I. File Opening
A. Case History
Iowa fans often label 2011 as a "disappointing season." Personally, I think it had something to do with the old adage of "When there are no expectations the Hawkeyes will overachieve." Just look back to Bama Hawkeye’s 2011 closing argument:
No, Iowa doesn't handle great expectations well. But then, when you least expect it...where you least expect it...they bring their pain to those that get in their way.
Unfortunately, the belief that "no hype = good Iowa team" translated into "actual hype" and we expected more despite questions at running back, tight end and on the defensive line. Well...that was a mistake.
In a way, the 2011 season was a microcosm of everything right and wrong with Iowa under Kirk Ferentz. Losses to rivals because [insert excuse here]? Check. Lack of aggressiveness in certain scenarios when aggressiveness could pay off? Check. Flat out losing a game we had no business losing? Check. Winning a game we had no business winning? Check. Bend but don’t break? Kinda check. Having a solid ground game despite losing running backs to He Who Shall Not Be Named? Check. Multiple players drafted into the NFL despite so-so results on the collegiate gridiron? Double check.
Following the conclusion of every season I ask myself "How will things be different next year?" After Iowa’s loss to Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl I was concerned. I was sure offensive tackle Riley Reiff would leave early for the NFL, the Hawks were losing Marvin McNutt, Mike Daniels, Shaun Prater and Jordan Bernstine to graduation and we’d face the difficult task of essentially replacing our entire defensive line. But it wasn’t without positives. James Vandenberg would return with a slew of talented, albeit unproven wide receivers, the linebackers would be more athletic and our stud running back Marcus Coker would carry the load while the younger players grew into their pads. Or not.
It goes without saying that losing a star running back when your team utilizes a "run first offense" is disheartening. No matter, I was sure Kirk Ferentz and Ken O’Keefe would figure it out. Or not. We knew what we were getting when Phil Parker was named successor to Norm Parker (no, they aren’t related) as Iowa’s defensive coordinator. Phil coached defensive backs under Norm for 13 years and knows the system. I don’t think we knew what ex-Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis was about until Patrick Vint broke it down for us:
We really should have seen this coming. The similarities are abundant enough to make it a bit eerie: A thirteen-year coordinator with a solid resume, constantly under pressure from the fan base. A solid developer of talent at quarterback -- under his guidance, UT churned out Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Vince Young, and Colt McCoy -- yet he was constantly criticized for his playcalling and in-game decisionmaking. While he embraced some of the spread passing game that enveloped the Big XII, Texas always remained steadfastly pro-style and conservative, especially against top-shelf opposition. Greg Davis was essentially the Texas-sized Ken O'Keefe, ostensibly more successful on the stat sheet and in the standings but rarely exceptional and constantly lampooned by a fan base that had seen more than enough to make its judgment.
Oh and did I mention Iowa’s defensive line coach bailed for Nebraska?
So that’s where we’re at. A new offensive coordinator in Greg Davis, a new defensive coordinator in Phil Parker, former offensive line coach Reese Morgan was moved to defensive line coach, Brian Ferentz was hired to helm the offensive line, former linebacker coach Darrell Wilson is now in charge of the defensive backs and LeVar Woods is handling the linebackers. Iowa isn’t only breaking in tons of new players in 2012…they’re breaking in tons of new coaches.
B. Opening Statement
All that being said, ladies and gentlemen, you shouldn't give up on this Iowa team. The Hawkeyes may be shuffling coordinators but there's one thing that remains steadfast: Kirk Ferentz. Coach Ferentz has kept the Hawkeyes competitive for more than a decade and seen them through the highest highs and the lowest lows. It’s true that there are question marks surrounding the coaching staff. It’s true that we won’t know how well the coordinators really fit until the Hawkeyes play a football game. Those things are certain. But have faith. Remember that Kirk Ferentz wouldn't hire them unless he trusted in their abilities to run the offense and defense the way he wants it ran. It’s Kirk Ferentz’s coaching philosophy that has kept Iowa competitive for so long and it’s his coaching philosophy that will continue to keep Iowa competitive.
They say Iowa doesn’t have any proven running backs. I point to Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher and Marcus Coker, who all played as underclassmen and kept Iowa’s ground game humming. Iowa's running backs aren't "proven" because they've never had a chance to prove themselves. Current starter Damon Bullock is only a sophomore and rarely saw the field thanks to Marcus Coker handling 99% of the carries last season (99% is an exaggeration but it's pretty damn close). Second stringer Brad Rogers had been starting as Iowa's fullback but is athletic enough to play both positions. Greg Garmon is a highly touted true freshman who will undoubtedly become Iowa's running back of the future. Hell, he might become Iowa's running back of the future this season.
More "questions" at wide receiver? Sure. But I’ll let Ross tell you about Keenan Davis and remind you of C.J. Fiedorowicz (who Ross can also tell you about), a 6-7, 265lb monster who is sure to become the Big Ten’s next impact tight end. The defensive line is the biggest concern for the Hawkeyes but it's not the tire fire people make it out to be. Is it a dumpster fire? Uh...probably.
The defensive tackles are arguably more athletic than the defensive ends but lack any sort of experience; Kirk Ferentz has been ranting and raving about Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis checks in at 6'5, 310lbs. The defensive ends are more experienced (relatively speaking) and return Dominic Alvis, whose 2011 campaign was cut short by a torn ACL. The opposite end could either be Steve Bigach, who can rotate to the inside and has 5 starts under his belt or Joe Gaglione. Aside from Alvis, Bigach and Gaglione, literally every other lineman on Iowa's preseason depth chart is an underclassman.
Do these "questions" and lack of experience spell doom for the Hawkeyes? Let's explore, shall we?
A. What We Can Learn From the Off-Season
- B1G 2012 // Iowa Cocktail Party Preview
- B1G 2012 // Iowa's Smartest Guys in the Room
- B1G 2012 // OTE's Iowa Potluck: Seeking Answers from The Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God
- The Curious Case of Brian Ferentz
B. What We Can Learn From Pop Culture
Now it's the same old song
But with a different meaning
Since you been gone
Ken O'Keefe and Norm Parker are gone but the song remains the same in Iowa City. Kinda. The overall song will remain the same...but will receive a few 21st century updates. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker has no plans to change up Iowa's defensive scheme of "Four Three Cover Two, forever and ever amen." However, he does plan on making a few of his own adjustments. The mantra of the defense has always been "never give up the big play." Norm Parker always believed that giving up 5 was always better than giving up 50 (See this game as an example, where Jeremy Ebert had a billion first downs on the 5 yard out). A few of the adjustments Phil Parker plans on making:
- If linebackers cannot cover slot receivers, they won't (take that, spread offenses).
- Iowa corners will play more press coverage as opposed to the traditional 5 yard cushion (take that, wide receiver who is always looking for the 5 yard out).
- The Hawkeyes will stack the box if the defensive line cannot get enough pressure on the quarterback or has trouble stopping the run.
Iowa fans want Parker to say that he's going to start blitzing more often but Phil won't humor the masses. Parker plans on continuing to use the conservative template of his predecessor while implementing a few adjustments that could halt the opposing offense in its tracks. That's a real buzz word around Hawkeye County: adjustments. We hope to see more of those on the defensive side in 2012.
On the offensive side of the ball the Hawkeyes will continue to use the pro-style whilst mixing in (among other things) the no-huddle. Per Greg Davis:
"We’d like to be at a point where we can play a lot of the game in no‑huddle, but how much of that will depend on the opponent," Davis said. "There are some things you can do in no‑huddle that force the action, force the tempo, change the complexion of a game, change momentum sometimes, which means we’ll be able to jump in it whenever we choose to."
Thus, it sounds like the Hawkeyes will jump into the no-huddle at their leisure. There's also been talk of RB's in motion (OH!), stacking WR's (GASP!) and moving TE's to the outside (OH MY!). Baby steps my friends. Baby steps.
III. Emotional Plea
Listen, even if you don't buy the Hawkeyes you can at least buy the schedule. Iowa kicks off their 2012 season in Chicago, Illinois against NIU at Soldier Field. The Huskies, who won the MAC last season, are no pushovers. However, if you honestly believe they'll beat Iowa you're either on bath salts or write for Lake the Posts. They return three, count them, three offensive starters and one, veteran offensive lineman Logan Pegram, broke his leg.
Iowa State (thankfully) is visiting Kinnick Stadium, where they haven't won since 2002. The Cyclones are also replacing most of their defensive line, secondary and left guard Kelechi "I love to hold and not get called for it" Osemele. Iowa hasn't lost to Northern Iowa since 1898. Yes, they almost lost to them in 2009. Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Oh, and they only return 10 starters. Central Michigan is Central Michigan.
By the time the Hawkeyes enter conference play they could be 5-0 and get the Golden Gophers at home before heading into their bye week. Their remaining road schedule consists of Michigan State, Northwestern, Indiana and Michigan. Michigan State and Michigan are losses, Northwestern is a probable loss unless the curse of the Magic Potato can be lifted and Indiana is a win (I hope). Iowa gets Penn State, Purdue and Nebraska at home. Penn State and Purdue should be wins but I'll regrettably chalk up a big "L" against Nebraska. Then again...
My thesis for 2012 is this: so goes James Vandenberg so go the Hawkeyes. In case you're wondering why I'm so confident about Iowa at home as opposed to on the road simply check Vandy's statistics from 2011:
61% passes completed compared to 56%, 8.7 yards per throw compared to 6.2, a TD/INT ratio of 5.7/1 compared to 2/1 and a rating of 158.5 compared to 117.4. Those numbers really stand out when you put them on paper. I figure if Vandy continues his solid play at home the Hawkeyes could win every home contest. However, if he continues his "less than spectacular" play on the road...it's going to be difficult to pick up wins against teams not named Indiana.
A. My Own Verdict
In the end, you have to look at the big picture. There's a great QB, solid options at WR/TE, LB and talented defensive backs. There's also no RB, a rebuilt offensive line that I didn't even bother to talk about (because I honestly don't believe it will be a problem), a LOLtastic defensive line and that tragedy known as "Iowa special teams." To me, that means a 7-5 team that could either steal a win and move to 8-4 or a 7-5 team that could crap the bed at home and fall to 6-6. So basically...a typical Iowa season where you're not sure what to expect.
B. The Staff Calls the Games: OTE Staff: 7-5 (4-4)
Ted Glover: 7-5 (4-4) with losses to MSU, Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska. Not sure who the 5th is to...
Jesse Collins: 8-4 (4-4) with losses to MSU, Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska.
MSULaxer27: 8-4 (4-4) with losses to MSU, Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska.
Baba O'Really: 7-5 (4-4) with losses to Iowa State, MSU, Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska.
Mike Jones: 8-4 (4-4) with losses to MSU, Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska.
Paterno Ave: 7-5 (3-5) with losses to MSU, Penn State, Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska.
JDMill: 7-5 (4-4) with losses to Iowa State, MSU, Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska.
Brian Gillis: 7-5 (4-4) with losses to MSU, Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska. Not sure who the 5th is to...
Hilary Lee: 7-5 (4-4) with losses to NIU, MSU, Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska.
Jonathan Franz: 7-5 (3-5) with losses to MSU, Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan and Nebraska.
C.E. Bell: 7-5 (3-5) with losses to Minnesota, MSU, Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska.