Summer Snapshot '11: Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa. Do we really have to speak of this team?

Yes. But no introduction today for the Hawkeyes.

The Past Few Seasons…

It’s been a long road from one legend to the next. But Iowa’s managed quite well since Hayden Fry’s retirement following the 1998 season. Kirk Ferentz has guided the Hawkeyes to four double-digit win seasons, including two BCS bowls. He’s done it with arguably the least-impressive assembly of talent for the kind of results seen in Iowa City the last 13 years. But it wasn’t all wasn’t rainbows and unicorns for the early stages of the Ferentz Era at Iowa. In his first two seasons as head coach, Ferentz’s Hawkeyes won a mere four games, with a single win in 1998 and only three in 1999.

Ferentz finally assembled the team he needed for what would be the best single season win total in Iowa history, coming in 2002 when the Hawkeyes went 11-2, winning a share of the Big Ten title. But it wasn’t a one-hit wonder, as Iowa went on to win 31 games from ’02-’04. Some lean years followed, despite some very impressive recruiting classes. In the next three-year stretch, Iowa broke .500 only once, and even missed out on a bowl game entirely in 2007. The grumbling had begun in Iowa City.

"Stanziballs."

In what could be pointed to as the major boost Ferentz and the Hawks needed, Iowa upset then-undefeated No. 3 Penn State in November 2008. The win propelled Iowa to finish 9-4 including a dominant performance against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. The momentum carried over, as Iowa started 2009 with a 9-0 record, only to lose quarterback Ricky Stanzi in an upset loss to Northwestern. The Hawkeyes finished 11-2 after beating Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

Last year, nearly the entire team returned for another run, this time getting the preseason hype that had eluded Iowa for some time. Projected No. 2 in the Big Ten by the media, the first time ever Iowa had gotten into the top-3 preseason poll. However, despite seemingly overcoming two close losses to Arizona and Wisconsin, the wheels fell off late in the season. Iowa escaped Indiana with a 5-point win (IU had a game-winning TD dropped late), but lost the final three games of the regular season, including an absolutely pathetic defeat at Minnesota. It was a team that clearly didn’t care. Well, Iowa was at least able to finish with a bowl win over No. 14 Missouri. But the damage was done. With a veteran team full of great talent, Iowa couldn’t produce nearly the kind of season even anyone expected.

What to Look for in 2011…

Iowa returns only nine total starters and less than 60 percent of all the lettermen from last season. Stanzi is gone on offense. So is Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. On defense, probably the biggest hits are losing Adrian Clayborn, Karl Klug and Christian Ballard–all three taken in this year’s NFL draft. Iowa also loses safety Tyler Sash, who regularly finished in the top percentile on the Moxie Scale. But as we’ve learned from Iowa in the past, this is a team that performs well when expectations are low.

Replacing Stanzi is likely James Vandenberg, a junior who stepped in for Stanzi in 2009 and played well in a tough spot, particularly at Ohio State for the Big Ten title. But no matter who takes over, it will be difficult to replace a leader like Sanzi. The running backs are a bit more stable, which is surprising since three of the top four are gone from last year. Marcus Coker is the leader here, after running very well late in the season and in the bowl game. He’s a dangerous back who can take over a game. Marvin McNutt is back at receiver, but that’s it. Four starters return on the offensive line, making this a strength once again for Iowa. The O-line has been one of the best units under Ferentz, as he coached the position for years.

The defense had a bunch of unknowns at this point, though Penn State fans can appreciate the value of a “no name” defense. The only name you might remember off-hand would be Shaun Prater, and that’s only because he had a pick-6 against PSU last season. The losses everywhere on defense will hurt, but nowhere more so than on the line. You can’t just replace three NFL draft picks and expect things to be rosy. From being a strength the past three seasons, the Iowa defense could be a bit of a liability this year.

Iowa’s schedule doesn’t allow much time for the team to grow up. With one warmup game against FCS/I-AA Tennessee Tech, it’s off to Iowa State, then back home to host Pitt. There is a very nice break with Louisiana Monroe followed by a bye week, before traveling to Penn State for what will be yet another “redemption” game for the Nittany Lions. Once the Big Ten schedule heats up, we’ll be able to really see what this team is made of. Iowa is in the Leaders (Western) Division of the new Big Ten alignment, meaning no Ohio State or Wisconsin on this year’s schedule. However, an improved set of Michigan teams, very dangerous Purdue and Northwestern, and a season finale in Lincoln make 2011 a daunting path to a successful season.

2011DatePFOpponentPALocationNotes
09-03-2011Tennessee Tech (FCS)Iowa City, IA
09-10-2011Iowa StateAmes, IA
09-17-2011PittsburghIowa City, IA
09-24-2011Louisiana MonroeIowa City, IA
10-08-2011Penn StateUniversity Park, PA
10-15-2011NorthwesternIowa City, IA
10-22-2011IndianaIowa City, IA
10-29-2011MinnesotaMinneapolis, MN
11-05-2011MIchiganIowa City, IA
11-12-2011Michigan StateIowa City, IA
11-19-2011PurdueWest Lafayette, IN
11-25-2011NebraskaLincoln, NE
Indianapolis, INB1G Championship Game
Bowl
Season Totals

As I mentioned above, Iowa is one of those teams that plays well when expectations are low. Well, they can’t get much lower than this season. But sometimes the hill is simply too steep to climb in one season. All the starters lost from 2010 and a somewhat difficult schedule will make it tough for anyone to seriously call for Iowa to win more games than last year.

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