This is the question a lot of Iowa fans are contemplating right about now…can the 2010 Iowa Hawkeyes live up to the unprecedented hype and the expectations surrounding this season?
The more I think about it, the tougher it gets to think they can. Let me say right off that is the pessimist in me talking, or the person that remembers all of the close calls from last year that went Iowa’s way. Iowa was 11-2, but trailed in most of those wins. Were it not for a national title caliber defense, Iowa might have been fortunate to just go bowling last year.
However, that doesn’t tell the entire tale. This was a good football team that became great because of their belief in one another. I believe that same belief is going to be with them this year, too.
Here are a few of the reasons why I think this team has a chance to pull it off this year:
1. 114.23: That is the number of rushing yards Iowa averaged per game last year. Granted, the offensive line has some rebuilding to do, but I refuse to believe the 2010 offense will struggle that much on the ground. I realize that opponents have to stop Iowa’s running game, or they have little shot of success. It’s just that this year, Iowa has weapons in the passing game it has seldom had in my three decades of watching Iowa football. I believe that Keenan Davis, Marvin McNutt and DJK could become the most successful receiving triumvirate I have seen wearing the black and gold. Throw in sure handed Allen Reisner in to the mix, and Rick Stanzi is going to have some dangerous options out there to slow down some attacking defenses.
Factor in some pretty darned salty depth at running back, too. Adam Robinson is cut out of the old school Iowa running back mold, and when I mean old school, I am talking back to the Owen Gill and Eddie Phillips mold from the early 1980’s. Not much flash, but effective and he seems to get the yards you need him to get. If you need two, he can get you 2.5. He isn’t a threat to take it to the house, but he is very reliable. Brandon Wegher is a player the Iowa staff wants to play a little bit lighter than he weighed in at last year, sacrificing some of that bulk to get all of his speed onto the field. If things hold up, health wise, Wegher won’t have to carry the load he did last year in Iowa’s two man, sometimes one and a half man rotation. He can hit the home run and he should be able to see the seams quicker this year than he did as a true freshmen. Last we saw him, Jewel Hampton was a mix of power and speed. If he has those skills back after his ACL tear, then Iowa has three backs that offer all the tools, and taking a cue from last year’s New York Jets, they could have the freshest legs of any Big Ten running attack come November.
The running game will be better than it’s 10th in the Big Ten standing from one year ago.
2. 336.31: That’s Iowa’s average yards per game from 2009. That was also #10 in the Big Ten. It might just be playing the odds, but I cannot see Iowa having an offense that struggles like that for a second year in a row. I am not expecting 1985-type production, but I think it’s fair to assume Iowa will be better than the 89th ‘best’ offense in the FBS level. Only four teams in BCS conferences won more than 8 games with offenses that averaged 336 or fewer yards per game last year. Not coincidentally, all four of those teams (Iowa, Nebraska, Rutgers and LSU) had scoring defenses that ranked in the Top 16 nationally. Without looking, we know that Iowa and Nebraska should have defenses that are in that category again, which means if their offenses can improve to being just average, that’s another 50 yards per game.
3. 23.15: This might be the most important number, and that is how many points Iowa averaged per game, ‘good’ for #86 in the nation. In 2009, just four FBS teams that scored 23.15 points per game or fewer won more than six games. Iowa won 11 while Iowa State, UCLA and South Carolina each won 7. Marshal and Wyoming also won seven, and no other team in any league won more than six.
Iowa had a great defense last year and that should be the case this year. Iowa has allowed the fewest touchdowns from scrimmage in all of college football over the past two years combined, an excellent performance. They have gone 20-6 over that time, and things could have been better had the offense been able to ‘pull its weight’. While the aforementioned offensive line questions marks loom large, you would think that this year’s offense will get more in line with the ‘average’ points per game in the FBS level of play, which was 27.4 points per game.
Hidden yardage can boost scoring, too. It’s hard to imagine Iowa’s defense answering the bell more this year than they did last year, but Norm Parker believes this year’s defense will be better. Iowa’s punter Ryan Donahue will have the biggest impact on hidden yardage, pinning teams deep and allow the defense to work it’s ‘three and out’ magic. That will set the offense up with a shorter porch, needing to only covert a few first downs in order to get ito field goal range.
Another aspect of the game that could provide added hidden yardage is the kickoff team. If Iowa can get a bigger foot in the kickoff game, get more touchbacks or balls kicked inside the five with good hang time, this really ads up when you have a defense like Iowa should have. Can Jonathon Mullings (that is how he is listed at hawkeyesports.com) put that lead foot to use on kickoffs, leaving Daniel Murray and/or Trent Mossbrucker to focus on field goal duties? Some might wonder whether it would be worthwhile to burn a redshirt for a guy to handle kickoff duties.
Given what Iowa could do this year, and how big a factor consistent kickoffs could play in the hidden yardage of each game, if the kid can boot em, suit em.
If Iowa can become ‘average’ in the running game, total offense and scoring offense, combined with a defense that we expect to be lights out, it gets easier to believe that the 2010 Hawkeyes could live up to Rose Bowl expectations.