Better, But So What?
When he was the coach of the Chiefs in the first half of this decade, Dick Vermeil made a comment about good football teams that many in the media took to be a joke. "If you want to be a good football team, don't play good football teams," he said. He was serious, and it explained the 9-0 start his 2003 Kansas City squad experienced on its way to 13-3 and the division title. Truth be told, the following year's team may have been better. Unfortunately for them, they played a much harder schedule and didn't even make the playoffs.
Last year, Iowa went 9-4 with an Outback Bowl victory while not playing Ohio State. The schedule also sent Penn State, Wisconsin, and Iowa State to Iowa City. This year's Iowa team may well be better than last year's squad. Ricky Stanzi has nailed down the QB position. The defense returns 8 starters. The offense returns 6, with experienced backups at the other five positions. But...Iowa will play road games in Columbus (last win in the ‘Shoe - 1991), State College (think Penn State has revenge on its mind?), Madison (stop your damn jumping already), East Lansing (the home team has won each game in this series since 1995), and Ames (where I am embarrassed to say that Iowa has won only one of the last five games). Being better is good, but it might not be good enough to prevent four losses again. Add in the fact that the Michigan State and Penn State games are played after dark, and the level of difficulty just went up. Still, if you are looking for the Big Ten champion to come from a school other than Ohio State and Michigan Penn State, you could do worse than to pick the Hawkeyes.
Done Going Greene
It says here that Iowa won't actually miss Shonn Greene that much. Yes, Greene had an amazing season. Every running back has different talents; Greene's was the ability to turn the ordinary three yard run into an eight yard run. He embarrassed defenders, and he'll likely have a solid NFL career. That said, Jewel Hampton and Jeff Brinson seem to be positioned to give the Hawkeyes a Davis & Blanchard styled attack. I'm not saying that either of them will ever have that kind of acclaim, but the production can be filled.
Iowa's offense has keyed off the run for all but one of Kirk Ferentz's years with the Hawkeyes. The success of the offense has had less to do with the running back and much more to do with the offensive line. Bryan Bulaga leads what may end up being the best line in the conference. The holes will be there.
Four Year Starters
Who does that? Seriously, how often do you see someone who is good enough to start as a Freshman at a BCS school? When it happens, it's rare to see them stick around for their Senior season. The Hawkeyes lose two four year starters on defense. More amazing, they played next to each other for those four years. To put it in perspective, the last season in which the Hawkeyes didn't start Mitch King and Matt Kroul at DT, John Kerry was running for President.
Just as the Hawkeye offense has always started with the run, the Hawkeye defense has always declared stopping the run as goal one. When the D-Line is stout, the schemes work well. When they get pushed around, Iowa loses. Karl Klug, Mike Daniels, and Travis Meade will take the first shot at filling the four-year old footprints.
Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?
One of the constant refrains from Kirk Ferentz is that Iowa isn't a sexy program. This cuts two ways: 1) Iowa takes pride in seeing lesser-recruited athletes blossom from hard work and dedication; and 2) Iowa doesn't do those "sexy" things like change defensive schemes or use the wildcat formation. At times it's maddening. At times it's a source of pride. As long as the team is winning, it's acceptable. Truth be told, this is Iowa's sexiest team since 2006. If it wasn't for the brutal road schedule, I think we'd be hearing them in the same breath as Ole Miss - a team that could surprise us with a conference title.
|9/5/09||Northern Iowa||Iowa City, IA|
|9/12/09||Iowa State||Ames, IA|
|9/19/09||Arizona||Iowa City, IA|
|9/26/09||Penn State||State College, PA|
|10/3/09||Arkansas State||Iowa City, IA|
|10/10/09||Michigan||Iowa City, IA|
|10/24/09||Michigan State||East Lansing, MI|
|10/31/09||Indiana||Iowa City, IA|
|11/07/09||Northwestern||Iowa City, IA|
|11/14/09||Ohio State||Columbus, OH|
|11/21/09||Minnesota||Iowa City, IA|
Must Win Game
@ Wiscoinsin (10/17/09)
If Iowa wants to have any shot at a conference title, they need to sweep the home slate. All won't be lost if the Hawks fall in Happy Valley. The key games will be the back-to-back trips to Madison and East Lansing. Champions win those games. Good teams split them. Also-rans drop them both. Wisconsin comes first, so it's the game that the Hawkeyes must win if they hope to become a champion.
Kirk Ferentz coached his first game at Iowa in 1999. His Defensive Coordinator was Norm Parker. His offensive coordinator was Ken O'Keefe. On September 5, 2009, Kirk Ferentz will begin his 11th Season as Iowa's head coach. His Defensive Coordinator will be Norm Parker. His Offensive Coordinator will be Ken O'Keefe.
Predicted Finish: 9-3 (5-3)
2009 Esquire Rating: 4 out of 5 Cigars