Sunday, August 30, 2009

CFI Countdown: #10 Iowa Hawkeyes

2008 Record: 9-4 (Big Ten 5-3)
Bowl Game: Won Outback Bowl vs. South Carolina 31-10
Location: Iowa City, Iowa
Stadium: Kinnick Stadium (70,585)
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz
Overall: 82-74 (14th season)
@ Iowa 70-53 (11th season)
Link to Iowa Football Page

After reaching double digits in victories each season from 2002-2004—quite a turn around from 11 total wins in Kirk Ferentz’s first three years (1999-2001)—it appeared the Hawkeyes would be a perennial ten-win team and Big Ten title contender as long as Ferentz remained in Iowa City. Ferentz stayed, but Iowa’s mojo did not. They failed to reach even eight wins from 2005-2007, including a 2006 campaign where they finished eighth in the Big Ten with a losing record (first since 2000). Last year was a bounce back season and the hope in Hawkeye land is that another ten-win season is just around the corner.

When the Hawkeyes Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Ken O’Keefe (11th season)
Scheme: Multiple
Starters Returning: Six
Key Losses: RB Shonn Greene, WR Andy Brodell, OG Seth Olsen, C Rob Bruggeman, TE Brandon Myers

The best Hawkeye teams, whether led by Coach Ferentz or the legendary Hayden Fry, always had one common denominator—a dominant offensive line. It appears Iowa is getting back to their roots, as they could boast one of the best front lines in the Big Ten. It starts with junior left tackle Bryan Bulaga, who may have single-handedly changed South Carolina linebacker Eric Norwood’s mind about leaving school early for the NFL, by dominating the two-time All SECer. Bulaga is a legitimate All-American candidate. On the other side, senior Kyle Calloway is also one of the top tackles in the conference. They return Julian Vandervelde at one guard spot and if senior Dace Richardson, who once manned the left tackle spot, returns at 100 percent this will be a dominant unit. (Callaoway will miss the opener and Vandervelde may miss a game or two.) Shonn Greene left early and his replacement, sophomore Jewell Hampton, enters the season with durability questions. Hampton showed he was capable as a freshman and it’s important that he returns healthy before conference play begins. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi is more of a game-manager than a playmaker, but that’s OK. He is a good leader and has a couple of big wins already under his belt. They should be fine in the pass catching department as long as junior wide out Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and senior tight end Tony Moeaki play to their talent level.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) OT Bryan Bulaga (JR), 2) OT Kyle Calloway (SR), 3) TE Tony Moeaki (SR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Norm Parker (11th season)
Scheme: 4-3
Starters Returning: Eight
Key Losses: DT Mitch King, DT Matt Kroul, CB Bradley Fletcher

With teams spreading defenses out and throwing the football more than ever—even in the Big Ten—Iowa is ready with a stacked secondary. Junior corner Amari Spievey is primed for a big season as he continues Iowa’s tradition of underrated players at the position (see Bradley Fletcher and Charles Godfrey). Sophomore safety Tyler Sash joins him as a big time playmaker, with junior Brett Greenwood a solid force. The linebackers aren’t too shabby either. MIKE Pat Angerer not only has the most fitting name for a middle linebacker, he has the game to go along with it. He is a tackling machine who surprised with his ball skills last season. On the outside he is joined by senior A. J. Edds and junior Jeremiha Hunter, a pair of players that were a bit overshadowed a year ago, but who will make names for themselves in 2009. The potential Achilles heel comes at defensive tackle where they must replace both starters including defensive linchpin Mitch King. Junior Karl Klug was impressive when given the opportunity and sophomore Mike Daniels was good enough to contribute as a freshman. The Hawkeyes will hope to counter their losses on the inside with more production from the outside. Juniors Christian Ballard and Adrian Clayborn are back and there is depth behind them.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) CB Amari Spievey (JR), 2) LB Paul Angerer (SR), 3) LB A. J. Edds (SR)

The Schedule

Iowa takes on in-state schools Northern Iowa and Iowa St. in Ames before hosting the Arizona Wildcats in an interesting Big Ten/Pac-10 September matchup. They would be wise not to look past the ‘Cats, although it will be tempting with the Penn St. Nittany Lions coming up the following week. A win in Happy Valley would catapult the Hawkeyes into Big Ten title contention. However, the Big Ten schedule is tough—they also play at Ohio St. and at Michigan St., so they face all three ranked Big Ten foes away from Kinnick. Not to be forgotten is a trip to Wisconsin, while 2008 bowl teams Minnesota and Northwestern will make the trip to Iowa City.

Pivotal Point

Win the close ones! Iowa is not going to be explosive offensively and will need to pull off an upset or two on the road if they are going to reach ten wins, so expect to see them in several nip and tuck contests that will go down to the wire. The Hawkeyes did not fair well in those types of close games last season, which is the only reason they fell short of double digit wins. Yes, they kicked a last second field goal to knock off previously undefeated Penn St. 24-23, but they lost their other four games that were decided by five points or less—21-20 at Pittsburgh, 27-24 at Illinois, 16-13 at Michigan St., and 22-17 versus Northwestern—all very winnable games.

CFI Final Analysis

The Hawkeyes are back. The team that tied for a Big Ten title both in 2002 (8-0 in conference play) and 2004 (7-1) will make a run again in 2009. The offensive line and defense will rival any in the Big Ten, keeping them in each and every game. Stanzi learned how to win last season and will take that experience into his junior season, allowing the Hawkeyes to exceed expectations with their best finish in five seasons. If not for a stacked conference schedule, a share of the conference title wouldn’t be out of reach.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels
#12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys
#11 California Golden Bears

Photos Courtesy of Iowa Sports Information