Big Ten Team Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes
WNUR’s Nick Scoliard (@NickScols) breaks down Iowa’s chances this season, and they will replace the hole left from their graduates. Nick’s prediction skews a little higher than the WNUR staff, which put the Hawkeyes 4th in the Big Ten West.
WNUR’s Prediction: 8-4 overall, 5-3 in conference.
Iowa’s 2013 season was just what the program needed – a solid season to bounce back from a dreadful 2012 campaign and ended in an Outback Bowl loss to 14th ranked LSU. Nothing to write home about, but it got the Hawkeyes back on track after derailing in 2012. With a conference realignment, and a fairly easy schedule, the Hawkeyes may be the dark horse contender for Big Ten West Champion – and perhaps even beyond.
Offense – Iowa’s offense looks to stay very similar to last year’s, with the only key departure really being TE C.J. Fiedorowicz graduating to the NFL. Junior Jake Rudock returns for his second year under center, after throwing for 2,383 yards last year with 18 TDs. Rudock’s arms and legs turn him into a deadly offensive weapon, and with a year’s experience under his belt, he’ll only be improving. He’s got help in the backfield too, as the two-headed battering ram that is Mark Weisman and Jordan Canzeri returns for another season. The duo combined for 1,456 yards and 10 TDs last year, averaging almost five yards a carry. Iowa’s one-two punch works amazingly at tearing holes in the defense – Weisman is a converted fullback that rams through the line and breaks tackles, while Canzeri prefers sprinting around the edge and leaving his defenders in his dust. With Rudock also being able to use his legs, Iowa’s ground game looks solid heading into this year, and could be their key feature.
Finally, in the receiving corps, the loss of Fiedorowicz is big not just for run-blocking but also for receiving, as Fiedorowicz ranked third in yards, and first in TDs for all receivers. Luckily, not only are most of the receivers returning from last year, but as are two of Fiedorowicz’s understudies: Ray Hamilton and Jake Duzey. Hamilton is the more prototypical TE most similar to Fiedorowicz, in that his main ability is blocking, but adds a nice pass catching ability on top of that, while Duzey is more of the Jimmy Graham/Aaron Hernandez-before-he-killed-someone TE athlete hybrid. Both had significant playing time last year, although Hamilton’s role was limited to Fiedorowicz’s back up, while Duzey was used as a TE hybrid. Joining these tight ends are a receiving corps that prides itself on being deep; nine players had more than 100 yards receiving last year, and only two of those nine graduated. Leading the receivers is Kevonte Martin-Manley, who led the team with 388 yards last year and five TDs, second only to Fiedorowicz. While he could look to improve on his drops, he comes into his final season at Iowa as one of the leaders of the offense, and will be heading this deep corps. With all of Iowa’s weapons, and almost all of their starters returning from last year, this offense has a good chance to be lethal.
Defense – Iowa’s defense was their real weapon last season, ranking sixth overall in yards per game, letting up only 303, and ninth overall in points per game, with 18.9. However, the defense was given the best injury luck possible – they had no injuries to their starting defensive players, and were able to squeeze a lot of playing time from their starters. As much as my common sense says that this has no effect on this season, my gambling mind just feels like the Hawkeyes are due for an injury. Their front four seem solid, though, as five of their defensive lineman are returning, including senior trio Louis Trinca-Pasat, Carl Davis, and Mike Hardy. They’ll look to anchor the front of the defense, and improve on last year’s sack total of 24 – good for 71st in college football. Unfortunately, the linebacker position is the weakest on the entire team. All three starters at LB have left, leaving their backups who combined for only 22 tackles. The lack of experience at linebacker could be a huge hole in the defense, and the Hawkeyes will have to do some on the fly training for the linebacker position. It doesn’t get lot better looking at the backfield with the loss of veteran corner B.J. Lowery leaving inexperienced backs in his departure. Only two starters remain; Desmond King, heading into his second year after a lights-out freshman campaign, and safety John Lowdermilk, the only returner with an INT. The lack of experience in the back seven should worry the Hawkeyes, and look for pass heavy offenses to wreak havoc against them.
Schedule – Iowa’s saving grace this season may in fact be their schedule. After playing NIU the past two years, a tough non-conference opponent, the Hawkeyes lucked out with 3 home games, and a road game at Pitt. The Iowa-Iowa State game will, as always, be contested and a challenge for the Hawkeyes, but they could conceivably enter the Big Ten schedule 4-0, or at worst 3-1. They then start at the bottom of the standings and work their way up to Wisconsin and Nebraska at home to close out the season. I would love to think Northwestern will give them a challenge at Kinnick Stadium, but the Hawkeyes could come back to Iowa late November undefeated facing Wisconsin for the Big Ten West lead.
Prediction – Iowa’s offense looks locked and loaded, and while they might need some help on defense, they have enough returners, especially on the front four, to gain some experience as the year goes on. Luckily for them, they start their conference schedule at the bottom of the Big Ten, giving them valuable reps up until the Wisconsin game. Call me crazy, but I could easily see this team go 10-2, even 11-1, and give Wisconsin a run for its money for the first Big Ten West title. I expect Iowa to surprise some people to finish in the top three of the West, perhaps even winning it, and landing in a cushy New Year’s bowl