By Adam Hoge-
While Big Ten training camps are underway, Adam Hoge will devote an entire day to each of the 12 teams in the conference. He will include a preview on each team, plus news, notes and analysis on Twitter. He will also take your questions on Twitter and 670TheScore.com. Follow him at @AdamHogeCBS.
(CBS) After going 11-2 in 2009, the Iowa Hawkeyes appeared to be joining the upper echelon of the Big Ten. Instead, the last two seasons have been defined more by a weight room incident that left a number of players sick, the arrest of former wide receiver Darrell Johnson-Koulianos on drug charges and the apparent curse on every single running back that enters the program.
The result has been a 15-11 record over the last two seasons and a very frustrated Hawkeyes fan base. After winning the 2010 Orange Bowl, back-to-back Insight Bowl appearances weren’t exactly what they were hoping for.
Can Iowa do better in 2012? Let’s take a look at their chances:
1. CB Micah Hyde (Sr.) – One of the better cover corners in the Big Ten, Hyde had three interceptions last season.
2. QB James Vandenberg (Sr.) – The senior is flying under the radar after throwing for over 3000 yards last season and 25 touchdowns.
3. WR Keenan Davis (Sr.) – Davis is the leader of a suddenly thin wide receiver group.
4. LB James Morris (Jr.) – The junior tied for the team lead in tackles (110) last season and added 3.5 TFLs.
5. C James Ferentz (Sr.) – The coach’s son is the rock of the offensive line.
Are Iowa running backs cursed?
The Kirk Ferentz Era has been defined by an acronym referred to as AIRBHG, which stands for “Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God.” I don’t believe in curses, but the Hawkeyes sure have had their problems with running backs throughout the years.
This year is no exception. It started in January when Marcus Coker transferred to Stony Brook after rushing for 1384 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Then Jordan Canzeri tore his ACL in March. Then De’Andre Johnson was dismissed last month. Then, Tuesday, it was confirmed that Barkley Hill tore his ACL.
The amazing thing about Iowa’s running back trouble is that they always seem to find a reliable running game. Despite all the departures, there are still good options left. Incoming freshman Greg Garmon is battling with sophomore Damon Bullock and junior Andre Dawson.
Can the offense keep pace?
A lot of the offensive success will depend on the offensive line, which has three new starters. Ferentz is a reliable center and a team leader. Sophomore Brandon Scherff is expected to take over at left tackle and has a lot of potential. There are good players here and if they gel well early, Iowa’s offense won’t be terrible.
Vandenberg is underrated at quarterback. He only completed 58.7 percent of passes in his first year as the starter, but he still racked up productive numbers and only threw seven interceptions. He loses dynamic wide receiver Marvin McNutt, but Keenan Davis is no slouch and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is a reliable red zone option.
As long as there is some kind of running game — and there usually is — the Hawkeyes will have an outside chance to compete in the Legends Division this season.
Will the defense drop off?
The big concern on defense is the line, which has three new starters. Elsewhere, however, there are a number of playmakers returning. Hyde and Morris can change games, but linebacker Christian Kirksey and safety Tanner Miller don’t get enough credit.
There’s a lot of turnover here, but last year’s defense was actually one of the worst of the Kirk Ferentz era, so that might be a good thing.
Iowa gets the benefit of missing Wisconsin and Ohio State from the Leaders Division and that gives them a big advantage over their competition in the Legends. The Hawkeyes will be tested early by Northern Illinois and Iowa State, but if they get by those two opponents, they could start 5-0. A bye week before a trip to Michigan State helps, but they’ll also be tested in road trips to Northwestern and Michigan. They get Penn State, Purdue and Nebraska in Iowa City.
The offense comes together and the turnover on defense is a good thing. Iowa goes undefeated at home and splits its Big Ten road games to finish 6-2 in conference. With some help, that could put the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game depending on tiebreakers. They’ll likely have to win one of the two road games in the state of Michigan, however, for that to happen.
Neither interior line is reliable and the running backs are too inexperienced early. Iowa gets upset by Northern Illinois in the opener at Soldier Field and much like the last two seasons, the Hawkeyes fail to get any momentum going. They go just 3-5 in the Big Ten and fail to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2007.
Check out Adam’s final verdict on the Hawkeyes when his Big Ten preview concludes later this month. Up next in the series are the Michigan Wolverines. Tweet your questions to Adam at @AdamHogeCBS.
Catch up on the series:
Aug. 8 – Illinois Fighting Illini
Aug. 10 – Indiana Hoosiers
Aug. 15 – Ohio State Buckeyes
Aug. 16 – Penn State Nittany Lions
Aug. 17 – Purdue Boilermakers
Aug. 20 – Wisconsin Badgers
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.