2010 CFBZ Prediction: 2nd Place in Big Ten
2010 Actual Finish: Tied for 4th Place in Big Ten (8-5, 4-4)
2010 was a year of high expectations for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Coming off an 11-2 record we had then ranked #7 in our Pre-Season poll. Sports Illustrated pegged then as #6 in their College Football Preview. Iowa started off 7-2 losing by 7 at Arizona and by 1 to Wisconsin. But then the season took a turn for the worse and Iowa finished the regular season by dropping 3 consecutive games (at Northwestern, vs Ohio State and the killer at Minnesota) to finish 7-5. Iowa got a little bit of redemption by beating a ranked Missouri team in the Insight Bowl to finish off the year at 8-5. We reached out to our friend Ross from Black Heart Gold Pants to get his take on the 2010 and get a quick look into 2011.
In our Pre-Season Preview you picked Iowa to go 10-2. They looked well on their way to that until the Northwestern game. What went wrong on the way to 8-5?
Injuries took their toll on defense (especially at linebacker, where Iowa was down to a pair of freshmen for much of the last month of the season), but the biggest problem was an inability to make enough plays on offense and defense. The defense typically played well for roughly 56 minutes in the losses, but gave up back-breaking drives late in the fourth quarter in all five of the losses. That was hard to watch. Still, in many cases the defense was put in those bad late-game spots by an ineffective offense; against three of the worst defenses in the Big Ten (Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota) the Iowa offense could muster only 18 points, 17 points, and 17 points (the 24 they scored against Minnesota was aided by a kick return TD). That's just pathetic production out of an offense that was loaded with experience and talent.
If you could have a "re-do" for any game which game would it be?
With five losses it's so hard to pick just one... but it has to be either the Wisconsin or Northwestern losses and if you put a gun to my head, I'd probably go with the Northwestern game. The Wisconsin loss was painful and eminently winnable, but it did come against a team that wound up being very good and Iowa managed to rebound with two wins afterwards. The Northwestern loss effectively killed any hope of a Big Ten championship, killed whatever momentum had been regained after the Wisconsin loss, and seemed to put Iowa in a funk for much of its next two games. And it only happened because of a pair of 80+ yard drives in the fourth quarter -- just brutal.
Who were the most surprising players for Iowa this year?
The most surprising player in a good way was probably freshman middle linebacker James Morris who was pressed into service by multiple injuries to the LB corps and wound up developing into a solid option as the season progressed. He struggled in pass coverage, but he displayed great instincts and athleticism and it should be a lot of fun to watch him develop for the next few years. The most surprising player in a bad way was probably senior defensive end Adrian Clayborn. He didn't have a bad year and he did have to deal with multiple double-teams and offenses scheming against him, but he failed to live up to the considerable hype -- or the production he displayed a year ago. He had a fine career at Iowa, but his final season was one to forget, unfortunately.
Who are you most looking forward to watching next year?
This one is easy. After the breakout performance he had in the Insight Bowl, I can't wait to watch more of Marcus Coker next year. Iowa had used a patchwork rotation of running backs for the past two years to get passable production out of the position, but they haven't had a stud running back since Shonn Greene took his talents to the NFL two years ago. Coker looks like he has the ability to be that stud running back. He has things to work on (lowering his pad level, for one), but he already displays immense power (including a wicked stiff-arm) and impressive speed for a back his size. With a full off-season of practice and conditioning, plus an offensive line that returns 3-4 starters, he could have a huge season next year. But no matter what it will be fun to watch him run over (or past, if possible) opposing defenders.
Iowa got placed in the Big Ten division with Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern. How do you like your chances in that division and what does Iowa need to do this off-season to put itself in position to win a Big Ten Championship?
In 2011, Iowa will have to deal with some significant rebuilding (there are key losses at QB, WR, RB, TE, DE, DT, LB, and S), but the thing that gives me hope that Iowa might be able to make some noise in their new division is threefold. One, they return a ton of experience along the offensive line and strong offensive line play has been at the key to all of Iowa's good seasons over the last decade. Two, they'll have a lot of new faces -- but many of those new faces have seen some time over the past few years and there's definitely some talent among the new faces... it's just not experienced yet. Three, the division itself looks to be in quite a bit of turmoil. Michigan and Minnesota could be deep in their own rebuilding efforts. Michigan State loses key players at WR and LB -- and benefited from a very fortuitous schedule this year. Nebraska will be good, but they lose key players in the secondary, have an inconsistent offense, and have to navigate a brutal schedule. Northwestern will be dangerous so long as QB Dan Persa returns to 100% health, but it's difficult to take them seriously as a legit contender until they display a more consistent running game and defense. So the division looks wide open, which could be to Iowa's benefit. The two most important things Iowa needs to do are identify and develop new starters at QB and along the defensive line. Iowa lives and dies by its line play and while the offensive line should be fine, the defensive line will be breaking in 2-3 new starters. James Vandenberg is the likely starter at QB and he's looked promising in bursts, but replacing Stanzi's leadership will still be difficult. The sooner Iowa can get those positions sorted out, the better their odds of being a surprise contender in 2011 will be.