Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Big Ten Football Previews – Part VIII

Editor's Note: This is the eighth in a series of my annual summer Big Ten football previews. Check back often to see who’s next...

Team: Iowa Hawkeyes

Tidbits ... Last year, Iowa gave up its lowest ever points in a season where the Hawkeyes played in 13 games. It was the lowest since 1997 - Hayden Fry's last winning season in Iowa City.

Past Predictions/Results:
2008 Prediction / actual: 5-7, 2-6 (T-9th) / 9-4, 5-3 (T-4th), Outback
2007 Prediction / actual: 8-4, 5-3 (T-4th), Champs / 6-6, 4-4 (T-5th)
2006 Prediction / actual: 11-1, 7-1 (T-1st), Rose / 6-7, 2-6 (T-8th), Alamo
2005 Prediction / actual: 9-2, 6-2 (T-1st), BCS / 7-5, 5-3 (T-3rd), Outback
2004 Prediction / actual: 9-2, 6-2 (3rd), Capital One / 10-2, 7-1 (T-1st), Capital One
2003 Prediction / actual: 6-6, 3-5 (T-7th) / 10-3, 5-3 (T-4th)
2002 Prediction / actual: 8-4, 4-4 (T-6th) / 11-2, 8-0 (T-1st)
2001 Prediction / actual: 5-6, 2-6 (T-10th) / 7-5, 4-4 (T-4th)

*Note, bowl shown only from 2004 on as I did not predict the bowl berths prior to that season.

Returning Starters: 6 offense, 8 defense, 2 kickers

Key Returnees: QB Ricky Stanzi, WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, DE Adrian Clayborn, LB A.J. Edds

Key Losses: RB Shonn Greene, DT Mitch King, DT Matt Kroul

Looking Back ... I don't usually use this space to rehash my old predictions, but man did Iowa burn me last year. After two very sub-par seasons, I expected more of the same. I think a lot of others did too and therefore took the black and gold for granted. Iowa was very good last year, in an old-fashioned, smack you in the mouth type of way. The Hawkeyes dominated on the ground and with a stellar defense, all while helping a young signal caller grow into one of the better QBs in the conference. Can Iowa maintain that trend or will it be just another decent season in Iowa City this fall?

Outlook - Offense ... The Hawkeyes return six starters on the offensive side of the ball, led by quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Stanzi grew into a top-notch signal caller a season ago and his experience and maturity will be key for the Iowa offense. Iowa will absolutely miss Shonn Greene, who was an absolute stud for this attack last year. The good news for the Hawkeyes is that Greene sort of came from no where a year after Iowa lost 97% of its running game to graduation. That means big opportunity for sophomore Jewel Hampton. Hampton had an outstanding freshman season and is poised to do big things for Iowa this fall. The line, as it typically is for Iowa, will be good and should only get better as the season wears on. Stanzi has a few weapons in the passing game as well, so look for a solid, pro-style, balanced attack out of the Hawkeyes this fall.

Outlook - Defense ... Iowa brings back a defense that stopped just about everything thrown at it a season ago. Eight starters return, led by the entire linebacking corps and three starters in the secondary. The bad news, if any, is that the M&M tandem has departed. Mitch King and Matt Kroul flat-out dominated the Big Ten last season. The two tackles had 95 career starts between them and were a big reason for Iowa's success. Replacing them is no small task, but it is made at least a bit easier by the fact that the starting defensive ends return. I don't expect Iowa to be as good on this side of the ball as it was in '08, but the Iowa defense will not lose this team any games. If those holes at tackle are filled at even 75% of last year's production, watch out. This will be the sleeper team in 2009.

Outlook - Special Teams ... Iowa returns all of the kicking game from a unit that performed very well a season ago. The return men are sure-handed and solid, if they don't strike fear into the opposition's hearts with their speed or escapabililty. Iowa won games with solid punting and place kicking last year, expect more of the same in 09.

9/12 - at Iowa State
9/19 - ARIZONA
9/26 - at Penn State
10/10 - MICHIGAN
10/17 - at Wisconsin
10/24 - at Michigan State
10/31 - INDIANA
11/14 - at Ohio State

Key Games:
9/26 - at Penn State, 10/17 - at Wisconsin, 11/14 - at Ohio State

Prediction ... Iowa has a tough road slate this fall, but the OOC games are a virtual cake-walk. An early win at Penn State would be huge and likely catapult this team to a top two finish in the conference, but playing at night in State College, then at Camp Randall, followed by a night game in East Lansing and a trip to C-bus? Not this year. Iowa will have a great season and the fans who grow restless with Ferentz will be fully on his side once more...

OOC: 4-0 (onlyArizona even poses a threat)
B10: 5-3 (wins over Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Northwestern and Minnesota)
Overall: 9-3, T-4th in the conference, Capital One Bowl

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