Iowa Hawkeyes (2000: 3-9)
Updated: Tuesday August 07, 2001 1:45 PM
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Coach and programIt’s not unusual for a young head coach to struggle in the shadow of a legendary predecessor. But Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz has to deal with a different problem. He operates in the shadow of a legend who never even coached at Iowa.
Ferentz took the reins of the Iowa program from the hands of Hayden Fry in 1999. In his 20 seasons in Iowa City, Fry led the Hawkeyes to 14 bowl games, won three Big Ten titles and helped Iowa crack the season-ending AP Top 10 twice, its first such honors since 1961.
But ask any Iowa booster and you’ll discover that Ferentz was not the Hawkeyes’ first choice to succeed Fry. In the fall of 1998, Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops was the hot coaching candidate throughout the nation, and his status as a former Hawkeye star and former Fry assistant led many to believe he was holding out for the Iowa job.
But after Fry retired, Iowa officials couldn’t come to terms with Stoops, and on Dec. 1, 1998, he was hired as the head coach at the University of Oklahoma. One day later, Ferentz was introduced as the new head coach at Iowa. And the rest, as they say, is history.
To say that 2000 was a complete failure for Iowa would be viewing the glass as half-empty. After a 1-8 start, the team rebounded to win two of its last three, including a win at free-falling Penn State and an upset of a Northwestern team that would have been Rose Bowl-bound had it beaten the Hawkeyes.
This year’s challenges include settling on a quarterback and an offensive line combo that can maximize the potential of a couple of exciting offensive threats, shoring up the conference’s second-worst pass defense and finding a way to get a few breaks that didn’t bounce Iowa’s way in close losses last year.
If the Hawkeyes can achieve those goals, look for fans to stop whispering the names of Fry and Stoops around Iowa City this fall.
OffenseThe highest-profile position on the team is the one giving Ferentz the most headaches this year. Not because he doesn’t have options, but because he has too many.
The incumbent quarterback appears to be senior Kyle McCann (6-5, 214), who started the final four games last year. That happens to coincide with the Hawkeyes' four-game season-saving resurgence against Wisconsin, Penn State, Northwestern and Minnesota, so you’d have to call that a big plus in McCann’s favor.
His main competition for the starting job is sophomore Jon Beutjer (6-5, 200), who also started four games last season. He took over for the now-departed Scott Mullen in the fifth game, at Indiana, and led the Hawkeyes to a 21-16 upset over Michigan State the next week. But two weeks later, Beutjer went down with an injury against Ohio State, opening the door for McCann to show his stuff.
For the season, Beutjer’s numbers were slightly better than McCann’s -- 77-for-125 (62 percent) for 841 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. Which gives you a sense of why Ferentz and his staff are still undecided about their starting quarterback.
If there’s one spot where there will be no competition, it will be at starting tailback. Senior Ladell Betts (5-11, 215) piled up 1,090 yards and a 4.7 yards per carry average last season.
The biggest hole the Hawkeyes have to fill is the vacant spot left by the departure of wide receiver Kevin Kasper, the career leader in pass receptions at Iowa.
Fortunately for Ferentz, he’s got another deep threat in senior Kahlil Hill (6-3, 195) who is a threat to make a game-breaking play any time he steps on the field. Hill was an honorable-mention All-Big Ten selection and his 58 catches for 619 yards and five touchdowns were second to Kasper in all three categories.
Defense and special teamsThe defensive line made big steps last season but it must continue to improve if the Hawkeyes hope to make up ground in the Big Ten. Iowa finished ninth in rushing defense, allowing 194.3 yards per game on the ground, and sacked the quarterback only 24 times in 12 games.
But the bulk of the line will have plenty of experience. The leader will be senior Aaron Kampman (6-4, 282), a legitimate All-America candidate after moving from linebacker to end last year.
Leading tackler LeVar Woods and backup Derrick Davison have moved on, but the linebackers should still be a strength of the defense this season. If senior Mike Dolezal (6-3, 240) can stay healthy, he will anchor the middle of the field for the Hawkeyes.
The much-maligned Hawkeye secondary gave up 21 touchdowns and almost 247 passing yards per game last season, second-worst in the Big Ten, but experience and a couple of new faces should help improve those numbers this year.
Hill is an electrifying kick returner who won first-team All-Big Ten honors from The Sporting News last year. He averaged 9.6 yards per punt return, fifth in the conference, and was second in the Big Ten with a 27.2-yard average on kickoff returns.
Sophomore kicker Nate Kaeding (6-0, 165) returns after a solid freshman year. He hit 14-of-22 field goal attempts and all 20 of his PATs.
Bottom lineIf all goes according to plan, this could be the year Hawkeye fans identify in a few years as the turning point for Ferentz and the football program. You can’t overlook the way the Hawkeyes finished last season, with two wins and two gut-wrenching defeats in their final four games.
This year fans can expect the Hawkeyes to at least be competitive, and with a few breaks that they didn’t get last season, a bowl berth is not out of the question. Even if they don’t completely reverse their fortunes, Ferentz should be able to rely on a solid offense and an improved defense as a reason for hope for the future.