Last week we took a look at our direct competition in the newly formed Big Ten Leaders Division. Well the Spring season is over for all Big Ten teams and today we begin a look at the Big Ten Legends Division. Again we will just go in alphabetical order here as to not show preference and such(wink, wink). As a result we will start with one of the Badgers longest rivals, the Iowa Hawkeyes. We've had a great rivalry that just recently had a trophy put with it, the Heartland Trophy, unfortunately that trophy won't be played for for a few more years thanks to an unbalanced conference schedule and cross-divisional play that doesn't protect Iowa vs. Wisconsin. That said this team could challenge for a division title and end up playing for the Big Ten Championship against the Badgers... well, o.k., that may be getting ahead of ourselves a bit after the Springs both teams have had but is still possible. So, let's see why I say that with a look at the 2011 Spring football season for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
2010 Record: 8-5(4-4) Tie for 4th
Postseason: Insight Bowl 27-24W over Missouri
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz(89-60, 12 years) 13th year as HC
Spring Game: took place on April 16th, as is customary no score was kept
Returning Starters: 11(5 offensive, 5 defensive, 1 special teams)
2011 Outlook: Things didn't get off to a good start for the Hawkeyes after the 2010 season with a ton of negative press surrounding players recently graduated and heading for the NFL being arrested or failing drug tests. The current team has had to deal with a rash of major illness that landed a few dozen players in the hospital all under the guidance of the offseason football training program. However once Spring ball came around we saw an Iowa team that became focused on the things they needed to do to improve on a disappointing 2010.
A lot of questions abound for the 2011 Hawkeyes on both sides, but let's take a look at the defensive side of the ball, which kept the 2010 team in many games, first. Gone are a pair of all-Big Ten DE's in Christian Ballard and Adrian Claybourn(all-American) as well as LB Jermiha Hunter(leading tackler w/ 90 in 2010). On paper the biggest strength to the 2011 defense comes from returning 2 starters each at LB(James Morris and Tyler Nielsen) and DB(Micah Hyde and Shaun Prater). Hyde focused his Spring practices on transitioning from CB to Safety and by all indications he has become much more of a playmaker at the Free Safety spot. He does need to put on some weight to his slight 185lbs. frame if he wants to make more open field tackles on RB's this fall though. A huge plus has to be the return of Prater(all-Big Ten 1st team material) who nearly bolted for the NFL after last season. He will need to become the vocal leader on a young secondary. Defensively the buzz out of Spring camp came from CB Jordan Bernstine who could see a lot of the field at multiple positions after showing a knack for the football in practices and scrimmages. The biggest praise for the 2011 defense was left for Middle Linebacker James Morris who's Defensive Coordinator, Norm Parker, raved "He’s got better during the winter without even practicing. He’s a sharp kid. And you know, he should be on that Wheatie’s box kind of guy.” Coming out of the Spring the one thing that will help this team the most is finding the right rotations in the Secondary and D-Line to help make up for the lost players and new positions for some.
2011 could be a great year or a total bust on the offensive side of the ball thanks to the loss of the 3 biggest skill players on the 2010 team. The Hawkeyes lost QB Ricky Stanzi(3,004yds and 25 TD's), RB Adam Robinson(941yds, 10TD's, and 4.6avg) and WR Darius Johnson-Koulianos(46rec and 10 TD's). Luckily Iowa does return a great WR is Marvin McNutt(sat out Spring after having shoulder surgery) and the biggest buzz overall in the Spring came for fellow WR Keenan Davis who made the spectacular and routine plays with ease. Even fellow WR McNutt had to give it up to him, stating "He’s going to be the guy to watch in the fall..."
Replacing Stanzi won't be easy but everyone on the coaching staff seems to think they have a capable replacement in Junior James Vandenberg. He showed great poise and chemistry with his receivers despite two INT's in the scrimmage on the 16th(both due to tips). As for the running back position the fans didn't get to see Marcus Coker who was out with a shoulder bruise, but they saw enough of him last year(662yds and 5.5ypc average) to know he can step into a full time role in 2011. The biggest and somewhat most surprising concern for Ferentz and his staff has been the offensive line where inconsistency has hurt the QB development all Spring. Ferentz said after the game that “It’s not like we’re eight deep at quarterback, but the way we protected this spring a couple times, we may need eight quarterbacks," and went on to hammer the point home stating "I’m not sure we could get through September the way we protected at times this spring.”
Look below for a quick highlight segment from the Big Ten Network.
All in all this team does have a lot of talent, it's just putting it all together after losing nearly half of the team to graduation that will determine how quickly and successfully the Hawkeyes transition to this new Big Ten. It'll be a few years before we see the Hawkeyes again and that's a shame, I really enjoy the rivalry myself and can't wait to keep the trophy home in a few more years. As always... ON WISCONSIN!!