2012 Record: 4-8 (2-6 in Big Ten)
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (100-74 at Iowa, 59-52 in Big Ten)
Four Year Trend: 7.5 wins and 5.25 losses
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Insight Bowl: lost to Oklahoma 31-14
Stadium: Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, IA (capacity = 70,585)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 49th out of 69 BCS teams
2013 Schedule Link
Out of Conference: 8/31 vs NIU, 9/7 vs Missouri St, 9/14 at Iowa St, 9/21 vs WMU
Toughest Home Games: 10/5 vs Michigan St, 10/26 vs Northwestern, 11/2 vs Wisconsin, 11/23 vs Michigan
Toughest Road Games: 10/19 at Ohio St, 12/7 at Nebraska
2012 Statistics Link
Stats to Fear: only had 13 sacks in 2012 (last in B1G), scored TDs on just 47.37% of red zone trips (last in B1G), opponents converted on 43.43% of third downs (last in B1G)
Stat to Cheer: only turned the ball over 11 times in 2012 (1st in B1G)
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 63rd out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 6, Defense: 7, Special Teams: 2
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Anthony Hitchens (124 tackles), LB James Morris (113 tackles, 9 TFL), LB Christian Kirksey (95 tackles),
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Mark Weisman (815 yds rush, 5.13 ypc, 8 TD), RB Damon Bullock (513 yds rush in 6 games), WR Kevonte Martin-Manley (52 rec), TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (45 rec)
Top 2013 Recruits: TE Jon Wisnieski, OLB John Kenny, OG Colin Goebel, DT Brant Gressel
CFBZ: Iowa has seen diminishing returns on the football field over the last three years as they've gone from 11-2 in 2009 to 4-8 in 2012. What have been the biggest issues that have caused this decline?
Ross: The biggest problem for Iowa the last few years has been a talent drain. They had a pretty fair amount of talent from 2008-2010, but the guys that fueled that run are long gone. The problem is that Iowa had a few poor years of recruiting, which was coupled with some equally poor retention of the recruits they did bring in. Under Kirk Ferentz, Iowa has been a developmental program -- it works by having guys stay in the program for multiple years and make steady progress. That whole process gets short-circuited when guys leave after a year or two. And too many of the guys who did stick around never made the expected (or necessary) progress, leaving Iowa pretty talent-deficient at several positions.
The struggles were exacerbated last year by significant turnover in the coaching staff. Iowa brought in multiple new coaches, including at both coordinator positions, which meant new schemes to learn. Needless to say, the players did not exactly pick up on those new schemes too quickly, especially on offense. So you have players without top-notch talent who aren't exactly sure what they should be doing on each play... yeah, that's a recipe for disaster. Injuries further robbed Iowa of some key players (especially on offense, where OT Brandon Scherff and RB Mark Weisman, arguably Iowa's two best players on that side of the ball, missed several games), but the main issue Iowa had was just a lack of talent, frankly.
Fixing that issue comes down to better recruiting, better retention, and better development. The recruiting has picked up in the last few years and the retention has also been a bit better. As far as the development... TBD. The players should be more familiar with the schemes after a full year with the new coordinators, which is a plus. The main hope is that some of the more talented recruits Iowa has landed in the last few classes will be able to contribute immediately -- that, and that some guys who have been in the system for several years are able to make a leap forward in their ability.
CFBZ: James Vandenberg was the only Hawkeyes player to attempt a pass last season. Who replaces him in 2013?
Ross: I don't think we're going to know the answer to this question until probably late September, honestly. There's a three-man race for the starting quarterback job right now with sophomore Jake Rudock, junior Cody Sokol, and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard all vying for that spot. Rudock was the slight favorite coming out of the spring practices (largely because he was the most accurate passer) and he has an institutional experience advantage over the other two guys since he's entering his third year at Iowa (they're both entering their second years). On the other hand, Sokol is the only quarterback of the three who's thrown a pass in a real game since high school -- he's a JUCO transfer who came to Iowa after some strong performances Scottsdale Community College -- and he's apparently the most mobile of the three quarterbacks, which could benefit him in Greg Davis' offense. Beathard has drawn some praise for his physical abilities (he's reputed to have the strongest arm) and still figures to be in the race this summer.
This is a race that figures to rage on all through fall practice in August and I expect it to continue into the early season games in September. I don't know if all three guys will get snaps in games, but I think at least two will get a chance to impress in real game situations. As for who will win... I'm not sure, although if you put a gun to my head, I'd say Rudock. Experience and accuracy do tend to carry quite a bit of weight with Kirk Ferentz when it comes to personnel decisions. But I also think it's a very tight race and I would not be at all surprised to see Sokol or Beathard turn heads in August or September. Nor do I really care who wins -- I just want to see better production out of the QB spot than Iowa got last year from James Vandenberg.
CFBZ: What will be the key to the Hawkeyes defense this season?
Ross: The key to Iowa's defense in 2013 will be the same thing that's been the key to every Iowa defense since Kirk Ferentz arrived: the defensive line. Iowa's still running a base 4-3 defense, they're still playing quarters coverage, and they're still not going to blitz that much. Iowa asks a lot of the defensive line -- they need to generate pass rush, contain the perimeter run game, and funnel action to the linebackers as much as possible. Unfortunately, Iowa's defensive line has struggled since former standouts like Adrian Clayborn, Broderick Binns, and Christian Ballard departed after the 2010 season. Iowa hasn't recruited or retained talent well at defensive end since then, which left them in a bad spot last year. It's not at all clear that the situation has improved at that position this year, either -- Iowa badly needs a happy surprise or two at the defensive end spot for their defense to play at the level they need it to in order to be successful in 2013. The defensive tackle spot is a little brighter -- Iowa has a lot of promising talent there, like Carl Davis, Darian Cooper, Louis Trinca-Pasat, Faith Ekakitie, and Jaleel Johnson -- but defensive end is going to be a big question mark.
Iowa should have some solid talent behind the front four, though. All three starting linebackers return -- James Morris, Christian Kirksey, and Anthony Hitchens -- and while none of them are game breaking talents (although Kirksey has flashed some impressive playmaking ability at times), they're all very solid. In the secondary, Iowa loses probably their best overall defender last year (CB Micah Hyde), but they have some very promising talent at CB, including B.J. Lowery (a starter a year ago), Jordan Lomax (who was pushing hard for a starting job last year until a shoulder injury ended his season in training camp), and Sean Draper (likely nickel corner -- and maybe more). S is a bigger question mark. Tanner Miller is a multi-year starter, but despite all that experience, his play is still woefully inconsistent and he made (costly) mistakes a bit too often a year ago. Nico Law is vying for the other starting safety job; so far he's all raw athletic ability that needs to be focused into smart football ability. Fingers crossed that he does just that.
CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?
Ross: I would like to go at least 6-6 and make it back to a bowl game. That's usually the absolute floor of my expectations for an Iowa football season, but I've had to re-assess a bit after last year's 4-8 debacle. It's clear that there are much worse fates than 6-6 and a trip to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Getting back to .500 and making another bowl trip (which would also provide invaluable practice reps for a young team that could really use them) would be a nice bit of progress for the program and some much-needed proof that last year's stumble was an aberration and not the beginning of a long-term slide.
I have some other, less quantifiable hopes for the 2012 season, too. One, I'd like to see signs of progress throughout the season -- indications that this team is getting better, even if the win-loss record doesn't entirely reflect that. There were times last year where Iowa looked like they barely belonged on the field with their opponent (Penn State, Michigan); it would be nice not to see anything like that in 2013. I'm also hopeful that the offense will be competent in 2013; the 2012 offense was an eye-gouging display of absolute incompetence. It was absolutely excruciating to watch. Touchdowns felt like a miracle and even first downs felt like the result of immense labor. Watching offensive football should not feel like getting a root canal.
Ross painted a pretty good picture of Iowa for the upcoming 2013 season. The picture is of a team that is down on it's luck, made some changes last year that they hope will start to pay off this season and they are counting on quite a few inexperienced players to step up to the plate.
Kirk Ferentz enters his fifteenth season as Iowa coach and it's refreshing that he's being given a shot to turn his program back around in the "win now" era of college football where so many coaches are fired after one down season.
The problem for Ferentz and Iowa this year could be the schedule which is void of Indiana and Illinois. Last year, Iowa squeaked past Jordan Lynch and NIU by one point in Soldier Field. NIU went on to play in a BCS Bowl Game. This year the Hawkeyes open with NIU in Iowa. That's going to be a tough and crucial game for the Hawkeyes. They have another key early season game against Iowa State in Ames that looks like a toss up. The easiest (potentially) two B1G games on the schedule (Minnesota and Purdue) are both on the road. There is not an easy home game on the schedule in conference play (Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan) and they also take to the road to face Nebraska and Ohio State.
On paper, it will be a real battle for this team to get to 6-6. Vegas has the win total for Iowa at 5.5 and it looks right to me. The schedule is a bear down the stretch so getting off to a good start for Iowa will be key. Getting out of their non-conference schedule with zero or one loss will be their best chance to go bowling. Ross said it best when he said that he wanted to see progress throughout the season. With the second half of the schedule being tougher, seeing progress down the stretch would signify that Iowa is on the right track and ready to get back into the thick of the Big Ten in 2014 even if their 2013 record doesn't quite show it.
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews:
C-USA- ECU, FAU, FIU, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulsa, Tulane, UAB, UTEP, UTSA
MAC- Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, EMU, Kent State, Miami (OH), Ohio, Toledo, UMass, WMU
MWC- Air Force, Colorado St, Fresno St, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, SDSU, SJSU, UNLV, Utah St, Wyoming