Iowa Football: 10 Reasonable Goals for the 2012 Season
I'm not going to call road wins at Michigan and Michigan State realistic goals.
I'm not going to call for a double-digit win season or the first conference championship since 2004.
I'm not going to call for the Rose Bowl or a defensive turnaround.
In some seasons, those might be realistic goals, but it is unlikely this season.
Kills you to see that picture of the Gophers with Floyd, doesn't it?
Floyd of Rosedale should have spent the past two seasons in Iowa City, but due to a lethargic Hawkeye performance in 2010 and a slightly-more-than-lethargic performance in 2011, Floyd has sat snug in Minneapolis.
This has been despite facing Gopher teams that went a combined 6-18. In other words, 33 percent of the Gophers' wins over the past two years have come against Iowa.
That, more than any other failures over the past two seasons, has been the hardest thing to swallow.
This season, the Hawks face Minnesota in Kinnick for the first time since 2009. Iowa has not lost to Minnesota at home since 1999.
With this season's Floyd game coinciding with Homecoming, Kirk Ferentz has to get his team up for this game.
If he doesn't—if Iowa loses for the third year in a row to what projects to be a slightly-improved but still uncompetitive Gopher squad—Ferentz and his players will leave Kinnick to a scathing round of boos, and that is no way to spend homecoming.
In Fact, Beat All the Teams They Are Supposed to Beat
Kirk Ferentz has a history of losing games he has no business losing.
Case in point: Minnesota the last two seasons, Northwestern in 2010, Northwestern in 2009 and Iowa State in 2007.
In fact, over the last six seasons, the Hawkeyes have the second-worst winning percentage in the Big Ten when they are double-digit favorites.
This year, it's hard to say against which teams, if any, Iowa will be double-digit favorites. However, the Hawks will be favored against, and should beat, Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Central Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota and yes, Northwestern.
I'm not saying it is a "reasonable goal" for Iowa to beat Michigan or Michigan State on the road. I'm saying the Hawkeyes have no business losing to bottom feeders.
This season, all of the above teams will be decidedly inferior to Iowa.
No More Injuries to the Running Backs
Really, this has gotten ridiculous.
With Jordan Canzeri's recently-confirmed ACL tear, Iowa is once again at square one in the tailback department.
Given the Hawks' track record—some of it avoidable, but most of it random strokes of luck from above—it is not that much to ask that all of the healthy running backs that suit up in August are still healthy in December.
Nickel and Dime Packages
Overall, I have no complaints about Norm Parker's 13 years as a Hawkeye.
The results speak for themselves. Iowa regularly fielded elite defenses, and that had everything to do with Parker's play-calling.
That said, there are always things that could use some change.
One issue I've had a problem with in recent years has been the Hawks' refusal to bring in defensive backs on obvious passing downs.
In the first half of Ferentz's tenure, it made sense—Iowa rarely had able cornerbacks outside of the starters.
However, for the last few years, the Hawks have had four-five corners ready to go, yet they have sat on the bench while linebackers have gotten burned on third downs.
If there is one thing I hope for and feel is a reasonable goal from new DC Phil Parker, it is more nickel and dime packages in obvious passing situations.
A Respectable Hurry-Up Offense
All Hawkeye fans had their issues with Ken O'Keefe, Iowa's erstwhile offensive coordinator, but he's the offensive coordinator. How many fanbases are really happy with their OC?
Regardless of any of his other failings, real or perceived, it was hard to argue with the abject misery he brought to the hurry-up offense.
It was a two-part issue, because Kirk Ferentz was responsible for pulling the plug on the potential hurry-up drives with less than two minutes to go in the half. Those drives would have been good practice for an offense that needed it, and would have sent a bolt of confidence to that O, telling it that its coach had confidence in it.
That issue is still present, and one can hope Ferentz will adjust his thinking in this regard.
Nevertheless, when it all came down—when Iowa had to score and went into hurry-up mode—it was as if the entire O took a nosedive.
That was true through multiple quarterbacks and multiple seasons.
As I've often mentioned, even the greatest individual play in the Ferentz era was the product of mishandled clock management.
That was entirely on O'Keefe.
New OC Greg Davis will now be in charge. Even if he makes no improvements from what has unarguably been an underachieving Hawkeye offense, an improved hurry-up will be an automatic and immediate step in the right direction.
Use the No-Huddle Offense to Iowa's Advantage
Early last season, Iowa began to play with the no-huddle offense
It worked wonders in a miracle comeback against Pitt, as well as the following week against Louisiana-Monroe.
The question is, would it work in conference against a quality defense, and would Ferentz use it against said defense?
Iowa opened the Big Ten season against Penn State, and much to everybody's surprise, the Hawks starting lineup included three wide receivers. Iowa was indeed to going to open with a hurry-up offense.
Unfortunately, it stalled, and after two quick drives and no points, Ferentz scrapped it, never to be seen again unless there were dire circumstances.
Part of the problem was that Ferentz and O'Keefe didn't seem to understand or take advantage of the hurry-up offense.
It forces defenses to keep the same personnel on the field. Consequently, a defense that comes out in a nickel or dime package to combat a three-wide look is not in the best position to stop the run.
Therefore, if the team in question opened with a three-wide look and the opposing team came out in a nickel, it would be in the initial team's best interest to run directly at the extra defensive back on second down.
Iowa didn't do that, thereby forsaking any advantages it gained by operating in hurry-up mode.
New offensive line coach Brian Ferentz has tweeted about working the no-huddle in practice and pushing the offense's tempo.
Let's hope that if the Hawks are committed to using the no-huddle, they are going to take advantage of it.
Top-3 Passing Offense in the Conference
This is the one "realistic goal" for the season that some might feel is not "realistic."
Nevertheless, when one looks at what the Hawks have going for them, as well as what the rest of the conference has going for it, there is no reason to feel this isn't achievable.
Iowa has the second-most efficient returning passer in the conference in James Vandenberg.
It also has the second-most productive returning receiver in the conference in Keenan Davis.
Add in the second-most productive freshman wide receiver in Kevonte Martin-Manley.
Throw in what I expect to be a much-improved tight end group, and you've got a recipe for passing success.
I'm not unrealistically calling for Iowa to have a top-three defense or running game, but the passing game has the raw materials it needs to be amongst the best in the conference.
Kickoff Touchback Percentage of 25 Percent or Better
The conference touchback average last season was 19.8 percent.
Iowa's percentage was 5.88.
That was dead last in the conference and 101st in the country.
The new rule moves the kickoff from the 30 to the 35-yard line. That should push the 19.8 percent average up to at least 25 percent.
There is no reason that Iowa shouldn't be at least middle of pack, especially with five scholarship kickers on the roster.
80 Percent or Better Field-Goal Percentage
I don't mean to harp on Mike Meyer, the junior place kicker from Dubuque, but with two years under his belt, he has to be consistent and automatic from inside the 30.
Last season, he made 70 percent of his field goals, which was down from 82.4 percent in 2010.
Meyer started 2011 on a tear, hitting 12 of his first 14.
Then, he fell apart at Minnesota, missing two chip-shot field goals in what turned out to be a one-point loss.
Meyer went 2-for-6 in the final six games.
Kicking is a mental game, and it is evident that from Minnesota forward, Meyer had something in his head.
He is now an upperclassman and a leader, and he will be depended upon to finish drives.
Next year is a rebuilding year, plain and simple.
With a revamped, inexperienced, undersized and painfully young defensive line, it is unrealistic to expect a staunch defense.
Throw in a semi-revamped offensive line, attrition at running back and a new punter, and there are too many issues in Iowa City to hope for a double-digit win season, let alone a run at a conference championship.
Nevertheless, the Hawkeyes have a quality returning signal-caller, a strong group of pass catchers, a number of good, albeit inexperienced, offensive linemen, a more-than-serviceable defensive back seven, a favorable schedule and a new look on the coaching staff.
I believe Iowa is capable of eight wins, and while nine may be a stretch, it is still feasible.
But seven is the minimum and is more than reasonable, especially if the Hawks accomplish Nos. 1 and 2 on this list—beat the teams they are supposed to beat.