshell From the heights of October, which ended with a thorough dismantling of then-undefeated Michigan State, to the nadir of the season’s last two months. Losses on the field and off: to Northwestern, Ohio State and Minnesota; the troubling arrest and ensuing dismissal of leading receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos; the suspension of leading rusher Adam Robinson — these moments ended up defining Iowa’s season, not the fine start, the wins over solid opponents, the Rose Bowl aspirations. Perhaps no other team in the country faced such a dichotomy of riches between the first and second halves of its season: it’s a long way down from dreams of Pasadena to 8-5, just as it’s a troubling development to see Kirk Ferentz’s ability to keep his players out of trouble once again called into question. What can the Hawkeyes take from 2010? That nothing comes easy, and that this program plays its best football when not taking anything for granted.
High point A 37-6 win over Michigan State to end October. When looking back on the 2010 season, it was hard to pinpoint a more dominating regular season victory by one highly-ranked opponent over another. The Spartans never stood a chance.
Low point The trio of consecutive defeats to end the regular season. Each game saw the offense perform more poorly than the last, culminating in a bitterly sour showing against the Golden Gophers.
Tidbit Iowa has had only two head coaches over the last 32 years. Ferentz, who was hired in 1999, was preceded by Hayden Fry, who went 143-89-6 from 1979-98. Only Penn State has had more consistency along the sidelines in the Big Ten. Since 1979, and not counting interim coaches and including coaches making their debut in 2011, each of the 10 remaining Big Ten programs have made at least four coaching moves. Nebraska and Ohio State have made four moves, since we should include Luck Fickell, who will coach the entire year and not just the final game or two of a season. Michigan and Wisconsin have made five moves, including Brady Hoke. Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue have had six coaches; Minnesota and Michigan State have had seven, counting Jerry Kill; and Indiana leads the way with eight different coaches.
Tidbit (100-word preview edition) Today’s guest writer is loyal reader M Meyer, whose correct answer to a quiz in the Minnesota preview, which you can find along the right sidebar, earned him the opportunity to pen a 100-word preview of his favorite team. His team? The Iowa Hawkeyes. Meyer earns special praise for hitting his 100-word allotment right on the nose. Take it away, if you would:
The Hawkeyes are as likely to go 10-2 as 7-5. Special teams coverage and Ken O’Keefe’s end of game play calling are big concerns. Iowa must also break in a new quarterback, safeties and defensive line. Nevertheless, the Hawkeyes should reload based on offense. Here’s why: QB James Vandenberg has operated in pro-style sets since high school, knows the playbook, and has game experience from 2009; the offensive line is Iowa’s most talented since 2004; Marcus Coker is a bruiser at running back; and Marvin McNutt is a capable deep threat. The Outback Bowl will love hosting a 9-3 Iowa.
Former players in the N.F.L.
41 LB Pat Angerer (Indianapolis), DT Jonathan Babineaux (Atlanta), P Jason Baker (Carolina), DT Christian Ballard (Minnesota), RB Ladell Betts (New Orleans), C Rob Bruggeman (Atlanta), OT Bryan Bulaga (Green Bay), TE Scott Chandler (Buffalo), TE Dallas Clark (Indianapolis), DE Adrian Clayborn (Tampa Bay), DT Colin Cole (Seattle), S Sean Considine (Jacksonville), DE Jared DeVries (Detroit), LB A.J. Edds (Miami), CB Bradley Fletcher (St. Louis), OG Robert Gallery (Oakland), S Charles Godfrey (Carolina), RB Shonn Greene (New York Jets), LB Chad Greenway (Minnesota), DE Kenny Iwebema (Arizona), K Nate Kaeding (San Diego), DE Aaron Kampman (Jacksonville), DT Mitch King (New Orleans), DT Karl Klug (Tennessee), DT Matt Kroul (New York Jets), OG Bryan Mattison (Baltimore), TE Tony Moeaki (Kansas City), TE Brandon Myers (Oakland), OG Seth Olsen (Minnesota), CB Marcus Paschal (Baltimore), DE Derreck Robinson (Cleveland), DE Matt Roth (Cleveland), S Bob Sanders (Indianapolis), S Tyler Sash (New York Giants), S Amari Spievey (Detroit), QB Ricky Stanzi (Kansas City), OG Eric Steinbach (Cleveland), OG Julian Vandervelde (Philadelphia), C Casey Wiegmann (Kansas City), OG Marshal Yanda (Baltimore), RB Albert Young (Minnesota).
Arbitrary top five list
Direct active members of Hayden Fry’s coaching tree
1. Bill Snyder, Kansas State.
2. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma.
3. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa.
4. Bo Pelini, Nebraska.
5. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin.
Kirk Ferentz (Connecticut ’78), 89-60 after a dozen years with the Hawkeyes. It’s been a very good decade-plus for Ferentz and the program, though Iowa did struggle through a three-year lull from 2005-7. Ferentz has brought the program back into Big Ten contention over the last three seasons, leading the Hawkeyes to 28 combined wins thanks to a strong running game and a stingy defense. This period has drawn back to the heyday of Iowa football under Ferentz, 2002-4, when Iowa went a combined 31-7 and reached three consecutive January bowls. He was the national coach of the year in 2002, when the Hawkeyes went 11-2, and is a two-time Big Ten coach of the year (2002 and 2004). Ferentz is the second-longest tenured coach in Iowa football history, trailing only Fry, who led the Hawkeyes for 20 years (1978-98). Ferentz’s 89 wins places him second on the program’s career victory list, again behind only Fry, with 143 victories. It is fitting, given their close relationship in the team’s record book, that Ferentz replaced Fry in 1999. Their connection is also more tangible: Ferentz was Fry’s offensive line coach with the Hawkeyes from 1981-89. Following his nine-year stint as an Iowa assistant, Ferentz took the head coaching job at the University of Maine, where he compiled a three-year record of 12-21 from 1990-92. From there, Ferentz took his wares to the N.F.L., where he spent six years as the offensive line coach with the Cleveland Browns (1993-98). With his strong resume and connection to the Iowa program, Ferentz was a logical choice to replace Fry in Iowa City.
Players to watch
Two years after injuries forced him into the starting role, James Vandenberg takes over full-time under center for the woefully underrated Ricky Stanzi, who left Iowa City with a 26-9 mark as a starter and his name littered throughout the program’s record books. While he attempted only eight passes a year ago, Vandenberg enters 2011 with a decent amount of experience; better yet, the junior’s experience came under heavy fire, as he supplanted an injured Stanzi in the lineup for two key games to end the 2009 regular season. He hit on 42 of 87 attempts for 470 yards and 2 touchdowns that fall, nearly leading the Hawkeyes of an upset win in Columbus before notching a win over Minnesota.
So he’s green, to a degree, but Vandenberg has taken enough snaps to at least partially offset any stumbles that might accompany a first-year starter’s foray into the heart of the offense. He won’t be Stanzi from the start, but Iowa likes what Vandenberg brings to the table. One interesting storyline is taking place behind him on the depth chart, as Iowa could go with junior John Wienke or talented redshirt freshman A.J. Derby as Vandenberg’s backup.
Last August, Iowa’s biggest issue at running back was how to divvy up carries among three experienced, productive options: Brandon Wegher, Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton. All three were no longer with the program by the end of the regular season. The massive departures granted an opportunity to then-freshman Marcus Coker, who delivered — and then some — on the chance to lead the running game. He ended the year ranked second on the team in rushing (622 yards) despite playing in only one of Iowa’s first seven games; he came on strong in November, notching 129 yards against Indiana, 90 against Minnesota and an Iowa bowl-record 219 yards in the win over Missouri. This offense now belongs to Coker, who reminds many of former Iowa great Shonn Greene — that’s a very lofty comparison. Depth is a bit of a worry, so Iowa will need former walk-on Jason White to step up his game or redshirt freshman De’Andre Johnson to play up to his potential.
Marvin McNutt didn’t exactly fly in under the radar, but he was overshadowed for much of the last two years by Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, his former running mate at receiver. McNutt is more than deserving of getting his due, however, thanks to another fine 2010 season (53 catches for 861 yards, 9 touchdowns) that saw him, not Johnson-Koulianos, lead the team in receptions and receiving yards. Again, that Vandenberg has taken key snaps for the Hawkeyes means he already has a rapport with McNutt. That’s a great thing. Junior Keenan Davis, a local product, will join McNutt in the starting lineup. Things are little hazier from there, as while Iowa has plenty of options the depth chart behind the top pair remains very unsettled. Hopes are high that young receivers like Kevonte Martin-Manley, Don Shumpert and Jordan Cotton can step into the open void.
The Hawkeyes also need to find a replacement for Allen Reisner, the latest in a long and distinguished line of productive Iowa tight ends. Brad Herman (9 receptions for 154 yards) will get the call, but I don’t know if he can duplicate Reisner’s impact. Perhaps sophomore C.J. Fiedorowicz, redshirt freshman Austin Vier or junior Zach Derby can be the receiving tight end this offense covets, which would push Herman into the blocking-first role he filled ably last fall.
The offensive line remains a strength. The Hawkeyes need to find two new starters at guard, but there’s still an all-American at left tackle in Riley Reiff, an all-conference center in James Ferentz and an underrated right tackle in Marcus Zusevics. That’s a very solid base upon which to build a somewhat new offensive front. And Iowa won’t have to look far in finding two new guards, as both Nolan MacMillan and Adam Gettis have started games in the past. You might be able to quibble with Iowa’s depth up front, as the Hawkeyes do need a few untested linemen to show themselves capable of holding backup roles. But finding linemen has rarely been an issue for the Ferentz-coached Hawkeyes, and I don’t think that will change in 2011. This offensive line will lead the way while Iowa breaks in several new starters at the skill positions.
With all the losses on defense, it’s easy to forget about the one guy who returns: that’s defensive coordinator Norm Parker — the great Norm Parker — who is back holding full-time duties after health issues forced him to step aside for a significant portion of last season. As long as Parker is around, Iowa’s not going to drop off the map defensively. So it’s a great thing he’s back, as Parker will have his hands full at each level of the defense rebuilding and reloading a unit that must replace several key contributors.
Some things will remain the same. Sophomore James Morris (70 tackles) returns at middle linebacker after injuries pushed him into the starting lineup for the final six games of 2010. For a true freshman, Morris acquitted himself remarkable well. His future is extremely bright, and he might end up being the star of the defense as a sophomore. Also: Morris is the son of Iowa’s equipment manager, so he gets bonus points for not only being a burgeoning star but for owning a feel-good back story.
Senior Tyler Nielsen (42 tackles, 4.5 for loss) has some injury issues to overcome, but when healthy he’s a vital piece of this defense. As an outside linebacker who can cover with the best of them, Nielsen is nearly irreplaceable. Iowa will go with a bit more speed over size on the weak side with sophomore Christian Kirksey, a part-timer in 2010. The Hawkeyes could also go with fellow sophomore Anthony Hitchens, another linebacker with speed to burn, or perhaps turn to a third sophomore, Shane DiBona, who started two games last fall and has the sort of size, at about 235 pounds, more typically seen from an Iowa weak side linebacker.
Two standout cornerbacks return, two standout safeties depart. The losses stand out, for lack of a better word. Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood were fixtures along the back end for Iowa, with Sash very often the central figure in any big play coming from this defense. So the two new starters have some large shoes to fill, especially at strong safety. That spot seems to be Collin Sleeper’s to lose: he held the starting job heading out of the spring, with Tom Donatell running second and Jordan Bernstine a third option. If healthy, sophomore Tanner Miller will get the nod at free safety.
Shaun Prater opted to come back for his final season rather than enter the N.F.L. Draft, so imagine the mess this defense would be in had he decided to take his talents to the next level one year ahead of schedule. That Prater opted to return gives Iowa one of the best cornerbacks in the country, one Parker can feel comfortable putting on an island against the opposition’s best. The second cornerback’s pretty good in his own right: Micah Hyde (82 tackles, 4 interception) will get his time in the spotlight soon enough. There aren’t very many better cornerback pairings in the country. Issues can be found along the defensive line, at linebacker and safety, but the Hawkeyes can feel very secure in this duo’s ability to match up with all the receivers on the schedule. Now, Hyde might move to free safety, which is a nice idea in theory but one I think Iowa should reconsider. You have two all-conference cornerbacks; don’t mess with success.
Position battle(s) to watch
Defensive line Three N.F.L. Draft picks must be replaced: Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug. It won’t be easy. Surprisingly, last year’s line, keyed by this threesome, did not do a great job of getting to the quarterback; Iowa dropped to 79th nationally in sacks after ranking 34th in 2009. What the line did extremely well was stop the run: 101.5 yards per game, good for sixth in the country. Who returns in 2011? One player who absolutely, positively must recapture his earlier form is senior end Broderick Binns (36 tackles), who had a disappointing 2010 campaign after earning honorable mention all-conference honors as a sophomore. Binns must also improve without three sterling seniors drawing attention, which will be a tall task. LeBron Daniels — yes, from Ohio — is the end most likely to join Binns in the starting lineup, as he’s the only other end with solid game experience. Iowa is high on redshirt freshman Mike Hardy, so perhaps he, senior Joe Forgy or sophomores Scott Covert or Dominic Alvis can squeeze out some playing time. The new anchor inside is senior Mike Daniels, an eight-game starter last fall. Daniels (40 tackles, 11 for loss, 4 sacks) did a nice job at tackle, albeit while sharing the spotlight with those three departed seniors, so he’ll be counted on to be a leader along the line and on the defense as a whole. Senior Thomas Nardo is the presumptive starter next to Daniels, but his senior status belies his lack of experience. A redshirt freshman is going to log major time at tackle, whether Carl Davis, Donavan Johnson or Louis Trinca-Pasat. What a difference a year makes up front.
Game(s) to watch
The rivalry with Nebraska kicks off in full swing the day after Thanksgiving, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the rowdy, confident Iowa fan base has bitten off more than it can chew with the Cornhuskers. In 2011, at least. But there’s no doubt that this is a rivalry with great potential. The tussle with Nebraska is just one of several big games during Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes miss Ohio State — though that might not be a good thing this season — but play at Nebraska and Penn State and host Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern. And there’s always Iowa State, though the Hawkeyes have won three straight over the sometimes pesky Cyclones.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell There are too many holes to fill for Iowa to be considered a Rose Bowl contender. Hey, these things happen, in Iowa City and elsewhere: players come and go, sometimes in bunches, and it’s only natural for a program like Iowa to take a slight step back in a year that bridges the gap between inexperience experience. In my mind, that’s the sort of year we’re in for with Iowa. Question marks throughout the roster: a new quarterback, depth at running back, depth at receiver and depth along the offensive line – the latter isn’t a huge concern, to be fair. The offensive play-calling needs work, and the Hawkeyes will no longer be able to rely on Stanzi to carry the water on third down. Defensively, there are huge shoes to fill along the line, at linebacker and safety. How could anyone think Iowa has what it takes to come out of nowhere and take home the Legends division? Because the Hawkeyes have been here before, under this same staff, so we’d be foolish not to at least consider the chance that Iowa turns out to be the surprise team in the Big Ten. It’s not like the road is all that hard, to be honest. It wouldn’t be hard to go 4-0 outside of Big Ten play. There are games at Penn State and Nebraska, and the Hawkeyes get Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State at home. That’s not an altogether intimidating schedule, in my mind. I’m not saying Iowa’s going to challenge for the Big Ten crown: I’m just saying Iowa’s come in under the radar before under Ferentz, so just keep an eye on how a young, rather untested, pretty inexperienced team improves as the season turns to October and November. As of now, Iowa’s not built for a Rose Bowl run. But let’s see if the understudies are ready to take center stage.
Dream season Once again, Iowa comes into the season unranked but ends the year inside the top 10.
Nightmare season For the first time since 2000, Iowa wins fewer than six games in a season.
In case you were wondering
Where do Iowa fans congregate? For message boards, visit The Hawks Nest, Hawkeye Nation and Hawkeye Report. For additional coverage, check out Black Heart Gold Pants and the Web site of The Quad-City Times. Continue with the Web site of the Cedar Rapids Gazette and blog of its man on the ground, Marc Morehouse.
Through 83 teams 250,624.
Who is No. 37? The fight song at tomorrow’s university has appeared in more than two dozen films, including one about football, another starring an Oscar-winning actor — though not for the role in question — and a third that featured the major film debut of a singer whose first solo album sold than 18 million copies in the decade following its release.
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Tags: Big Ten, Brandon Binns, Iowa, James Morris, James Vandenberg, Kirk Ferentz, Marcus Coker, Marvin McNutt, Micah Hyde, Mike Daniels, Norm Parker, Riley Reiff, Shaun Prater, Tyler Nielsen
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