The Big Ten was a fun conference to follow in 2009, mostly because of our top-level defenses. Here is another school that has shown killer instinct on the defensive side of the ball lately.
TENTH IN A SERIES: THE IOWA SPRING FIELD GUIDE
Iowa at a glance...
First Season: 1889
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (12th Year, 81-55, .596 winning percentage)
All-Time Record: 580-512-39 (.586)
2009 Record: 11-2 (6-2 Conference)
Offseason Cliff Notes...
In the comment section of this article, write the two word phrase which most aptly describes the 2009 Iowa Hawkeye defense. I personally will go with "controlled anger" and yes, I know some of you will write "pink panties" for the hell of it, but let's flash back quickly to the Orange Bowl. About 6 minutes into the game, two things appeared awfully clear: 1) Adrian Clayborn was an NFL-caliber player...playing against college kids and 2) this Iowa team was well coached, healthy, and far better than Georgia Tech. The Orange Bowl win capped a season which saw Iowa rise to their highest rank since Brad Banks was matriculating in Iowa City.
With Pat Angerer, Amari Spievey, A.J. Edds, Brian Bulaga, and Tony Moeaki taking their skills to the next level, one might think the Hawkeyes are worried about repeating 2009's success. Wrong. I expect Iowa to push OSU for the Big Ten title.
My optimism runs high because Ferentz will roll out the Big Ten's best defensive line (all returning) and because Angry God Who Kills Iowa's Skill Players (or whatever) will have to take a year off in 2010 after exhausting himself in 2009. So what if Iowa is conservative on offense? Ricky Stanzi, Jewel Hampton (or whoever plays halfback), and Marvelous Marvin McNutt bring enough talent and experience to make the offense viably dangerous.
In the cupboard...
Total Returning Starters: 14 (7 Offense, 7 Defense)
Stanzi's presence, constant weird picks and all, is a key for this team. Iowa is going to wear you down with the run game, but there must be some fear of the passing game for teams not to stack the box. This will be even more of a key in 2010 with most of the O-Line departed. I love Ricky Stanzi and his picture perfect mechanics, head scratching picks, and ability to play well in clutch situations (see: first quarter of the Orange Bowl, game winning drive versus MSU, 4th quarter versus Indiana). I also love Marvin McNutt, whose big paws and amazing agility have made him a deep threat and red zone threat.
As I discussed before, Iowa's front four is again the best in the Big Ten. Binns, Ballard, Klug, and the future first round draft pick Clayborn make this staid 4-3 a bitch to run or pass against. The Hawkeyes don't even need to blitz to create pressure on a quarterback or confuse offenses.
1. Who's going to start at RB?
2. With all the crap that Iowa fans give to NW, will the Hawks be able to stop their two year losing streak?
3. Will offenses figure out the Hawkeye 4-3 or can we look forward to another record breaking stringy D?
The Road Ahead...
Home: PSU, OSU, Wisky. Advantage...Iowa.
I realize life and football depend on little tendons and muscles which can fail miserably. Failure is just a snap or tweak away. Iowa COULD struggle against an inspired Michigan team in the Big House. Iowa COULD fall behind an experienced and talented Wisconsin team whose style of play mirrors Iowa pretty closely. Northwestern COULD further exacerbate the jNW hate by winning at Ryan Field. But at least we know the percentages seem to be on the Hawkeye's side. A Ricky Stanzi injury doesn't carry the instantly bad consequences that it did last year, thanks to the talented Mr. James VanDenberg. An early OSU score won't carry as much weight in Kinnick as it would in Columbus.