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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 9: Iowa

Last season might have started in disaster if Iowa hadn't blocked a pair of late field goals.

So Iowa won a game or two it had no business winning. What about its two losses? Northwestern scores the upset only after Iowa’s starting quarterback was lost to injury in the second quarter; the Wildcats went on a 17-0 run to end the game, eventually winning by a touchdown. Even with a backup quarterback under center, Iowa took Ohio State — in Columbus — into overtime before falling by a field goal. No, Iowa doesn’t win pretty. Yet what prevents Iowa from putting up style points in victory is what allows Iowa to finish 11-2, as it did a year ago: run the ball, protect the quarterback, limit your penalties, stop the run, get to the quarterback — win.

Conference
Big Ten

Location
Iowa City. Iowa

Nickname
Hawkeyes

Returning starters
14 (6 offense, 8 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 19

2009 record
(11-2, 6-2)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 8

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 4
    Eastern Illinois
  • Sept. 11
    Iowa St.
  • Sept. 18
    at Arizona
  • Sept. 25
    Ball St.
  • Oct. 2
    Penn St.
  • Oct. 16
    at Michigan
  • Oct. 23
    Wisconsin
  • Oct. 30
    Michigan St.
  • Nov. 6
    at Indiana
  • Nov. 13
    at Northwestern
  • Nov. 20
    Ohio St.
  • Nov. 27
    at Minnesota

Last year’s prediction

With this Iowa defense, anything is possible – even a Big Ten title. Getting both Ohio State and Penn State on the road (brutal) will likely cost the Hawkeyes a shot at the outright conference title, but I believe this team to be capable of winning 10 games, especially if the running game can remain in top form. But I do think Ohio State and Penn State are better than Iowa, and that the Hawkeyes get both those teams away from the home will be too difficult to overcome. But Iowa’s back playing Iowa football, and this fall presents the program’s best chance to return to double-digit wins since 2004.

2009 recap

In a nutshell Who cares about beauty point? Iowa ended the 2009 season with 11 wins, tying a school record, and barely missed out on heading to its first Rose Bowl since 1991. The deed was done with defense, for the second consecutive year. These Hawkeyes ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense (15.4 points per game), passing defense (152.9 yards per game) and total defense (276.5 yards per game), holding 11 opponents to 24 points or less and all 13 opponents to 28 points or less. Now, about that pass defense: it was incredible. Opposing quarterbacks completed less than 49 percent of their attempts — not horrific — while tossing 21 interceptions against 9 touchdowns — now that’s bad. On the other hand, Iowa had a similar penchant for turnovers: 19 interceptions, though against 20 touchdowns. If there was an Achilles heel, it was Iowa’s inconsistency on offense. Of course, the offense did enough to help the Hawkeyes to 11 wins, which should count for something.

High point A 21-10 win at Penn State on Sept. 26. If Iowa had run the table – as it looked it might – a blocked punt returned for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter would have ranked among the great moments in program history. It’s still pretty cool. To a lesser degree, a blocked field goal (two blocked attempts, actually) to avert disaster against Northern Iowa and a touchdown as time expired against Michigan State were both memorable in their own right. Due to a poor finish, Iowa entered the Orange Bowl as a slight underdog against then-No. 9 Georgia Tech. As it had done all season, the defense put the clamps down on Tech’s prolific rushing attack in the 24-14 win.

Low point Iowa’s season turned on an injury at quarterback early in a game against Northwestern. The Hawkeyes lost that game and again the following week in Columbus, dropping them from the Rose Bowl and national championship hunt. Iowa scored only three offensive touchdowns from the second quarter of the game against Northwestern through the regular season finale against Minnesota. The defense remained stout, and nearly carried the team by itself, but Iowa needed some help from its offense.

Tidbit What’s one thing Kirk Ferentz can do that Jim Tressel can’t? Beat SEC teams in bowl play. Ohio State’s struggles against “SEC speed” have been well documented: the Buckeyes lost consecutive B.C.S. title games to Florida and L.S.U. from 2006-7, both in lopsided fashion. Ferentz, on the other hand, has defeated three SEC teams in bowl action: Florida, 37-17, in the 2004 Outback Bowl; L.S.U., 30-25, in the 2005 Capital One Bowl — with one of the great finishes in bowl history; and South Carolina, 31-10, in the 2009 Outback Bowl.

Tidbit (N.F.L. draft edition) Iowa has had at least one player selected in each of the last 32 N.F.L. drafts, a period dating back to 1978. If I were to make a team out of Iowa’s drafted players during this period, it would go thusly: Chuck Long (1986 draft) at quarterback; Ronnie Harmon (1986) and Shonn Greene (2009) at running back; Dallas Clark (2002) at tight end; my five offensive linemen, regardless of position, would be Mark Bortz (1983), John Alt (1984), Joel Hilgenberg (1984), Rob Hallstrom (1982) and Eric Steinbach (2003); Quinn Early (1988) and Tim Dwight (199) at wide receiver; my defensive line would have Jared Devries (1999) and Aaron Kampman (2002) at end, Mike Wells (1994) and Jonathan Babineaux (2005) at tackle; Andre Tippett (1982), Joe Mott (1989) and Chad Greenway (2005) at linebacker; Tom Knight (1997) and Damien Robinson (1997) at cornerback, with Robinson moving down from safety; Merton Hanks (1991) and Bob Sanders (2004) at safety; Nate Kaeding (2004) at kicker; and Reggie Roby (1983) at punter. I just spent an inordinate amount of time on this tidbit. No more tidbits in this preview.

Former players in the N.F.L.

37 LB Pat Angerer (Indianapolis), DT Jonathan Babineaux (Atlanta), P Jason Baker (Carolina), RB Ladell Betts (New Orleans), C Rob Bruggeman (Atlanta), OT Bryan Bulaga (Green Bay), OT Kyle Calloway (Buffalo), TE Scott Chandler (New York Giants), TE Dallas Clark (Indianapolis), 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), LB Abdul Hodge (Cincinnati), DE Kenny Iwebema (Arizona), K Nate Kaeding (San Diego), DE Aaron Kampman (Jacksonville), DE Mitch King (Indianapolis), DE Matt Kroul (New York Jets), OG Bryan Mattison (Baltimore), TE Tony Moeaki (Kansas City), TE Brandon Myers (Oakland), OG Seth Olsen (Denver), CB Marcus Paschal (Baltimore), DE Derreck Robinson (Cleveland), LB Matt Roth (Cleveland), S Bob Sanders (Indianapolis), CB Amari Spievey (Detroit), OG Eric Steinbach (Cleveland), WR Trey Stross (Houston), C Casey Wiegmann (Kansas City), OG Marshal Yanda (Baltimore), RB Albert Young (Minnesota).

Arbitrary top five list

Iowa Writers’ Workshop alumni, with notable work
1. Kurt Vonnegut, “Breakfast of Champions.”
2. T.C. Boyle, “Water Music.”
3. Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”
4. Wallace Stegner, “Angle of Repose.”
5. Jane Smiley, “A Thousand Acres.”

Coaching

Iowa was at its finest when Hayden Fox stormed the sidelines. What? It's Fry, not Fox?

Kirk Ferentz (Connecticut ’78), 81-55 after 11 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 two seasons, leading the Hawkeyes to 20 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 the coaching legend Hayden Fry, who led the Hawkeyes for 20 years (1978-98). Ferentz’s 81 wins places him second on the program’s career victory list, again behind only Fry, with143 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. After scuffling for a few years, it seems Iowa is back on track.

Players to watch

Don’t bother looking at the numbers. They aren’t impressive. Well, every number but this: 18. That’s how many wins senior Ricky Stanzi has in his 22 starts as Iowa’s quarterback, 11 in each of the last two seasons. Stanzi does have that certain something, the intangible that allows a quarterback to toss five interceptions — like he did against Indiana — before leading his team to a 28-point fourth quarter. Having said that, he does need to cut down on his picks: 17 last fall to go with 2,417 yards passing and 17 scores. Eventually, Iowa’s luck will run out. If Stanzi does do a better job protecting the football, there’s no reason Iowa can’t win every game on its schedule. His backup is sophomore James Vandenberg, who earned valuable experience when Stanzi missed two starts to injury last November.

Here’s another worry: as of now, it seems like Brandon Wegher is no longer part of the Iowa program. This isn’t good, as Wegher was a valuable part of Iowa’s ground game a year ago — and a rising star in the Big Ten. It’s not crippling, however, even if Wegher’s production will be missed if he opts not to rejoin his teammates. This is partly thanks to the healthy return of sophomore Jewel Hampton, who missed last season due to an A.C.L. tear. As a freshman in 2008, Hampton rushed for 463 yards and 7 touchdowns. Another sophomore, Adam Robinson, was very impressive in 2009: a team-best 834 yards rushing and 5 scores. Paki O’Meara and Jeff Brinson provide depth. If Wegher returns, Iowa has numbers. If he does not, the latter pair will need to step up to spell the top duo of Robinson and Hampton.

The only question mark at wide receiver is depth. Iowa’s starting duo is as good as any pair in the Big Ten. Senior Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (45 catches for 750 yards and 2 scores) and junior Marvin McNutt (34 for 674 and 8 scores) are the starters; they combined for 57.7 percent of Iowa’s receiving yards in 2009. More is expected in 2010, with Johnson-Koulianos, a reigning second-team all-Big Ten pick, and McNutt, a converted quarterback, Iowa’s only experienced receivers of consequence. Depth would be aided by a healthy Paul Chaney, Jr., as he missed the final seven games of last season. Perhaps sophomore Keenan Davis is ready to take the next step. Iowa will also miss tight end Tony Moeaki, though his replacement, Allen Reisner, has proven himself to be a capable option in the passing game.

Iowa’s defensive line ranks with any group in the country. One could very, very easily make the case that Iowa’s front four is the best, in fact, as the Hawkeyes return all four starters from last year’s imposing group. All four started each of Iowa’s 13 games: ends Adrian Clayborn and Broderick Binns and tackles Karl Klug and Christian Ballard. Three seniors, one junior, all four of all-conference caliber. Clayborn is an all-American, in fact, a dominating end with the flair for the big play — if any lineman in the country is going to make a Ndamukong Suh-life run at the Heisman, it’s Clayborn.

He made 70 tackles last fall, 20 for loss, to go with 11.5 sacks. Binns was close behind, making 63 tackles (10 for loss) to go with six sacks. This pair overshadowed Ballard and Klug on the inside, but that tandem combined for 119 tackles (22 for loss) and 9.5 sacks in 2009. Again, no other defensive line in the country can match Iowa’s breadth of experience and production. If Iowa ends up having the best defense in the Big Ten, it will all start up front.

The league’s best pass defense returns three starters: cornerback Shaun Prater and safeties Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood. There will be some competition to start opposite Prater, where Iowa looks to replace Amari Spievey. The edge goes to sophomore Micah Hyde, which is somewhat shocking: lightly recruited, Hyde played sparingly in 2009. Yet he’s leapfrogged past juniors Jordan Bernstein and William Lowe, each of whom has far more significant experience. We’re all still waiting for Bernstein to make an impact, as his advance up the depth chart was stymied by a broken leg that cost him last season.

Sash and Greenwood are superb. Especially Sash, the potential all-American and linchpin behind Iowa’s strong secondary a year ago. He paced the team with six interceptions from his strong safety spot. Greenwood enters his fourth year in the starting lineup coming off a strong 2009, where he began to be more consistent.

If there’s an issue on this defense it’s at linebacker: gone are two multiple-year starters in Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds; Angerer was a first-team all-American in 2009. Edds wasn’t bad either, making 39 career starts and earning all-conference accolades as a senior. If healthy, senior Jeff Tarpinian will supplant Angerer in the middle. The former high school quarterback is currently nursing a hand injury, though it shouldn’t sideline him for long. Junior Tyler Nielsen will step in for Edds on the strong side. He’s patiently waited his turn, serving in a reserve role as Edds played out his eligibility. Then there’s the returning starter: senior weak side linebacker Jeremiha Hunter. He’s as stable as they come: Hunter has finished second on the team in tackles in each of the last two seasons, making 89 stops a year ago. It’s now his time to shine.

Position battles to watch

Offensive line Few teams lost as much up front. Iowa must replace a pair of first-team all-Big Ten tackles in Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway, a second-team all-conference center in Rafael Eubanks and a second-team all-conference guard in Dace Richardson. Quite a bit, obviously. The lone returning full-time starter is sophomore Riley Reiff, who moves out from guard to the all-important blind side tackle spot. Reiff started games at both left and right tackle a year ago, speeding up his full-time transition. He’ll bookend the line with junior Markus Zusevics, an important reserve in 2009. Adam Gettis brings one career start into the year — against Northern Iowa, after which time his playing time rapidly diminished — and will start alongside Zusevics at right guard. Julian Vandervelde, a senior, brings two years worth of starting experience to the table: in 2008, he stepped into the lineup midway through the year and fared relatively well; last fall, he started the first quarter of the season, was relegated to a secondary role, then returned to the starting lineup due to injuries. He’s been inconsistent; Iowa needs him to step up at left guard. What of center? It’s hard to imagine the job not falling to sophomore James Ferentz, and not due to family ties. He’s main competition is senior Josh Koeppel, a former walk-on, but as long as Ferentz walks the straight-and-narrow off the field, the job should be his. This line won’t be as good as it was in 2010 — though injuries were an issue last fall — but should still be effective.

Game(s) to watch

Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. All at home. What a stroke of good luck for the Hawkeyes, right? How Iowa fares against this threesome will dictate its season,  of course, with a sweep landing a Rose Bowl berth — at worst — and losses in more than one guaranteeing no better than a second-place finish in the Big Ten. Keep an eye on Iowa’s road trip to Arizona: with Big Ten play looming, the Hawkeyes might be caught napping.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell How about that schedule? Everything is coming together nicely for the Hawkeyes, who land their three prime Big Ten contenders at home: Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. Iowa couldn’t ask for anything better than that. Actually, Iowa could ask for more consistency on offense. Or an easy win every once in a while; the hearts in Iowa can’t take four or five nail biters a year, unfortunately. Yet these late-game heroics are part of what makes Iowa so special. There’s something indefinable about the Hawkeyes — or at least there was a year ago. Will the magic continue in 2010? Better yet, can the Hawkeyes remain healthy, not to mention replace their lost contributors? As much as there is to like about Iowa — and there’s plenty to like — I just can’t picture the Hawkeyes running the table. 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.

Dream season Thanks to home games against Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State, Iowa cruises through the regular season undefeated.

Nightmare season The Hawkeyes fail to pull out the miraculous finish in 2010: 7-5, 4-4.

In case you were wondering

Where do Iowa fans congregate? or message boards, visit The Hawks NestHawkeye Nation and Hawkeye Report. For additional coverage, check out Black Heart Gold Pants, one of our best college football blogs, 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.

Up Next

Who is No. 8? Our next program is the only team remaining on the Countdown to have finished last season in the top 20 in scoring offense but outside the top 30 in total offense.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. wildcat6 says:

    Oregon: #8 in scoring offense, #33 in total offense

  2. M Meyer says:

    Finally, my Iowa Hawkeyes have arrived! I really appreciate the shout out to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

    Although the offensive line is breaking in several new members, it doesn’t appear to me that outside of center there is any competition at the line positions. I would also say it’s inaccurate to call Reilly Reiff the lone returning starter (though he’s certainly the most exciting line prospect.) Julian Vandervelde started 9 games last year at guard.

    For Iowa Hawkeyes media, the Quad City Times does do a good job, but I’d highly recommend the coverage of the sports staff at the Cedar Rapids Gazette. http://gazetteonline.com/category/sports/iowa-hawkeyes They do a good deal of original reporting, including recruiting. Marc Morehouse is the main football writer. His blog is http://gazetteonline.com/category/blogs/on-iowa

  3. TresselBall says:

    Didn’t realize the O-line was that decimated at Iowa… good write up.

    Iowa is for real. The showdown in Kinnick Nov. 20 (one week before THE GAME) will be biblical.

  4. Alex Payne says:

    Probably Oregon, great defensive play (for field position) and a killer spread-option attack put up lots of points, but not a whole lot of offense.

  5. Mike says:

    The Hawkeyes are the only BCS team named after part of a bird, and I will definitely be tuned in to see if they can beat the only team named after a nut. Nice Top Five, by the way. That little book by Flannery O should be on more high school reading lists, so the kids can see how it’s done.

    Having enjoyed The Countdown for the second year now, one thing does puzzle me, which is how you manage to gather so much minute and timely detail on 120 teams. Plus, have time to be well read and eat lunch.

    Paul: There’s always time to read a good book. Lunch is another story. I wish I could say I have an intern or a researcher helping me out, but I don’t. And don’t forget that this site keeps rolling through the season, into the winter and so on. Still have plenty of good stuff here all year round.

  6. M Meyer says:

    Hawkeyes also get to play the only school named after a Hoosier, whatever that is. I used to tell people that the Iowa Hawkeyes (just like Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H) were named after a character in Last of the Mohicans. I figured it could be true, so why find out it’s otherwise?

    Paul: The first mention of the “Hawkeye” comes from James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumppo, from Last of the Mohicans. So I think you’re right, though I’m not sure.

  7. [...] Five and Five: No. 9, Iowa By PAUL MYERBERG Paul Myerberg is getting you ready for the upcoming college football season over at Pre-Snap Read. The Quad will also feature a daily look at each of Paul’s top 50 teams in the country heading into the season opener. Today’s team, No. 9, is Iowa. You can find a larger Iowa preview here. [...]

  8. Stephen says:

    Just a note, backup running back Jeff Brinson transferred to a Central Florida over the summer. There are a pair of true freshman who could provide depth behind Paki, but I’m sure the coaches will try to save their redshirts as long as possible.

  9. brad says:

    Ferentz is actually a THREE time Big Ten Coach of the Year. You forgot 2009.

  10. getchafaxright says:

    re: running backs- Jeff Brinson transfered (now running at UCF and hopefully not taking resume’-writing advice from the coach). So let’s talk about the RB depth
    Two true freshmen are question marks: Marcus Coker was a 4* guy coming in but broke his collarbone recently. Deandre’ Johnson could also see some touches but is coming off a torn ACL.

    Brad Rogers is another talented guy with injuries, now backing up Morse at FB.

  11. Levi Loy says:

    I love the black and gold…everyone else can suck an egg..

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