Iowa returns arguably one of the best linebacking corps in the country and one that is very similar to the 2004 squad with Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway. This time, though, there's a third linebacker in there.
Anchored by Pat Angerer, a senior who has come out of nowhere to lead the Big Ten in interceptions, and A.J. Edds, an outstanding coverage man and pass rusher, Iowa has the potential to have two All-Big Ten linebackers and maybe one All-American. Along with Jeremiah Hunter, this crew will be an X-factor in many games in 2009.
2. Ricky Stanzi
The emergence of Ricky Stanzi was one of the key reasons for Iowa's success down the stretch. He became much more poised and filled in the missing link for the Hawkeyes this year. If he can limit interceptions, he could become an elite quarterback in a league that has very few. Stanzi has been listed as a Heisman sleeper this year by ESPN and definitely looks capable of putting together a good season for the Hawkeyes.
From 2002-2005, Iowa was as good as any team in the country, going to the Orange Bowl, the Capital One Bowl, and the Outback Bowl. For two seasons, they lost their pace and were very down, but after some momentum swings, the Hawkeyes are as hot as anyone headed into next year.
They are projected to be ranked anywhere from No. 13 to No. 19 in the preseason polls, and this will get them on the national stage much earlier than they were this year.
4. Offensive Line
The offensive line was one of the key reasons for Shonn Greene's success last season. Iowa always has tough offensive lines, and this 2009 bunch will be no exception. Anchored by Bryan Bulaga and Julian Vandervelde, this group is virtually unchanged from 2008 and looks to continue its success into 2009.
5. Jewel Hampton
While Hampton might be unfamiliar to the rest of the nation, Hawkeye fans know him well. When he did get in this year while Greene was taking breaks, he was electrifying. He has the same power as Greene but adds a little bit of speed, making him hard to bring down when he breaks to the outside. He was great when he went on this year, especially in the Indiana game, when he and Shonn Greene both rushed for over 100 yards.
6. Defensive Backfield
This, like the linebacking corps, may be one of the best in the Big Ten. It is anchored by cornerback Amari Spievey, who, in his first year back with the Hawkeyes after fixing academic issues, came out of nowhere, much like Greene and Angerer, to become an All-Big Ten selection.
The backfield also returns Tyler Sash, who was the key to Iowa's defensive success in the Outback Bowl, with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Brett Greenwood also stepped up last year and will continue to have a major role in his junior and senior seasons.
7. Non-Conference Play
This has haunted the Hawkeyes in recent years, even in the stretch from 2002-2005. They always seemed to lose to some team, whether it be Iowa State, Arizona State, or Pittsburgh, and this got them into a slump.
They can't let that happen this year, but it seems that they should easily win all four games. Northern Iowa and Arkansas State are gimmes, while at Iowa State should be easy, considering they barely lost two years ago with a much worse team. Plus, Iowa State won't have improved very much either. The main test is Arizona, but at home, the Hawkeyes should beat a good, but lesser Arizona team.
8. Wide Receivers
After some shaky play this year, the wide receiver position should be set for next year. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos has played well for the Hawkeyes and will step into a leadership role for his junior year.
Colin Sandeman has also improved, and by adding Cedar Rapids Washington standout Keenan Davis, the Hawks should have a good receiving corps in 2009. Davis, a four-star recruit, has very high expectations coming into Iowa, but seems to have all of the tools to meet those expectations
9. Tight Ends
This will be another very strong position for Iowa in 2009. The Hawkeyes like to line up in a two tight end set a lot, and this combination of Alan Reisner and Tony Moeaki should work very well.
Moeaki is an outstanding tight end, but he has struggled with injuries for the past two years. Reisner, on the other hand, was impressive in his sophomore season at Iowa, sharing time with Brandon Meyers, and this dual threat should have success against opposing defenses, especially with the emergence of Ricky Stanzi.
10. Many Key Returnees
Unlike many other teams in the Big Ten, Iowa returns plenty of starters in 2009. Other teams have lost some key players, while the Hawkeyes were able to keep many of their stars. Iowa loses only three starters on defense and five on offense, but many of those starters also shared time with others that are perfectly capable of filling the gaps.
From Pat Angerer to Ricky Stanzi to Amari Spievey to Jewel Hampton...the list goes on and on of the many key players that will be returning to Iowa for a good shot at the Big Ten title.