Hawk fans unite! It doesn’t feel like 8 months have passed since we last saw Micah Hyde streaking in the end zone, but 2011 football is here! The Big 10 has added a neighbor from the west and we now have Legends and Leaders. This conference has had iconic names such as Nile Kinnick, Woody Hayes, Hayden Fry, Bo Schembechler and Archie Griffin. Pretty sure there has always been legends and leaders. Let’s take a look at Iowa in 2011. If the past is any indication, they could be a few plays away from being 11-1 or 7-5.
The 2011 schedule has 10 wins on it. It potentially has five losses, too. Oh, that darned new math. If the season breaks like 2009, then double digit victories are almost a certainty. If 2008 or the second half of 2010 pops up, then Iowa is doomed to repeat some frustrating performances. The last two seasons, only USC and Florida have had more players drafted than Herky’s heroes. Iowa, may not be a team that can quickly reload as those sunshine states, but they do have the 2nd longest tenured coach in the Big 10 and when you have Kirk, you have a way. Break up the schedule into three different segments of four games each. They get progressively more difficult as the season passes. Winning three of four in each segment all but guarantees a trip to Florida in January.
The first four games are very telling. Win all four and the Hawks have the momentum. Go 2-2 and it will be a struggle to dominate stiffer conference competition. Tennessee Tech is kind of a “Northwestern Light.” They run a spread offense and use the no huddle. Being picked 5th though in the Ohio Valley Conference though shouldn’t scare anyone in Iowa City. Iowa State at home can be daunting. Rhoads’ ‘Clones are much improved but the Hawks should prevail. Bring on Pitt, where Kirk Ferentz was a grad assistant back in 1980. Iowa lost to the Panthers in 2008 although dominating that road contest in all facets except final score. That could be a hiccup coming off ISU, but count on a strong second half by the Hawks. Game four against ULM looks like a gimme, and are never any gimmes in college football, but chalk it up.
The next four bring Northwestern and Indiana in the middle. Sneak past those and the Hawks may be 8-0. I will be happy with 6-2. October 29 the Hawks travel back to the Twin Cities and I like their chances a lot better after the absolute implosion a year ago. The last four is a gauntlet. Michigan and Michigan State should also have January bowl aspirations and Nebraska, well they are Nebraska. The last time Iowa won in Lincoln FDR was in office.
As the team goes lets look offense first. Clearly losing the leadership of Ricky Stanzi hurts, but James Vandenberg is ready. He will bring a different swagger to the offense. The offensive line should not be a concern either. That for years has been a strength and with Riley Reiff it will be again. Marcus Coker will have plenty of holes to run through. A name to keep on the back burner that could emerge is Mika’il McCall. This freshman is the son of former boxing champ Oliver McCall. Don’t be surprised if he is spelling Coker during the season and putting up some yards. Now is the time for highly touted Keenan Davis to earn his scholarship. Marvin McNutt needs some relief from constant double teams and Davis is going to have to help. Tight end can also help with that. Losing stalwart Allen Reisner to graduation is a blow, but there are capable replacements. “Paging Mr. Herman, Mr. Herman.” Brad Herman should be very capable in what is maybe the teams deepest position. CJ Fiedorowicj is probably one year away from Big 10 or All American recognition. Zach Derby also gives a third option.
Defense begins with new looks on the line, but hopefully strong results. Fans have been spoiled by folks like Kroul, King, Ballard, Clayborn, and Klug in recent years. This year will be the time for names like Daniels, Davis and Binns. Expect Norm Parker’s schemes to allow them to be clogs in the middle and use their skills to help the linebackers. With an inexperienced and thin secondary, the linebackers will have to carry the weight for Iowa to stop some high octane offenses. Tyler Nielsen, please stay healthy. Sophomore James Morris will be calling the shots and is going to be a legend among Hawkeye linebackers before his tenure ends. The secondary is a question mark. Injuries have stymied Jordan Bernstine, but hopefully he has a couple good games left. He impressed at the Insight Bowl in the fourth quarter. Prater made the right decision coming back and with Micah Hyde now roaming, the defense has big play capabilities. I think Missouri and Michigan State would concur.
Special teams should be interesting. Ryan Donahue was such a weapon and Eric Guthrie literally has big shoes to fill. Mike Myers just needs to keep putting the pigskin through the uprights. Not much else to say there. Returns could be interesting. May Hyde return punts or kicks? Maybe one of the freshmen running backs. A revolving door may be in order until someone shakes out.
What should be said of the coaching? Norm, Ken and Kirk I trust implicitly. They will let the kids go and play. This part we have come to expect consistency from annually and why would this season be different. It will not be. They will make sure Iowa is stronger in the fourth quarter where all five losses slipped away in 2010.
Here is the 2011 schedule with my unscientific picks.
Tennessee Tech (W) 41-10 AJ Derby gets to show off his quarterbacking skills in the second half.
Iowa St (W) 27-17 Not sure what trophy the players will be holding up, but a win is a win.
Pittsburgh (W) 20-17 Iowa makes the Big East feel good about coming close.
ULM (W) 38-9 Bring on the Big Ten!
Penn State (W) 24-14 Ferentz magic trumps JoePa again.
Northwestern (W) 28-27 Not this year!
Indiana (W) 40-14 We will all still have fingernails left for a change this year.
Minnesota (W) 27-10 Come home, Floyd!
Michigan (W) 38-31 Will need a fast start to stay get this one.
Michigan St. (L) 23-17 Revenge by Sparty.
Purdue (W) 26-16 Definitely a trap game, but the Hawks regroup.
Nebraska (L) 30-23 Iowa will beat Nebraska soon, but probably not this year.
This still is a chance for the Roses!