14 Teams in 14 Days: Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes open the season on the outskirts of the Top 25. They won't be on the outside looking come January.
Iowa brings back one of the strongest defenses in conference and quite possibly the best offensive line as well. Lead by an inexperienced quarterback last year they still managed to land a new years day bowl bid. Kirk Ferentz's thinking is things can only get better in 2014.
Jake Rudock beat out CJ Beathard at quarterback in 2013. The Florida native, Rudock was the backup in 2012 but never saw any action In doing so he become the first Iowa quarterback in 19 years to make his debut in a season opener.
Rudock looks like a prototypical drop-back passer but possesses deceptive mobility. His arm isn't as strong as Beathard's is and gets himself into trouble too often forcing passes into tight coverage. Despite this he still lead the Hawkeyes to eight wins and a January 1st bowl.
Behind Rudock is a deep running attack, lead by senior Mark Weisman. Weisman entered Iowa City as a fullback before transitioning to tailback. Weisman started out strong last season, rushing for over 600 yards in the first five games of the season, but didn't top 100 yards again after that. Behind Weisman is Jordan Canzeri, a back many expected to be the primary ball carrier going into 2013.
Wide receiver is an experienced group but there is no star. First-team All-B1G Ten tight end CJ Fiedorowicz is gone and his team leading six touchdown catches could be difficult to replace from this group.
Joining the long-list of NFL caliber offensive linemen Iowa has churned out is senior left tackle Brandon Scherff. Scherff was a first-team All-B1G Ten selection last year and passed on NFL riches to return for his senior season. He's undoubtedly a first-round draft pick in 2015. Joining Scherff up front are center Austin Blythe and guard Jordan Walsh, giving Iowa arguably the best line in the B1G Ten.
There are no weaknesses on this defense as no area sticks out as one you can expose. In 2013 Iowa gave up 20 or more yards on a single play to an opponent just 35 times. Only Notre Dame allowed fewer. Scoring against Iowa was just as tough as moving the ball, as the Hawkeyes finished in the top 10 in points and yards against.
The front seven is as strong as you would expect from a Kirk Ferentz squad, led by senior defensive tackle, Carl Davis. Along with Davis on the interior is senior Louis Trinca-Pasat. Neither is terribly gifted at rushing the passer, but do an effective job at stopping the run.
The real issue for Iowa's defense will be replacing their trio of linebackers. Gone to graduation are James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens. Morris, Kirksey and Hitchens started side-by-side at linebacker for the Hawkeyes each of the past two seasons, part of why the defense had remained at the level it did.
The likely candidates to replace those three are senior Quinton Alston, junior Travis Perry and sophomore Reggie Spearman. Of the three, expect Alston to make the biggest impact.
In the secondary, the good news is most of the principal cast is still in place. The bad news, All-B1G Ten cornerback B.J. Lowery is gone. Jordan Lomax returns from injury but projects to move to safety while Sean Draper figures to be the man replacing Lowery.
|8/30||vs NORTHERN IOWA|
|9/6||vs BALL STATE|
|9/13||vs IOWA STATE|
The Hawkeyes return most of the squad they had in 2013 and have a very forgiving schedule. The October 11th match against Indiana will be a fun contrast of styles, Indiana's high-powered offense versus Iowa's pound it out, ball control offense and stifling defense. Late November matchups with the Badgers and Huskers in all likelihood determine who represents the West in December's B1G Ten Championship.
The Hawkeyes have a schedule that doesn't present an overwhelming amount of challenges and more importantly their biggest games are all at home. Though the games come in back-to-back weeks, catching Wisconsin and Nebraska at home is a huge advantage. Iowa will likely finish at around the nine win mark, but the big test is November 22nd vs Wisconsin. The winner of that game likely represents the West in the B1G Ten Championship.