National Champs, right? I mean, it's Iowa and we're asking Iowa fans to weigh in . . . Ok, that's not [entirely] fair, but the Hawkeyes do have a reputation for being overly bullish. This year Iowa loses Shonn Greene (who the Badgers turned into a superstar last season), but they return an offensive line that might make me, at 35 and never playing a down of organized football, a Heisman candidate. So, is this the 3rd act of the Kirk Ferentz story at Iowa? The one where he defies the firekirkferentz.com crowd and wins that elusive title (Big Ten or better)? Here's opinion from one emminently reasonable Iowa fan and blogger, Fight for Iowa (we had this exchange a little while ago, so I've added some updates where appropriate):
(1) No Shonn Greene, and now word is Jewel Hampton may have a bum knee . . . who's going to carry the rock, and how good will he be? Does it even matter, or would I go over 100 yards per game behind that line? Is there anything at all that you worry about regarding the offensive line?
This has been all the buzz the last couple of days. The severity of Hampton's injury isn't known yet, but it is expected that he'll miss time [ed. update: Hampton is a go]. Now, Kirk Ferentz likes his experienced backs that know the offense and don't fumble. But, really there is nobody proven to be all those things at runningback. The most experienced player is Paki O'Meara, who will be serviceable if necessary, and could start the season at #1, but I expected Jeff Brinson to be the permanent starter once the season starts rolling on. Brinson was recruited by the likes for Florida and put up huge numbers in high school. By all accounts he's just as good if not better than Hampton and would have got the #2 spot last year if it weren't for ono/asthma/something issues. Also, there is incoming freshman Brandon Wegher, who also put up huge numbers in high school. He's got a lot of hype around him and is very quick. If he can pick up the offense I think he'll be the #2 back.
Oh the offensive line...if you would have asked me a month or so ago I would have been very confident that Iowa has the best o-line in the conference. However, Julian Vandervelde has an injury and will at least miss a few games. And Kyle Calloway is suspended for at least a game [ed. note: 1 game] for his drunken moped ride. So, I am not quite as confident. The line should still be good as there is tons of experience on the inside and Bryan Bulaga is a beast at tackle. Once Calloway and Vandervelde are back in the line up and the line has a chance to meld, then watch out...that line will be good.
(2) Stanzi has to be the man, right? Without Greene, can he be? It seems like Iowa always has a solid tight end, is Moeaki ready to be that guy? Is the Badger-like stereotype accurate that Iowa doesn't throw the ball unless absolutely necessary?
Stanzi is the Manzi, as they like to say. I think he'll have a good year. He definitely had his moments last year, good and bad. If he can limit the number of turnovers, then he'll be successful. He is accurate enough, mobile enough, and smart enough to lead this offense to lots of yards and points. And, yeah, he'll get his chances. Iowa is definitely a run first team, but Ken O'Keefe and Kirk Ferentz love the play action pass. A fake hand-off, then roll out by Stanzi...this play works really well for Stanzi. He is better on the move than in the pocket and can pull it down and run if necessary.
Tony Moeaki should be ready this year. He's hopefully over all his injuries and will be the starter. When healthy he has consistently produced and Iowa knows how to use their tight ends. Allen Reisner is also good at tight end and saw a lot of time last year while Moeaki was out.
(3) With the new defensive tackles, is there any hope for the opposition to run up the gut? What's the weakness of this defense?
The defensive tackle is definitely the most inexperience part of the defense. The two tackles will be Karl Klug and Mike Daniels. While they won't be King and Kroul (obviously) they should be just fine. Klug was the B10 Defensive Player of the Week way back in week 2 and made some huge plays against PSU last year. Daniels should be okay too. He's on the small side, but quick and should be able to make some plays in the backfield. Though the tackles are relatively inexperienced, the defensive ends will be the anchors of this line. Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard are a very good duo at defensive end. Though their numbers are not as flashy as some of the other ends in the conference they make a lot of big plays. Both have the size to move inside and play tackle and there is a lot more depth at end, especially with Broderick Binns. So look for Clayborn to line up at tackle next to Klug with Binns and Ballard on the outside in passing situations.
(4) I'll be honest, last year's Iowa team is a puzzle. I know, you guys could've been unbeaten on the basis of about 4 plays, but the results were still erratic: Pittsburgh, Northwestern, and Michigan State just weren't world beaters. They were decent teams that didn't give up much for free (although Pittsburgh did from time to time). The loss to Illinois and the home struggle against an awful Purdue team were puzzling, to say the least. It isn't as though those two teams had great run defenses. So Iowa beat one team that finished the season ranked, and that was at home (though to be fair, the win over Penn State was huge), and only played one other team that finished ranked (MSU, at #24). This season the schedule looks a lot rougher with Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin on the road (on paper we don't deserve mentioning with those first three). What was the story last season, and what do you make of your chances in 2009? Is CFN right to call you a "deep sleeper in the championship chase?"
Bad turnovers cost us in our 4 losses. Northwestern was a nightmare...5 turnovers and still only lose by 5. Michigan State and Illinois were more of the same (not as many turnovers, but very costly ones). And, you can blame the Pitt game on the quarterback controversy. Heck, maybe blame the Northwestern game and MSU game on that too. It took Stanzi a few games to hit his rhythm and get the turnover bug out of his system. And he hadn't really figured out yet how to win the close game. Against both Northwestern and Michigan State, Iowa drove down the field with a chance to win, but couldn't get it done.
But on to this upcoming year. I'd say a "deep sleeper" is a fair assessment. In contrast to the difficult road schedule, the home schedule is fairly easy. It's very conceivable Iowa could for 7-0 at Kinnick which is a good start to have a championship type season. Now, I think Iowa goes 2-2 on the road in the Big Ten, but I'll give you reasons why Iowa could win each game.
PSU - Iowa is lucky to get Penn State early in the year. They lost all their receivers and all of their secondary, so may still be a little green there in the 4th week. Though it is a revenge game, at night, and will be a White Out, Iowa under Ferentz has had Penn State's number (6-2).
MSU - Michigan State and Iowa are very similar teams this year. Both lose a start running back and both have tons back on defense. The differences are, Iowa returns its quarterback, and Iowa's returners on defense are good, while Michigan State's are mediocre.
Wisconsin - You know more about Wisconsin than me, but Iowa matches up very well defensively against a power run team like Wisconsin. Also, from what I've read the Badgers have a lot to replace among both lines.
OSU - Well...it's much harder to make a case against Ohio State. Iowa hasn't won in Columbus in forever [since 1991]. But the Buckeyes only return 5 guys on offense and lose two stud linebackers in James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman.
(5) 2002-04 was a great run, and after a decade at the helm, Ferentz has Iowa fifth in the Big Ten in winning percentage, but ten points back from #3 Wisconsin, and five back from #4 Penn State (67%, 62%, and 57%, respectively; ranking is the same, but it's closer counting only Big Ten games) and no Rose Bowls (1 BCS bowl). Is that really good enough? Did last season take Ferentz off the hot-seat, or would an 8-4 year with as many arrests as wins kick-start firekirkferentz.com?
I think Ferentz is off of the hot seat. And 8-4 seasons will be good enough to keep him in Iowa as long as he wants to be. Yeah, arrests have been a problem...but I think it's just the media that blame Ferentz. It's been said before many time, but Ferentz has done a lot with very little. He has developed players better than just about anyone and it seems like this year at least recruiting has been going better. Realistically for Iowa, fans will be happy with a bowl game every year, with a Big Ten Title every 6-7 years.
(6) The university -- and the state -- is named for the woodsman Hawkeye from the Last of the Mohicans. How did he get to Iowa, and what made him stick as the mascot?
Wow...that's a tough questions. You're making me do research! From what I can gather, the state of Iowa originally took on the moniker the "Hawkeye State" in a tribute to the great Chief Black Hawk of the Sac Native American tribe. The University of Iowa, liked the name made a connection with the popularity of the character Hawkeye from the books, so the name stuck. Iowa's mascot is really Herky the Hawk. Though, Herky didn't come around until later. He made his first appearance at a football game in 1959.
(7) I've heard Kinnick can be a great road trip, but there's no love loss between our fan bases and some Badgers I know report some unfortunate incidents in Iowa City. Badger and Gopher fans think Iowa fans always think Iowa a national title contender, regardless of what's happening on the field, and that Ferentz is doing his best to rename the Fulmer Cup. Why is that wrong, and what is the Hawkeye take on Badger fans? I was in Madison for the Iowa game in 2007 and it seemed like everyone got along fine, even with the alcohol-fueled night start. What do you expect in Madison this time around?
We Hawkeye fans got spoiled a little bit in 2002-2004 ['02 Co-B10 champs with national champ OSU, Orange Bowl, '03 Outback victory over Florida, '04 one heck of a Capital One victory over LSU]. Three years like that in a row! That was great. So yeah, so people got a little carried away and expected years like that every year. But realistically there are very few teams that can compete on that level year in and year out and I think most Hawkeye fans understand that. I think the common conception of Badger fans is that they are rowdy, but I don't know. Nothing too bad. Maybe I'm too nice to have bad thoughts about Badger fans. I've never been to Madison but I've heard the atmosphere is great. Game-wise, I expect a closer game than last year's Shonn Greene highlight reel.
(8) I know, Bielema has a Hawkeye tattoo. What clever thing do you want to say about it?
Does the tigerhawk tattoo really bug Badger fans? That would be great if it did. I am assuming the tattoo is really some kind of telekinetic portal into the minds of the Iowa coaches that Bielema uses to find out which recruits Iowa is offering, so that he can swoop in and do the same.