Coach and Program | Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers/tight ends | Offensive Line | Kickers | Defensive Line | Linebackers | Defensive backs | Punters | Special teams | Recruiting Class | Blue Ribbon analysis
COACH AND PROGRAM
Kirk Ferentz didnt tell anybody that he had a three-year plan to turn around the program at Iowa, but thats how long it took him to get the Hawkeyes back into a bowl.
First, however, Ferentz had to shake loose from the shadow of a couple of Iowa City legends. Replacing Hayden Fry, the schools all-time leader in victories, was hard enough. Making it worse was the national championship season of the 1999 Oklahoma Sooners, coached by Iowa graduate Bob Stoops.
Stoops was Iowas first choice to replace Fry, but when negotiations bogged down, Ferentz got the job, and followed with four wins in his first two seasons. But he didnt have much to work with, as Frys lax recruiting left the cupboard bare when Ferentz came to town before the 1999 season. With two years under his belt, the former Hawkeye assistant and Maine head coach was ready to make his mark.
Last season started with non-conference blowouts of Kent State and Miami (Ohio) at home, followed by the Big Ten opener at home against Penn State. A 24-18 victory put the Hawkeyes at 3-0 for the first time since 1997 and renewed hopes of a return to postseason play.
The first Big Ten road test brought a 23-14 loss to Purdue, and a three-point loss the next week at Michigan State tested the Hawkeye faithful. Iowa returned home to blow out Indiana, but lost a heartbreaker at home to Michigan by a touchdown. Another six-point defeat the next week at Wisconsin put the season record at 4-4 and a bowl berth in question.
But the Hawkeyes got healthy in a big way the following week at Northwestern, cruising to a 59-16 win over the reeling Wildcats, and a home-field win over Minnesota the next week made Iowa bowl-eligible for the first time in four seasons. Even a three-point loss at Iowa State in the regular-season finale didnt dampen the spirits of the Hawkeyes, who accepted a bid to the Alamo Bowl.
Making their first postseason appearance since the 1997 Sun Bowl, the Hawkeyes shone brightly in the spotlight, knocking off Texas Tech in a 19-16 thriller.
Heading into last season, the Hawkeyes were prepared for an exciting battle at the quarterback spot, with at least three players holding realistic hopes for the starting job.
All that changed when an off-field incident led Jon Beutjer to transfer from Iowa, leaving Kyle McCann as the only experienced quarterback on the roster. Beutjer eventually landed at Illinois, but his exit turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it allowed McCann to grow into the position and lead the Hawkeyes back to a bowl game.
This year, there will be no controversy -- senior Brad Banks (6-1, 185) clearly is the man at quarterback for the Hawkeyes. Banks transferred from Hinds (Miss.) Community College before last season, and Ferentz worked him into the mix frequently during the season as a change of pace for the Hawkeye offense.
Banks appeared in 10 games, connecting on 41-of-48 passes for 582 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed for 151 yards on 41 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns, and his flashy style made him an instant favorite of the Hawkeye fans.
In spring practice, he clearly separated himself from backup Nathan Chandler (6-7, 250), a transfer from Pasadena (Texas) Community College who enrolled at Iowa in January and should be the No. 2 man on the depth chart this fall. At Pasadena, Chandler threw for 2,455 passes and 26 touchdowns in 10 games last year. Coincidentally, Chandler had committed to Texas Tech -- Iowas Alamo Bowl foe -- coming out of high school, but instead enrolled at Pasadena and is now playing in the Big Ten.
Battling for the No. 3 slot will be junior David Raih (6-5, 190), sophomore Dan Katt (6-2, 219) and freshman Matt Bohnet (6-3, 210).
Experience is a problem for the Hawkeye backfield. Not only will Banks be entering the season as a first-year starter, but the running backs will be brand new as well.
Ladell Betts rushed for 1,060 yards and 10 touchdowns, was a second-team All-Big Ten selection and was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the second round in April. Also gone is fullback Jeremy Allen, whose 242 yards and four touchdowns put him third on the team in both categories.
But at least one known commodity will be in the starting lineup -- junior Aaron Greving (5-11, 207), who filled in for the injured Betts at the Alamo Bowl in a big way. Greving carried the ball 25 times for 115 yards and a touchdown, and was voted the games offensive MVP.
For the season, Greving rushed for 333 yards on just 60 carries and scored seven touchdowns, including scores on three consecutive carries against Kent State, tying an NCAA Division I record.
Greving sat out the spring game after breaking his left ankle in practice, but he should be available this fall.
"I was having a great off-season," he told The Associated Press. "I worked really hard. I got bigger, stronger, faster. I was really excited for the spring. It was hard to deal with at first, but Im already looking forward to the next step."
Grevings injury could open the door for junior Fred Russell (5-8, 177) to work his way into the lineup. Russell carried the ball 21 times for 145 yards last year -- a team-best average of 6.7 yards per carry -- and he will at least spell Greving from time to time. In the spring game, he played with the starters in place of Greving and rushed 17 times for 80 yards, including a 35-yard run.
"Freds been a lot of fun to watch on tape. I dont get a chance to see him when Im out there," said center Bruce Nelson. "Hes a stop-and-go kind of guy. Hes been a lot of fun. I think when Aaron gets back, its going to be fun to watch them compete and help each other."
Sophomore Jermelle Lewis (5-11, 208) and freshman Marcus Schnoor (6-1, 190) also could work their way into the lineup as the year progresses. Senior Siaka Massaquoi was suspended during spring practice for an alcohol-related violation, and was dismissed from the team in late June.
At fullback, junior Edgar Cervantes (6-3, 240) and sophomore Aaron Mickens (5-10, 235) will battle for the starting job.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
Inexperience remains the theme in the receiving corps, as three of the top four wide receivers from last years team graduated. Leading receiver Kahlil Hill (59 catches, 841 yards, 8 TDs, honorable mention all-Big Ten) is gone, as are Chris Oliver (18-152-1) and Tim Dodge (13-138).
Senior C.J. Jones (6-0, 185), a junior college transfer who finished third on the team with 34 catches last year, will return at one wide-out slot.
The other position was wide open going into spring practice, but freshman Ed Hinkel (6-1, 170) had a strong performance that culminated in an outstanding spring game, in which he caught six balls for 183 yards and a 56-yard touchdown from Banks.
"Ed Hinkel made some nice plays," Ferentz said after the game. "We thought highly of him when we recruited him and it was great to see him play well. He is probably a guy who could play on either side of the ball. [But] given our situation at wide receiver, it is safe to say he will be on the offensive side come fall."
The top backup will likely be junior Ramon Ochoa (5-10, 189). Red-shirt freshman Darius Butler (6-1, 190) decided in late June to transfer to Morris Brown College, but junior Maurice Brown (6-2, 210) returns from a seven-game suspension last season.
Tight end Dallas Clark (6-4, 240) returns for his junior year, coming off an honorable mention All-Big Ten season in which he caught 38 passes for 539 yards and four touchdowns. The best sign for Hawkeye fans is that it was his first year as a tight end after two years at linebacker -- a walk-on linebacker at that. Truly hes just beginning to tap his potential and the next two years could bring great things for Clark.
Junior Erik Jensen (6-3, 259) filled in for Clark last year, starting a pair of games when Clark battled injuries, and he caught four passes for 30 yards and a touchdown.
Here is where the Hawkeyes will take advantage of their veteran leadership, bringing back a group with more letters than a post office. Only Alonzo Cunningham, who started four games at right guard last year, is gone, so although nobody is 100 percent sure who they will be protecting or leading down the field, the offensive line is set, and could rank among the best in the conference.
In the middle, as he has been for the last three years, will be senior center Nelson (6-4, 290), who has started 35 straight games. After taking a licking as an undersized underclassman against experienced Big Ten lines, Nelson is looking forward to mentoring Iowas young linemen and showing the rest of the conference how far he and his teammates have come.
Senior David Porter (6-7, 315) returns at right tackle, where he was a second-team All-Big Ten pick last year. He gained an extra year of eligibility this year after missing much of the 1999 season because of injuries.
At left tackle, junior Robert Gallery (6-7, 300) returns to the spot where he made 12 starts last year after switching from tight end. The starting guards will be senior Eric Steinbach (6-7, 284), who started nine games last season and was a first-team all-conference selection, and senior Andy Lightfoot (6-6, 284), who made five starts last year.
With Steinbach on the 2002 Lombardi Award watch list, and returning players who made 56-of-60 starts last year, the offensive line will be counted on to lead this otherwise young Hawkeye offense.
They also have plenty of talented backups should their depth be tested. Senior Ben Sobieski (6-5, 305) hasnt been able to shake the injury bug, but he has won three letters at Iowa City and will start the year as Gallerys backup at left tackle. Junior Sam Aiello (6-5, 305) started the first four games last year -- one at right tackle and three at right guard -- and that versatility will be important again this fall.
Another backup who saw heavy action last year is junior guard Kory Borchers (6-6, 290), who started the last three regular-season games at right guard. Senior Pete Traynor (6-3, 290) is listed No. 2 at center.
Red-shirt freshman Blake Larsen (6-7, 304) was the teams top recruit in 2000 and will push for playing time this season, as will freshman Ben Cronin (6-5, 270).
The first person you will probably notice in a highlight film of the 2001 Hawkeye season is kicker Nate Kaeding (6-0, 165). The junior made the biggest kick of his life, a 47-yard field goal with 44 seconds remaining in the game, to provide the winning margin in Iowas 19-16 victory over Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl last December.
That kick tied his season-long effort and capped a day in which Kaeding went 4-for-5 on field goals. It also capped a season that saw him make 12-of-16 attempts and all but one of his 50 extra-point kicks. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from 40-to-49 yards and earned a number of postseason honors, including second-team All-Big Ten and Sports Illustrateds All-Bowl team.
As exciting as the Iowa offense was last year, the defense was the surprise success story, finishing second in the Big Ten against the run -- allowing a paltry 3.1 yards per carry -- and second overall with 326 yards allowed per game. Three starters are gone, including all-conference defensive tackle Aaron Kampman, honorable mention All-Big Ten tackle Derrick Pickens, and Jerry Montgomery. But the Hawkeyes will have lettermen returning at every starting spot if not much starting experience.
The leader of the line looks to be senior Colin Cole (6-2, 300), who started all 12 games at defensive end last year but will move to defensive tackle for his senior season. He finished with 64 tackles last year and was second on the team with 15 tackles for a loss, good for 45 yards. His six sacks tied for second best on the squad as well.
Junior Jared Clauss (6-5, 287) started twice at tackle last year, where he will get the nod to begin this fall. He made 28 tackles last season, including six stops behind the line of scrimmage.
The tackles will be a pair of juniors, Jonathan Babineaux (6-2, 255) and Howard Hodges (6-2, 235), both of whom will be making their starting debuts on the defensive side. Hodges battled injuries in his backup role last year, while Babineaux actually had a few starts at fullback as a freshman before moving to defense last year. Sophomore Derreck Robinson (6-5, 260) could also push for a starting spot.
Senior Fred Barr (6-2, 238) leads the way in the middle for the Hawkeyes. Barr was an honorable mention all-conference selection last year and is the middle linebacker picked on many preseason All-Big Ten teams. He finished second on the team last year with 116 tackles, including seven for losses and a pair of sacks, and in the preseason he was selected to the watch list for the 2002 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given to top defensive player in the nation.
Also returning is junior Grant Steen (6-3, 238), who started all 12 games last season and posted 67 tackles, sixth best on the squad. The leading candidate to take the place of the departed Mike Dolezal and R.J. Meyer -- who split the starts and the other linebacker spot -- is junior Kevin Worthy (6-2, 235), who was Barrs backup last season.
Sophomore Matt Roth (6-4, 245) was the only freshman to take the field last year for Iowa, but he spent most of his time with the special teams. He will be a key backup this year, along with senior Tony Burrier (6-4, 212), a three-time letter-winner; junior George Lewis (6-2, 230); and freshmen Abdul Hodge (6-2, 220) and Chad Greenway (6-4, 215).
The Hawkeyes only loss in this area was cornerback Matt Stockdale, but they dealt with that last year when he broke his foot and missed the final five games. The foursome that started that final five-game stretch returns, led by junior strong safety Bob Sanders (5-8, 194), a first-team All-Big Ten selection and Iowas co-MVP last year.
Sanders led the team in tackles with 122 and interceptions with four, broke up 12 passes along the way, and capped the season by picking off a Texas Tech pass in the end zone on the games last play to clinch the Alamo Bowl. Regrettably, Sanders was charged with drunken driving after being arrested in May, and Ferentz could suspend him for a game at the start of the season.
"There are quite a few other [reprimands] in-house," Ferentz told the Des Moines Register. "Its going to be handled appropriately; it will be in-house, and it will be a dead issue."
Junior Derek Pagel (6-1, 203) made six starts last year and will take over at free safety this season. He played in all 12 games in 2001 and totaled 44 tackles and four passes defensed.
At the corner, senior D.J. Johnson (5-10, 192) and junior Benny Sapp (5-10, 181) will start the season in the saddle. Johnson took over for Stockdale at the end of last year, while Sapp broke up a team-high 15 passes and had three picks last season. Sapp and Sanders were also selected to the Nagurski Trophy watch list in the preseason.
Pushing for playing time at safety will be junior Chris Smith (5-11, 195) and sophomore Sean Considine (6-0, 190), while the top backups at cornerback will be sophomore Chigozie Ejiasi (6-0, 200) and freshman Antwan Allen (5-10, 160).
Sophomore David Bradley (6-2, 205) returns after handling the bulk of the punting duties last year. Bradley averaged 36.7 yards, good for just ninth in the Big Ten, and he was even spelled by Kaeding from time to time. Kaeding booted six times for a 41-yard average.
But Bradley had only three touchbacks and downed 12 punts inside the 20, so its likely that another year of seasoning and confidence should reveal improvement this fall.
In case either of the upperclassmen falters, red-shirt freshman John Gallery (6-2, 210) -- brother of Robert and former Hawkeye kicker Nick Gallery -- could find his way into the mix.
Last year, the nations best special teams player -- winner of the Mosi Tatupu Award -- was Hawkeye kick returner Kahlil Hill, who averaged 11.9 yards per punt return and 24.3 yards per kickoff return.
The battle to replace Hill will most likely come down to Jones and Russell, both of whom saw action last year when teams kicked away from Hill. Jones returned six punts for an eye-popping 27.3 yards per attempt, including a 65-yard touchdown against Michigan, and he brought back 12 kickoffs for nearly 20 yards a shot. Russell had eight kickoff returns last year for a 22.4-yard average.
The quarterback and wide receiver positions are among the most sparsely talented groups on the roster, and Ferentz addressed those needs by signing four signal-callers and three receivers in this years recruiting class. The Hawkeyes are confident they got a winner in junior college transfer Chandler, who has a chance to challenge Banks for the starting quarterback job with a strong camp in August.
Another junior college player who could push for playing time this fall is defensive lineman Wesley Thibeaux (6-2, 294), who transferred to Iowa from Blinn (Texas) Community College.
Among the incoming freshmen, running back Justise Hairston (6-0, 205) of Connecticut runs a 4.4 40 and returned five punts for touchdowns in the last two years, offensive lineman Chris Felder (6-7, 295) and wide receiver Calvin Davis (6-1, 175) were two of the leading in-state recruits signed by Ferentz and linebacker Eric Zilisch (6-5, 230) was chosen his states top defensive player as a senior.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
Iowa is once again a team on the rise in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes are not quite back at the level of the teams Hayden Fry helped challenge for the conference title throughout the '80s, but theyve got the right pieces in place for another bowl bid.
The biggest question mark remains with the skill players on offense, where a new quarterback, tailback, fullback, and primary receiver must emerge to help put points on the board. Thats a lot to ask, especially early, but if Banks plays the way he did in the spring, the teams confidence will grow quickly and the Hawkeyes should get over that hump.
The lines are both solid and experienced, and with three Nagurski Trophy candidates on defense, opponents will once again find rough sledding against the Hawkeyes. A BCS bowl is not entirely out of the question, but given the youth on offense, a return to the Alamo Bowl should be viewed as a success.