Summer Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes

Cameron Songer (@CameronSonger) previews a team that is always one of the most intriguing ones on Northwestern’s schedule: The Iowa Hawkeyes.

Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images North America

Of all the football programs in the Big Ten with years of tradition, the Iowa Hawkeyes have been one of the few to struggle against Northwestern in recent years. Some have even begun to call the annual Hawkeye-Wildcat gridiron matchup a rivalry game. (Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is not afraid to admit that he “hates” Iowa.)

Going into last year’s matchup at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, the Wildcats had won three in a row against the Hawkeyes. That game was a memorable one for all the wrong reasons for Northwestern fans. The ‘Cats fell behind 17-0 to start the game, thanks to a Dan Persa interception that was returned 98 yards for a touchdown. In classic “Cardiac Cats” fashion, Northwestern then scored the next 17 points to tie the game at the end of the third quarter. Iowa then scored 24 points in the 4th to win 41-31.

Looking strictly at last year’s matchup, this year’s game with Iowa should favor Northwestern more. For one thing, the game will be played in the friendly confines of Ryan Field in Evanston as Northwestern’s homecoming game.

Although Northwestern has lost plenty of key players from last year, I would argue that Iowa is dealing with a much greater turnover of players and staff, especially players who dominated Northwestern last year. Wide receiver Marvin McNutt had 6 catches for 87 yards, including a 35-yard TD catch last year against NU. He was taken in the NFL draft, like left tackle Riley Reiff, defensive lineman Mike Daniels, offensive lineman Adam Gettis, and Jordan Bernstine and Shaun Prater, both defensive backs. The Hawkeyes will be without all that NFL-caliber talent in 2012.

Northwestern is also happy to not see running back Marcus Coker back for the Hawkeyes. Coker had 22 carries for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns against Northwestern last year. After some disciplinary issues at the end of last season, Coker transferred to Stony Brook University.

The changes for Iowa off the field are less visible but perhaps more likely to hurt the Hawkeyes. Defensive coordinator Norm Parker retired and offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe moved to the NFL. They are replaced by Phil Parker (Iowa’s former defensive backs coach) and Greg Davis (formerly with the Texas Longhorns), respectively.

The key for Iowa this season will be the play of their quarterback, James Vandenberg. The fifth-year senior is in his second season as a full-time starter and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to a new offensive coordinator. As a captain for the second year in a row, the Hawkeyes will need him to be more consistent this season. He’s shown that he can dominate¬– almost 400 passing yards against Pitt– but can struggle with accuracy. He completed 50% of his passes with 2 interceptions in a loss against Penn State last season.

Iowa’s schedule is back-loaded, so the Hawkeyes could come into Ryan Field with a strong record. Many college football experts predict that Iowa will win 8 games in 2012 and I agree with them. I just don’t think that their October 27th date with the Northwestern Wildcats will be one of those wins.

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