SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
7/21/2006 11:38:00 AM
Why Not The Hawkeyes?
Could a national title be on the horizon for Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeyes?
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
It is my firm belief that at least one of the participants in this year's national championship game will be a team from outside the preseason top 10 that takes the nation by storm, a la Oklahoma in 2000, LSU in '03 and Auburn (though it didn't actually reach the title game) in '04. To that end, I'm finding myself increasingly enamored with a team no one's talking about but really should: Iowa.
Apparently, one 7-5 season -- even when it follows three straight top-10 finishes and two Big Ten championships -- was enough to send the Hawkeyes back to the realm of national afterthought. But that would be a mistake. Last year's team got off to a rocky start due to the fact it was breaking in almost entirely new offensive and defensive lines, but by the end of the year, they looked like a typical Kirk Ferentz team, winning at 10-3 Wisconsin and throttling Minnesota. Their last three losses were to Michigan in overtime, to Northwestern by one point on a miracle comeback and to Florida by a touchdown in the Outback Bowl when a questionable offsides call cost them a recovered onside kick in the last two minutes.
Fast forward to this year. Last year's question marks, the O-line and D-line, will now be strengths. The offense should be extremely balanced behind former all-conference QB Drew Tate and 1,300-yard rusher Albert Young. Iowa's two concerns going into the season will be replacing starting receivers Ed Hinkel and Clinton Solomon and star linebackers Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway. I don't know much about the returning receivers, but an opposing Big Ten coach who watched tape of the Hawkeyes recently told me, "They're not going to miss a beat at linebacker -- No. 44 is going to be special." No. 44 is junior Mike Humpal, the new starting outside backer.
But what intrigues me most about Iowa is its schedule. In the past, Ferentz's teams have been notoriously slow starters. This year presents two huge games in the first month of the season, Iowa State and Ohio State, both at home. You've got to think those will go a long way toward determining whether it's going to be a truly special season -- i.e. a return to the BCS for the first time since 2002 --- or one that ends in another trip to Tampa.
As much as I hate to say it, West Virginia can already book their flights to the National Championship. Although they'd never be able to beat teams like USC, Texas or Ohio State, the undeserved hype they are getting along with their crappy schedule pretty much makes them a lock.
With that being said, I find it hard to believe the pollsters would rank Iowa in the top 2 unless they go undefeated.
Looks like it could be a chaotic year for the BCS. It's likely no one will make through the season undefeated, and your probably right that at least one team outside the top 10 will "come out of nowhere". That's what makes college football so great.
IOWA..Com on..MOre like the sleeper no one is talking about are the HUSKERS.. They have USC and TEXAS both of whom are beatable this year and if they pull that off you know where they will be playing :)
THANK YOU! Finally, somebody is getting off their knees over Ohio State and is giving another B10 team some love. Iowa will be good this year, but I don't necessarily see them in the NC game. We can always hope though...
I think Iowa will have a very nice season this year and should once again be bowling in January but here are some reasons why I think they can't win a title with this team:
1. Early Season Blunder(Ferentz has a past of dropping one perplexing loss in non-conference play);
2. Pass Defense (the safeties are strong against the run but the pass defense was simply poor last year, the defensive scheme is passive, the defensive line put little to no pressure on QB's despite being solid against the run, they have two new corners and they lose arguably the best pass covering LB in the country in Greenway);
3. LB's and WR's (the coaching staff is high on the two new LB's but there is bound to be a drop-off in play when you lose Greenway and Hodge. The WR group has depth but very little experience and Hinkel was huge for last years team);
4. Health (Iowa's starters are very talented but the depth isn't the same as say USC, OSU, etc. If Iowa losses Tate, Young, Ewebema or a DB then that position will be a glaring problem).
As a Buckeye fan, the Iowa game really scares me. Playing in Iowa City at night is not my idea of an easy road win. With all the trouble OSU has winning night games, this one has me more concerned than Texas.
A Night game at Kinnick, look out Buckeyes. The schedule sets up nicely, I am concerned about traveling to Syracuse--that's the game I'm worried about. I know Syracuse is down but it's a long trip early in the season. I can't quite shake that ASU game 2 years ago when we got our butts kicked--we seemed like we were in a fog. ASU played well but we didn't show up. One difference, that game finally started around 10pm central time, we are use to playing at 11 am. The Syracuse game I believe is at 11 am eastern. Hopefull time zone issue are not that big a deal--still wary of traveling to Syracuse early when we seem to be development stage.
Agreed on Iowa in relation to OSU's schedule. The Buckeyes don't have a hot record when it comes to night games. Perhaps it is my terrible short-term memory, but past performances haven't been stellar. Perhaps this season will be different?
In any event, the Iowa game will probably be the most difficult.
As a life-long Michigan (I'm 27), Iowa has always scared me. Granted, we don't have the rivalry w/ them that we have with Ohio St, ND, or even Mich St. But Iowa is one of those teams that should never be taken lightly. If Ferentz's crew can get past a few "oops" moments, this team can be playing in the Rose Bowl or beyond.
6-5...a lock to be in the COSTCO All-u-can-eat Bowl....hoooooo hummmmm. Iowa has had a lot of schlong-envy over their neighbors to the west for about 10 years, yet refused to play the HUSKERS even in the time when they may have had a shot to actually beat a Big-12 team.Today, you can bet the huge iowa farm they won't be on the schedule anytime near or far, far away. Ferentz was a lock last year to be a pro-level coach. After this year it will be a joy NOT to have to listen to the pre-season hype of the second best team in iowa.
Not again! Every year some college football writer picks Ferentz and Iowa as his "sleeper pick," and every year the Hawkeyes lose a game before the middle of October. What is the fascination with this program? You mention that "by the end of the year, they looked like a typical Kirk Ferentz team, winning at 10-3 Wisconsin and throttling Minnesota." If a reader didn't know better, he might read your comments and think that Iowa finished strong last season. Umm...I believe they finished by losing 3 or their last 5 games, and only one of those losses was to a team that finished the season in the top 25. Why don't we at least wait for Ferentz to post a one-loss season or make it into November undefeated before we start labeling this team as championship contenders?
To the anonymous poster who writes, "It's likely no one will make through the season undefeated..." I'm afraid I have to disagree with you. It pains me to say it, but I like Oklahoma's chances of going undefeated through the regular season this year. The Big XII only has two real teams, and the winner of the UT-OU game gets to walk through the remainder of its season. (Note that the winner of that game has played for the NC for the past 3 seasons.) If OU can avoid stumbling against Oregon, look for the Sooners to be the losing team in the championship game once again.
Troy Smith is a mature and more settled leader than ever before. His explosive offense will carry OSU through IOWA by quickly deflating the unfriendly crowd. With that said it will also not be as easy as in Columbus - specially with a loud Tom Arnold in the stands.
as much as I hate to sound ignorant, the buckeyes will not lose to iowa this year. Last year's game was an offensive show by the buckeyes. I don't see how losing abdul hodge and chad greenway is going to help their defense who couldn't shut them down last year with those two players. This game will not even be close.
Hey, Stewert, let's keep those kind of thoughts quiet! It's that under-the-radar position that the Hawks thrive on. (See 2002, from unranked to #3 at end of reg. season.) While I always respect tOSU, I don't care how much you are able to reload, you simply cannot replace that much / that level of talent and experience on D and realistically expect to win it all. Frankly, Michigan is the toughest game this year, as it's a roadie and assuming they are healthy come late October. However, Iowa v Mich is always a good, close game, regardless of where it's palyed. I'm hoping 3 is a charm for Drew Tate, as Michigan '04 established him as a leader, yet they are the only B10 team he has not beaten.
How many rushing yards did the Huskers get per game last year? And you think they'll suddenly beat USC AND Texas!?!? FANTASY LAND is where they'll be playing.
Also, Iowa was never afraid of Nebraska. Ferentz played Neb. in '99, I think. 52-6 Huskers, if I remember. Didn't go well, but don't imply they were afraid. Ferentz simply knows he won't be able to recruit Big Twelve kids to the Big Ten very often.
Second best team in Iowa?!?! How many times will ISU fans have to NOT win their conference and NOT go to a January bowl before they give that up? And Iowa will be even better next year...
Iowa made it into November with one loss in 2002 and then lost a bowl game to eventual national champ USC. So give Ferentz his due now.
Ugh, enough giving undeserved credit to Big-10 schools. If any schools from that conference get to the title game, then hopefully it shows how truly flawed the system is. And since when is a loss to Northwestern a good thing?
Iowa will be very, very good this year. I think that Ohio State game could crush alot of souls in Buckeye Country. And to the guy that said nobody will finish undefeated has obviously failed to take a close look at West Virginia's ridiculously easy schedule.
I think Iowa will be very solid this year I think they can go to a BCS bowl, but I do see a few issues that might hold them back from a national title game: - D-Line needs to get consistent pressure on the QB (like the 05 Wisky game) - We need a electric kick off returner, and need to block some punts - Tate needs to be the Tate of 04, and stop winning on the field. - Receivers needs to stop dropping the ball & I think we need to give some of the athletic freshman a chance because I don't envision Grigsby or Calvin Davis to do much. I think Andy Brodell will be the go to guy. - I also think Edmond Miles needs to play to his ability. Seems like he blew a lot of open field tackles last year, and lacked on pass coverage.
Overall, I think Iowa goes 11-1 (possibly 10-2), but they are too complete of a team to drop any more than that.
I agree with the fact that he said the games against Iowa State and Ohio State would decide the season for the Hawks. In past years it seems like those games always give us at least one loss. If we can get over the hump this year and go 3-0 vs. the teams that give us the most troubles (Ohio State, Iowa State and Michigan) I could see the Hawks going a long ways this year and on their way to another Big Ten Championship.
-James Cleveland is a big wide reciever with good hands and great size.
-Linebacker are solid as can be, Miles is a returner and will most likely lead the backers in tackles with his great speed. Under the radar though are the linebackers Mike Klinkenborg and Mike Humpal. Both of them are tackling machines and will make the job up replacing the two NFL linebackers a bit easier. Also Iowa has Zach Gablemann who last year was an animal on special teams. I was at a game last year when he was on the side lines getting pumped up..went full speed downfield and made the tackle. Coming off to the sideline he took off his helment and had a bloody forehead...thats the type of player you want at linebacker!
-Kirk Ferentz is the type of Coach you can always count on. He turns average Joes into complete football players. (Dallas Clark, Bob Sanders, Ladell Betts, Robert Gallery, Brad Banks, Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge...and many more) This year wont be any different, you'll see a few newcomers shine, and look at special teams for the stars in Iowa's future. Thats where they tend to make thier first impact.
-This year Iowa will have strength at D-line and O-line where last year seemed to be one of our weaknesses. Look for Kenny Iwebema to lead the team and possibly the Big Ten in sacks.
National Championship...maybe not, but a great Kirk Ferentz coached football team...indeed.
I think that OSU and Michigan are the only games the Hawks could possibly drop. The ONLY question marks are the secondary and recievers. With a very solid OL and Young and Tate in the backfield, they will be able to move the ball very well. There will be no drop off on the defensive side of the ball with the much more experienced line. There will be no drop off at LB even though Hodge and Greeenway are gone, they will be replaced with Mike Humpal, a very athletic player similar to Greenway, and either Mike Klinkenborg or Zach Gableman, who shined on special teams last year. If Antwan Allen and Jovon Johnson can be replaced, then Iowa could have the best defense in the country. I see the Hawks going 11-1 or possibly 12-0.