FanHouse's 2010 Preseason College Football Poll -- No. 10 Iowa
Last season, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi's name became synonymous with two things: rampant patriotism and gut-cramping interceptions. The former of those things is admirable. The latter is what makes coaches daydream about what it would be like to drive a beer truck.
Stanzi's numbers define the term "pedestrian." He ranked at or below the middle of the Big Ten pack in almost every category last season. Yet at no point did the fans start calling for backup James Vandenberg. When Stanzi went down with an ankle injury against Northwestern, the reaction from Iowa fans was "oh no" (or something like that) rather than "thank goodness."
Don't they have message boards in Iowa? Is there no sports talk radio amidst all the corn and soybeans?
Yes and yes to both questions. You should've learned in Logic 101 that correlation doesn't imply causation, but the Hawkeyes were 11-0 in games Stanzi played almost all of, and 0-2 in the games he didn't. Even with his soggy completion percentage (56%) and 17-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he was a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award last year. He's back on the watch list this year.
Why? Well, stats aren't everything. Ricky Stanzi never let his interceptions get to him. When the Hawkeyes needed a big play or a clock-killing drive, he came through. Every time. His arm isn't perfect, but there's nothing wrong with his shoulders.
THE BASICS: After the near-disaster against Northern Iowa to open last season, the Hawkeyes were written off by a number of people, including yours truly. That made Iowa an invisible team. Every week looked like the week the luck would run out. Until mid-November, it never happened.
Now it won't get to sneak up on anyone. I can't remember an Iowa team ever getting as much love as the 2010 Hawkeyes are getting. They deserve that love, but they prefer being the hunter, not the hunted.
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn is showing up on every watch list not maintained by the Department of Homeland Security. He leads a defense that has to replace several huge contributors who now play in the NFL. Coach Kirk Ferentz is not known for his wide-open offenses, so the defense has to be good if the Hawks are going to live up to the hype. Fortunately, Norm Parker's defenses are consistently excellent.
With Brandon Wegher currently not with the team, it's more important than ever that running back Jewel Hampton returns from the knee injury that kept him out all last year. Reports from camp say Hampton looks solid. He was a more than capable backup to Shonn Greene during Greene's breakout 2008 season. Ferentz would prefer having Wegher as additional insurance, but right now it doesn't look like that will happen.
KEY PLAYER YOU DON'T THINK OF AS A KEY PLAYER: Middle linebacker Jeff Tarpinian steps in for Pat Angerer, now with the Indianapolis Colts. Tarpinian, a converted quarterback, has been fantastic on special teams but has been plagued by injuries for much of his career. He saw his first game action as a safety and plays like a much larger version of Hawkeye legend Bob Sanders. Iowa's defensive line is strong and so is the secondary. If Tarpinian is able to stay on the field, he should turn a lot of heads this fall.
FLY IN THE OINTMENT: Since the days of Hayden Fry, Iowa football has become renowned for its ability to produce top-flight offensive linemen. Last year's o-line was one of the nation's best, but three of the five starters graduated. The Hawkeye line is now seriously short of experience. The projected starters have a total of 36 starts among them. That wouldn't be so bad, but two-thirds of those belong to guard Julian Vandervelde and tackle Riley Reiff has all but one of the rest. If the line doesn't gel quickly, it's not going to matter that Stanzi makes plays and Hampton is back from a knee injury to revive the running game. The Hawks will be in trouble. But this is Iowa we're talking about. The smart guess is that the line will be just fine.
DON'T MISS: Iowa at Northwestern, Nov. 13. Why this game and not the Ohio State game, or the Wisconsin game for that matter? You can ask any Iowa fan. The Hawks have lost four of their past five games with the Wildcats, in manners ranging from heartbreaking (last year) to brain-melting (2005). This game is the week before an Ohio State game with serious Game of the Century of the Week potential, but don't call it a trap game. The Hawkeyes are well aware of the danger Northwestern represents. They won't be looking ahead. This is going to be an intense game.
FanHouse's Iowa team page with schedule