Big Ten

2010 NCAA Football Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes

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2009 Record: 11-2 (7-1 in Big Ten)
2009 Bowl: Orange Bowl (beat Georgia Tech 24-14)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: #7
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (81-55 at Iowa; 49-39 in Big Ten; 93-76 All-Time)
Non-Conference Schedule: Eastern Illinois (9/4), Iowa State (9/11), at Arizona (9/18), Ball State (9/25)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 23.2 points per game (10th in Big Ten)
Rushing Yards/Game: 114 (10th in Big Ten)
Passing Yards/Game: 222 (6th in Big Ten)
Total Yards/Game: 336 (10th in Big Ten) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 15.4 points per game (3rd in Big Ten, 8th in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 123 (5th in Big Ten)
Passing Yards/Game: 152 (1st in Big Ten, 3rd in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 276 (3rd in Big Ten, 10th in Nation)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.15 per game (6th in Big Ten)
Penalties: 34 yards per game (2nd in Big Ten, 10th in Nation)

Returning Starters
Offense: 6
Defense: 8
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Ricky Stanzi, Sr (171 of 304 for 2417 yds, 17 TD, 15 INT, 219 p/ypg)
Rushing: RB Adam Robinson, Soph (181 carries for 834 yds, 5 TD, 4.6 ypc, 75 ypg
Receiving: WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Sr (45 rec, 750 yds, 2 TD, 3.8 rec/game, 16 ypc)
Tackles: LB Jeremiah Hnter, Sr (90); SS Tyler Sash, Jr (85)
Sacks: DE Adrian Clayborn, Sr (11,5)
Interceptions: SS Tyler Sash, Jr (6)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #12
Lindy's:#10
Mark Schlabach: #9
Phil Steele: #14
Rivals: #14
Scout: #12
Sporting News: #13
Sports Illustrated: #5
USA Today Coaches Poll: #10

2010 Pre-Season Big Ten Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #2
Phil Steele: #2 (tied with Penn State)

Bowl Predictions:
Athlon Sports: Sugar Bowl (vs. Florida)
Phil Steele: Rose Bowl (vs. Oregon)

Iowa was a very interesting case study for the first 9 games of 2009. They barely edged the likes of Northern Iowa and Arkansas State. But on the flipside they beat then #5 Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. It caught up to them in Week 10 when they fell to Northwestern by 7 points and then lost to Ohio State in OT. Iowa rebounded and finished off their season with a win over Minnesota and a controlling win over ACC Champion Georgia Tech. We know Iowa will have a top notch defense this year and they also have a senior leader at QB. Iowa has their toughest games at home this year (Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State). Iowa has a legitimate shot at taking the Big 10 crown this season. When we have questions about Iowa football we go to the SB Nation blog Black Heart Gold Pants and Ross was able to give us some insight on the 2010 Iowa Hawkeyes.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the Hawkeyes?

The biggest strength of the 2010 Iowa team figures to be the defense, in particular the defensive line. Eight starters are back on defense, including all four linemen and three-quarters of the defensive backfield. The defensive line figures to be especially strong because it’s led by defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who emerged as major terror to opposing offenses last year. He utterly dominated the Orange Bowl last year and singlehandedly shut down half the field for the Georgia Tech running game; they were reduced to just running away from him to get anything going in the second half. If he continues the level of play he displayed through most of 2009, he should be an incredibly disruptive force in 2010. And if he is good as advertised, he’s going to force defenses to commit more and more resources to stopping him, which will create opportunities for his colleagues along the defensive line, like Broderick Binns, Christian Ballard, and Karl Klug. The defensive backfield also looks like a strong point for the team, since both safeties (Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood) are back, as is one of the starting cornerbacks, Shaun Prater. They led a ball-hawking defense a year ago (21 interceptions) and Sash in particular has emerged as major playmaker in the secondary (among other plays, he had a clutch INT against Penn State in 2008 and his madcap pinball interception return against Indiana in 2009 was a game-changer).

On offense, there aren’t any major standout players, but there is a lot of returning talent among the skill positions. QB Ricky Stanzi runs hot and cold, but is a three-year starter and a guy who’s played in (and won) a lot of tough games in tough locations. He makes mistakes, but there are few quarterbacks I’d rather have in the fourth quarter. He’s also a great patriot, so if you don’t like him, you hate America. Commie. He has some quality targets to throw to as well; WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos has led the team in receptions and receiving yards in each of the past three seasons and he found an excellent complement in Marvin McNutt a year ago. McNutt moved over from QB and emerged as a major big play and end zone threat in the passing game. And if Jewel Hampton is successful in rehabbing from an ACL injury a year ago, Iowa will have three running backs (Hampton and fellow sophomores Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher) who have a fair amount of experience and talent.

The biggest weakness of this team is unquestionably the offensive line; there are only two players returning there (OT Riley Reiff and OG Julian Vandervelde) who have started more than one or two games. Reiff was one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2009 season, as he stepped into action to replace the ill Bryan Bulaga at LT early in the season and did an amazing job of keeping things rolling along. After Bulaga recovered, Reiff shuttled around the line, playing some at RT and RG, but never falling out of the starting lineup. Vandervelde has been a starter for the better part of two years, but his inconsistent performance is a cause for concern. He’s the lone senior expected to start in 2010, so a lot will be expected of him. The good news is that there are some promising faces at other spots in the OL and Kirk Ferentz has a reputation for being able to mold offensive linemen, so the hope is that the offensive line will be serviceable and improve throughout the season. But if it doesn’t, all the hopes for this season could be dashed.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test?

It has to be the road game against Arizona on September 19, 2010. That’s not to slight Iowa State, because the parity in the Iowa-Iowa State series over the past decade (it’s deadlocked at 5-5) and the strong performances they’ve had against Iowa in that time is a good reason to pick them, but a home game against Iowa State really shouldn’t be a major test – or at least not as major as a west coast road game at night against a team expected to finish in the upper half of the Pac 10. The Iowa State game will undoubtedly be tough, but Arizona sets up well as a significant challenge. Iowa’s last trip out west ended in disaster (a 44-7 loss to Arizona State in 2004) and Arizona figures to be a good team in 2010. And while the 2009 Iowa squad was impressive on the road (4-1, including wins at Penn State and Wisconsin and an OT loss at Ohio State), Iowa has typically struggled in early-season road games.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

No question, Ohio State. They were one of only two losses Iowa suffered a year ago (Northwestern was the other one) and they’re the obvious and legitimate preseason favorite to win the Big Ten in 2010, given all the talent they return and their success in recent years. Iowa’s miserable track record against Ohio State (2-12 since 1990) is even more reason to fear them. They figure to be a very, very good team and they should be very difficult to defeat. They return a slew of guys on offense, including both of the running backs who ran roughshod over Iowa in 2009 (Herron and Saine had 200 yards on 43 carries), a key receiver in DeVier Posey, and, oh yeah, that Terrelle Pryor guy. The defense should again be smothering. The fact that the game is in Kinnick Stadium is a slight saving grace; the fact that Iowa played them tight a year ago (with a back-up QB making his first-ever start, no less) provides a little more cause for optimism. But they’re still almost certainly going to be the toughest team Iowa plays all year and that’s reason enough to fear them the most.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

DT Karl Klug. Adrian Clayborn gets all the accolades and attention (and deservedly so), but Klug emerged as a major terror in 2009. Going into 2009 there was considerable trepidation about how well four-year starters Mitch King and Matt Kroul could be replaced at DT and while Klug and fellow DT Christian Ballard had some growing pains (and weren’t quite as effective in stuffing the run), Klug emerged as a real force along the inside of the line. He had 65 tackles, including 13 tackles for loss (4 sacks) and was a constant source of disruption for opposing offenses. He probably won’t get the press that other guys on the defense do, but if he continues to play like he did in 2009, that’ll be just fine.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

WR Marvin McNutt. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (or DJK) may be the most consistent Iowa receiver (as noted, he’s led the team in receptions and receiving yards in each of the past three years), but McNutt gives Iowa both a legitimate big play threat (8 catches of 30 yards or more) and a major red zone target (8 touchdown grabs in 2009). He’s also shown a major flair for the dramatic, catching crucial late touchdowns against Michigan State and Ohio State. McNutt has everything you want in a top-notch receiver on paper: size (6'4", 215 lbs.), decent speed (he’s no burner, but he zipped away from defenders for long scores against Indiana and Northwestern), massive hands, and massive confidence (he had offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe call the final play for him in the Michigan State game, based on something he’d seen the defensive back do in previous plays). And with this being just his second full season since switching from QB to WR, there’s reason to hope that he’s only scratching the surface of his ability at WR.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

DE Adrian Clayborn. There are some very good players on Iowa’s defense, including headliners Clayborn and Tyler Sash and less-heralded guys like Shaun Prater, Jeremiha Hunter, Karl Klug, and Christian Ballard, but Clayborn is a cut above the rest. He may be Iowa’s biggest gamechanger on defense since Bob Sanders roamed the secondary from 2000-2003, striking fear into the hearts of opposing wide receivers. He literally forced Georgia Tech to completely alter their gameplan in the Orange Bowl a year ago, forcing them to run exclusively to the side that Clayborn wasn’t covering because Clayborn had done such an amazing job of blowing up Tech’s offense when it ran his way in the first half. In that game alone he had 9 solo tackles and 2.0 sacks – incredibly impressive numbers for a defensive end, particularly in Iowa’s system, which is as much about control and maintaining assignments as it is about running headlong at the QB. The Orange Bowl was only Clayborn’s showiest performance; he was impressive in many other games. After a quiet start against UNI and Iowa State, he first started making noise in the Arizona game, particularly when he ran down speedy Arizona RB Nic Grigsby from behind… twice. He followed that up by manhandling Penn State’s offensive line and even getting in one of the standout special teams plays of the year in 2009 when he blocked a punt late in the game, scooped it up, and rumbled all the way for a touchdown. It’s no surprise that preseason pundits have been falling all over themselves to praise Clayborn and put him on All-America or All-Big Ten teams or shortlist him for various awards; now the only question will be whether or not he can live up to the hype.

What player needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach its full capability?

It has to be QB Ricky Stanzi. Stanzi’s entering his third year as the starter and while he’s compiled an impressive record as a starter (17-4), the stats he’s accumulated haven’t blown anyone’s doors off: 150/254, 1956 yards, 14 TD, 9 INT in 2008 and 171/304, 2417 yards, 17 TD, 15 INT in 2009. That said, Stanzi’s typically saved his best for last, excelling in the fourth quarter. Still, if Stanzi could play like he does in the fourth quarter earlier in the game, Iowa might not have needed quite as many late-game heroics from him. The challenge for him will be playing well throughout the entire game and not just when the adrenaline kicks in during the fourth quarter. If he does that, this team has the potential to be very, very good.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Probably TE CJ Fiedorowicz, an incoming recruit out of Illinois. Fiedorowicz was one of the most highly touted recruits Iowa’s landed in the past few seasons, and he comes in with incredible physical abilities and a pretty solid track record of success in the high school ranks. Iowa loves to utilize tight ends and regularly runs two tight end sets. Senior Allan Reisner likely has one of the TE spots locked up, but the other one is somewhat up for grabs; if Fiedorowicz picks up the blocking schemes quickly enough, he could very easily see a fair amount of time on the field, where his obvious pass-catching skills could give Iowa’s passing offense yet another strong option downfield.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

There projects to be three brand-new starters on defense this year (LBs Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian and CB Micah Hyde), but Nielsen and Tarpinian are upperclassmen who’ve been biding their time behind AJ Edds and Pat Angerer for the past couple years, so they probably technically don’t fit the terms of this question. That leaves Hyde, who’s technically a sophomore, but he played so sparingly that he might as well be a redshirt freshman. Hyde was the first CB in when starter Shaun Prater briefly left the Orange Bowl with an injury, which raised a few eyebrows (considering that two other cornerbacks, Willie Lowe and Greg Castillo, had seen extensive playing time earlier in the year when Prater was suspended); he clearly excelled during practice last fall. That carried over to spring this year and he enters the season as the presumptive favorite to start at cornerback opposite Prater. There’s still a chance that junior Jordan Bernstine (a projected starter in each of the past two seasons before injuries derailed him) could take the starting spot (or Lowe or Castillo, if they improve dramatically), but the coaches seem to have a lot of confidence in Hyde, despite his lack of experience. He’s slightly undersized, but evidently possesses remarkable instincts at the position. Even if he doesn’t wind up starting, odds are that he’ll see a lot of playing time somewhere, be it special teams or as a nickel back.

Gut feeling on the team’s final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

After an 11-2 season that culminated with an Orange Bowl triumph and with a team that returns a huge portion of the players that led the way to that 11-2 campaign, it’s hard to see anything less than another season like that as a success. This is especially true since all of Iowa’s toughest foes (Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State) must come to Kinnick. That said, there are certainly reasons to temper expectations slightly; the ’09 team lived on the edge and that 11-2 mark could have easily been 8-4 or so if not for a few key plays here and there. If the 2010 Iowa team lives on the edge as much as the 2009 squad, there’s no reason to believe that they’ll be every bit as successful in winning as many of those close games as they were in 2009. So Iowa could play as well (or even better) than they did in 2009… and still wind up 8-4 or so.

All that said, my gut sees this is a 10-2 team right now. Much as I want to, I can’t predict a win over Ohio State just yet (although this is one of their best opportunities in years) and I can’t shake the feeling that they’ll drop another game somewhere – perhaps at Arizona in September or at home to Wisconsin in October, or even to perennial nemesis Northwestern in November. Still, if things break the right way for them, questionable positions (offensive line, linebacker) solidify, and team leaders like Stanzi and Clayborn play at an even higher level, this team is certainly capable of doing more than that – like winning the Big Ten and heading to the Rose Bowl. That’s my hope; anything less than at least nine wins and a January 1 bowl game would probably be a pretty sizeable disappointment. And, obviously, this assumes that key players stay healthy; an injury to someone like Stanzi or Clayborn or Sash could easily derail the season, because while this team has talent, it doesn’t have great depth, especially at certain positions.

Thanks to Ross for taking part in our Q&A. Make sure to visit Black Heart Gold Pants to keep up to date on Iowa and the Big Ten. You can follow Ross on Twitter @RossWB and you can follow Black Heart Gold Pants @BHGP.

Previous Big Ten Previews:
Illinois Fighting Illini 
Indiana Hoosiers 
Michigan Wolverines
Minnesota Golden Gophers 
Northwestern Wildcats
Ohio State Buckeyes
Purdue Boilermakers

Next Up: Penn State Nittany Lions

Previous Pre-Season Previews
ACC- Boston College Eagles, Duke Blue Devils, Florida State Seminoles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Maryland Terrapins, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Carolina State Wolfpack Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Big 12- Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Longhorns, Texas Tech Red Raiders
Big East- Cincinnati Bearcats, Pittsburgh Panthers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Syracuse Orange, UConn Huskies, USF Bulls, West Virginia Mountaineers
C-USA- Houston Cougars,  SMU Mustangs, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Tulane Green Wave, UTEP Miners
Independent- Army Black Knights, Navy Midshipmen, Notre Dame Fighting Irish 
MAC- Ball State Cardinals, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, Central Michigan Chippewas, Temple Owls, Toledo Rockets
MWC- BYU Cougars,  Colorado State Rams, UNLV Rebels, Utah Utes
Pac-10- Arizona State Sun Devils, California Golden BearsOregon Ducks, Oregon State BeaversStanford Cardinal, UCLA BruinsUSC TrojansWashington HuskiesWashington State Cougars
SEC- Auburn Tigers, Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky Wildcats, LSU Tigers, Mississippi Rebels, South Carolina Gamecocks, Vanderbilt Commodores
Sun Belt- FIU Golden Panthers, North Texas Mean Green, Troy Trojans
WAC- Boise State Broncos, Fresno State Bulldogs, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, New Mexico State Aggies


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