Coach: Kirk Ferentz (7th season, 42-31) 2004 record: 10-2 (Beat LSU in Capital One Bowl) Big Ten finish: 7-1 (t-1st) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 116th (72.6 ypg) Passing: 37th (240.1 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 5th (92.5 ypg) Passing: 39th (201.3 ypg)
at Iowa State
at Ohio State
Depth Chart: Offense
5 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
5 returning starters in red
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Riding the wave of three consecutive top-10 finishes, and perhaps the greatest catch in school history, the Iowa football team is following the lead of its celebrated head coach.
Kirk Ferentz seems content staying in Iowa City, and his football team seems capable of staying among the nation's elite. The Hawkeyes are poised to make yet another run at a Big Ten title with 10 starters returning. Iowa boasts All-Big Ten quarterback Drew Tate and two of the nation's top linebackers in Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge, a proven kicker in junior Kyle Schlicher, two quality receivers (Clinton Solomon and Ed Hinkel) and three starters returning in the secondary.
The biggest concern is replacing all four starters on the defensive line, including All-America defensive end Matt Roth and tackle Jonathan Babineaux, last season's defensive MVP.
The days of choosing between Michigan and Ohio State to compete for the Big Ten title are seemingly over. Iowa finished tied for first in the Big Ten last season despite losing four running backs to knee injuries. The Hawkeyes have combined to go 31-7 over the past three seasons.
His first name is Drew. He comes from Texas. And it seems as if he was born to play quarterback. Sound familiar?
Tate is cut from the same mold as former Purdue All-America quarterback and fellow Texas native Drew Brees. Tate entered last season only having passed for 55 yards in mop-up duty as a true freshman, but he went on to throw for 2,786 yards and make first-team All-Big Ten. He also led Iowa to a 10-2 record, a share of the Big Ten title with Michigan and a thrilling victory over LSU in the Capital One Bowl.
Receiver should be a strength, with Solomon and Hinkel back for their senior seasons. Solomon had 905 receiving yards last season, which is the most among returning players in the Big Ten.
The Hawkeyes finished last in the Big Ten in rushing in 2004, but that should change unless injuries start to mount again. Marques Simmons and Damian Sims should get most of the carries if they're healthy. Marcus Schnoor and Albert Young are coming off ACL surgeries, giving Simmons and Sims the early advantage.
Iowa's ability to reload will be tested on the defensive line. All four starters have to be replaced, most notably All-Americans Roth and Babineaux. The new line will feature three sophomore starters and redshirt freshman Matt Kroul. Kroul, a converted linebacker who made huge strides during spring practice, and George Eshareturi will man the tackle positions. Bryan Mattison and Ken Iwebema played well on special teams last season and now are expected to start at defensive end. Mattison isn't as crazed or as physical as Roth, but he is a playmaker.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better one-two punch at linebacker than Hodge and Greenway. Hodge is a physical run-stopper who makes most of his tackles between the tackles. Greenway is a versatile playmaker who excels against the run and pass.
While it hurts to lose star safety Sean Considine to graduation, the situation in the secondary is hardly a crisis with the other three starters coming back. Senior cornerback Antwan Allen has started 38 consecutive games, while the other starting cornerback, senior Jovon Johnson, has 14 interceptions to rank third in school history. Free safety Marcus Paschal is coming off a torn ACL suffered in the bowl win over LSU.
Schlicher lived up to the challenge of replacing Nate Kaeding by making 21-of-26 field goal attempts last season. The challenge now is to replace four-year starting punter David Bradley. John Gallery and Andy Fenstermaker are the leading candidates.
The Hawkeyes, who have averaged 6.6 Big Ten wins over the past three seasons, are poised to make yet another run at the league title. There is star power at quarterback, receiver and linebacker.
This isn't a team without issues, however. The running game, a non-factor in 2004, needs to emerge to give the offense some balance, and there are some significant holes to plug on the defensive line.
The Hawkeyes open up their Big Ten schedule on Sept. 24 in Columbus against Ohio State. A win at the Horseshoe would be a huge first step toward a conference title.