2008 Big Ten Football Season Preview: Iowa
Aug. 13, 2008
Iowa enters the 2008 season off a 2007 campaign that was disappointing for many in the Hawkeye program. With a record of 6-6 and a 4-4 mark in Big Ten play, Iowa missed out on a postseason bid for the first time since heading to six straight bowl games from 2001-06. Youth and inexperience may have led to the .500 record, but as with many instances, things tend to get better with time.
The Hawkeyes are still young this season and have had to replace 14 starters, including seven on offense and its entire backfield. Of the 51 lettermen returning to Iowa City, 34 have earned just one letter, while only seven are three-year letterwinners. Suffice to say, there will be plenty of opportunities this season, which leaves head coach Kirk Ferentz longing for his team to stay healthy and hungry.
OFFENSE: Junior Jake Christensen returns to the quarterback position after starting every game last season. He had an efficiency rating of 116.9 and tossed 17 touchdowns to only six interceptions. On the year he was 198-of-370 passing for 2,269 yards. Behind Christensen is no one with true game experience. Sophomore Ricky Stanzi, redshirt freshman Marvin McNutt, and potentially three freshman recruits will continue battling for the backup role. From the backup to the backfield, questions still remain. Gone are last year's rushing pair of Albert Young and Damian Sims, who accounted for 97 percent of the Hawkeyes' rushing yards last year. Sophomores Paki O'Meara and Jayme Murphy have seen limited playing time, but have pleased Ferentz with their work so far. Nate Guillory might also make a bid for some time. The junior college transfer rushed for 2,644 yards on 325 carries for 28 touchdowns during his time at Coffeyville C.C. in 2007. Christensen will find no problem finding familiar targets through the air as four receivers return from last year. Look for senior Andy Brodell and junior Trey Stross to be the primary targets, while sophomores Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Colin Sandeman are frequent options. Johnson-Koulianos led the team in receiving last year with 38 receptions for 482 yards and two touchdowns. Iowa will return nearly all of its offensive line starters from last year, led by sophomore tackle Bryan Bulaga and senior guard Seth Olsen. Also on that line is junior tight end Tony Moeaki. The All-America candidate, who is expected to play a key role in the Hawkeyes' offense this season, caught 14 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns last year before missing the final eight games of the season with an injury.
DEFENSE: Two experienced tackles will anchor Iowa's defensive line this season. First-team All-Big Ten selection Mitch King will spend his senior campaign opposite of classmate Matt Kroul, who garnered honorable mention accolades in the conference last year. King has racked up 174 career tackles and 39 tackles for loss, while Kroul has amounted 181 career stops, including 13 behind the line. The primary void to fill in 2008 is at linebacker. Mike Humpal and Mike Klinkenborg were primary fixtures in the Hawkeye lineup, combining for 202 tackles in 2007, but their graduation has left Iowa looking for its next big hitters. Junior A.J. Edds returns at outside linebacker, having made 80 stops and 3.5 tackles for loss last year. Look for sophomores Jeff Tarpinian and Jacody Coleman and junior Pat Angrer to get the majority of playing time at the other two positions this year. Iowa is also faced with replacing its two starting defensive backs. Charles Godfrey, who was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft, combined with Adam Shada to total 48 starts for the Hawkeyes. Seniors Bradley Fletcher and Drew Gardner are the likely replacements in those starting roles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Sophomore punter Ryan Donahue returns this season after being named honorable mention All-Big Ten as a freshman. He averaged 41.1 yards per boot in 2007 and the team's net average of 39.4 was second in the conference. Sophomore Daniel Murray and junior Austin Signor split place-kicking duties last year and will again battle for the lead role. On the opposite side of the ball, improvement was seen last year in rushing the kicker. The Hawkeyes blocked five kicks last season after failing to tip a single one in 2006.
MISCELLANEOUS: Iowa is in its second and final year of not having to face Michigan and Ohio State, and three non-conference home games to start the season should get the Hawkeyes rolling. * Iowa's key non-conference battle will come on the road as it will play at Pittsburgh on Sept. 20. * In Pitt's final game of 2007, the Panthers upended (now Michigan head coach) Rich Rodriguez and second-ranked West Virginia, 13-9, which ousted them from BCS National Championship contention and essentially locked Ohio State in the title game. * Six of the 12 Hawkeye opponents played in a bowl game last season.