Big Ten Football Preview: Iowa
The 2012 football season was one full of ups and downs for the Hawkeyes. They began the season on the road with a win, and even jumped out to a solid 4-2 record at the midway point of the season, including a tough overtime victory against Michigan State in Easr Lansing.
Unfortunately, for Iowa it was downhill from there. The team finished the season losing its final six games beginning with a loss to Penn State at home, just a week after the tough overtime victory over the Spartans. Closing the season with a record of 4-8 the Hawkeyes suffered their worst season since 2007-08.
Iowa will be looking to turn around there offensive woes this season. They will have a new man under center leading the offense this upcoming season. It was unclear for a good portion of this offseason who would be the frontrunner to take over the starting job this season. The two leading candidates were Sophomore Jake Rudock who as freshman last year was the backup to James Vandenberg, and JUCO transfer Cody Sokol who broke numerous passing records at Scotsdale Community College. It now has emerged that Rudock will be the starter in the first game against Northern Illinois.
One of the strongest aspects of this Hawkeye team on either side of the ball should be the offensive line. Iowa will be returning three of the five starters from its offensive line a year ago. Junior Brandon Scherff will return to the left tackle position, while Senior Brett Van Sloten will return to the right tackle position. The final returning starter is Sophomore Austin Blythe, but he will be moving from right guard to center this season. Starting at the guard positions will be Senior Conor Boffeli and Sophomore Jordan Walsh. Iowa will present a very formidable front line where the shortest member is 6’3” and the tallest member stands at 6’7”. On top of that the line averages out in weight around 300 pounds.
Additionally, the Hawkeyes will bring back both of their leading tailbacks last season. Mark Weisman will again be the first string tailback and take the majority of the carries, but opponents can still expect a fair dose of Damon Bullock too. For Bullock, he may see his roll increase from the slot position. The Hawkeyes may be weakest on offense at the receiver position. However, they do bring back their leading receiver Junior Kevonte Martin-Manley and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz who was third on the team in receptions. That being said, they are the only returning players who accumulated even 20 receptions a year ago.
The other side of the ball may be more of a growing process for the Hawkeyes. They will have two returning starters on the front line of defense. Senior Dominic Alvis will return to one of the ends where he compiled 31 tackles and three sacks a year ago, while Junior Louis Trinca-Pasat will return to the defensive tackle position where he racked up 40 tackles just a season ago.
As far as the rest of the defensive line goes, Iowa will have a lot of different options to play with. Sophomore Drew Ott has the potential to be a real threat to the passing game from the opposite end positon, but it may be the more experienced Junior Mike Hardy who sees the starts at the beginning of the season.
A major stopper and play maker on the defensive side of the ball was lost for Iowa when cornerback Micah Hyde was drafted in the fifth-round of this year’s NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. Senior B.J. Lowery and Sophomore Jordan Lomax will be set to start the cornerback positions in week one. With a more inexperienced defensive line this year, it wil require the defensive backfield to step up their pressure on opposing receivers and hopefully for the Hawkeyes, force opposing quarterbacks to hold onto the ball longer. Returning both safeties from a year ago will aid the Hawkeye backfield in there hopefully strong play this season.
The greatest expectations on this side of the ball for Iowa should come from the linebacker position. All three linebackers will be returning starters and seniors on top of that. James Morris will be leading the defense and the linebacking core from the middle and he is coming off back-to-back all-conference seasons. On the outside for the black and yellow will be Anthony Hitchens, last year’s leading tackler with 124, and Christian Kirksey who added 95 tackles of his own as well as two interceptions. It is obvious to see why the linebacking core will be looked at for leadership and elite performance from both their own teammates and opposing teams.
Iowa will have a relatively easy first five games of the season, facing only one team who finished above .500 a year ago and that will be week one against the Huskies of North Illionois. Beyond that, the Hawkeyes should have an opportunity to begin there season positively and possibly even be above .500 going into their first bye after their week 6 matchup against conference opponent Michigan State.
It is the second half of the season that may spell trouble for Iowa. In their final six games they are matched up against five teams that will begin the season ranked in the top 25 in the country. The worst of it all may be the two games they play coming off of their bye-weeks. Following their first bye in October the Hawkeyes will be head-to-head with Urban Meyer’s second-ranked Buckeyes. The second game immediately following a bye will be against the 17th ranked Michigan Wolverines.
It is obvious that conference wins will be a difficult, so they are going to need to capitalize on the easier conference games against teams like Minnesota, Michigan State and Purdue, none of which will be particularly easy to begin with unfortunately.
As a whole, the Hawkeyes have a tough year ahead of them but it should be a very beneficial one and one that could be essential to rebuilding the program to its pre 2011 form.
Jason Kohler is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.