I began by taking a broad overview of the Iowa program, what it has done over the last five years and what that might tell us about what the Hawkeyes will do this season.
Last week, I scanned at the 2012 Iowa offense and how it projects.
Last week, I looked at the 2012 Iowa defense and how it is shaping up.
This week, I'll look at the Hawkeyes' specialists, recruiting class and schedule; and I'll give a final breakdown and my prediction for Iowa in 2012.
Place kicker Mike Meyer began his sophomore campaign hitting 12-of-14 field goals before falling off, making only two of his final six.
Furthermore, he, and Iowa, ranked dead last in touchback percentage on kickoffs with 5.88 percent.
Look for Meyer to maintain his place-kicking duties, but he will be pushed in the kickoff game by redshirt freshman walk-on Marshall Koehn.
Micah Hyde wasn't impressive on punt returns in 2011, and, speaking as a Hawkeye fan, I hope Kirk Ferentz opens up the competition for punt return duties. That said, Hyde is the only player on the team with collegiate punt return experience.
The top kick return man—Jordan Bernstine—has graduated, as has punter Eric Guthrie.
The candidates for the punting job are quarterback turned-punter John Wienke, Australian transplant Jonny Mullings and true freshman Connor Kornbrath.
Kick-return duties are wide open, though receivers Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley and running back Damon Bullock have collegiate returning experience. However, none of them have been impressive in limited opportunities.
2012 Recruiting Class
The class of 24 was well-balanced, adding four each at defensive back, defensive line, wide receiver and offensive line.
There were two JUCO additions—offensive lineman Eric Simmons and quarterback Cody Sokol—though neither is a lock to play this year.
One true freshman that could see immediate playing time is running back Barkley Hill out of Cedar Falls. Iowa's running back troubles, discussed here by Patrick Vint on blackheartgoldpants.com, have been well-documented, which has left the depth chart short.
Fellow-running back recruit Greg Garmon's recent brush with the law (per Brian Bennett of ESPN.com) might hold him back in Kirk Ferentz's eyes. Moreover, Hill's one-cut running style is ideal for Iowa's zone-rushing scheme.
All of this will leave the door open for Hill.
One never likes to see true freshmen get meaningful minutes on the line, but Lombard Illinois' Jaleel Johnson may be too much to keep off the field. Though Rivals lists him at just under 280 pounds, a more recent measurement (via Marc Morehouse of The Cedar Rapids Gazette) has him at 315 pounds. That kind of size could be invaluable to Iowa's inexperienced D-line.
Finally, punting duties will be up for grabs, which will give West Virginia's Connor Kornbrath an opportunity to get right on to the field.
A pound sign (#) indicates must-win for Iowa.
An exclamation point (!) indicates a probable loss.
A dollar sign ($) indicates a swing game.
09/01: Northern Illinois Huskies (at Soldier Field, Chi.) $
09/08: Iowa State Cyclones $
09/15: Northern Iowa Panthers (FCS) #
09/22: Central Michigan Chippewas #
09/29: Minnesota Golden Gophers $
10/13: At Michigan State Spartans !
10/20: Penn State Nittany Lions $
10/27: At Northwestern Wildcats $
11/03: At Indiana Hoosiers #
11/10: Purdue Boilermakers $
11/17: At Michigan Wolverines !
11/23: Nebraska Cornhuskers !
Best Case Scenario: 9-3
In order for this to happen, Iowa needs:
- James Vandenberg to play with consistency, both on the road and against quality opponents. He doesn't have to be Andrew Luck, but there are no situations where Iowa can afford for him to play as poorly as he did against Nebraska or the first half of the Insight Bowl last year. Also, his receivers have to catch the ball when he puts it on their hands.
- Special teams to play better and more consistently than they have in a long while. The difference-maker for Iowa in the high of 2002-2004 was special teams. The special teams squads have been mediocre (2008) to downright awful (2010) since. The special teams will have to come back for this year's team to reach its full potential.
- The defense to get off the field on third down. This defense won't be great, but if it can get off the field when it has the opportunity, then the team will have a chance to put points on the board.
Worst Case Scenario: 5-7
In order for this to happen, Iowa needs:
- Little to no improvement from James Vandenberg. This team's strength will be offense, and especially the passing game. The Hawks won't improve if JVB plays with the same inconsistency as last year.
- Kirk Ferentz to stubbornly continue to employ a defense-dominant game plan, when his 2012 team dynamic is offense dominant. This will lead to a gassed defense by the third quarter and more close losses, particularly to inferior teams, which is something Iowa fans are all too familiar with.
- Continued issues on the special teams.
The Season Will Be a Success If...
Iowa wins seven games and shows a commitment to change on offense.
Iowa fans have not necessarily had problems with the team's records over the last two years. The problem has been an inept, unmotivated offense against the conference's worst defenses, such as with Minnesota in 2010 and 2011, and Northwestern in 2010. If one takes those three losses from Iowa's record—as Blackheartgoldpants did in this post—it changes the perception of those underachieving Hawkeye squads.
In those three games, the Hawks averaged 23.3 points against teams that allowed an average of 31.2 PPG.
Even Kirk Ferentz, following the resignation of erstwhile offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe, admitted that (via Randy Peterson of HawkCentral), the offense needed fixing. This was not a slight to O'Keefe, but an admission that with or without O'Keefe, changes needed to be made.
If there is palpable evidence of those changes and if it leads to at least seven wins—which is more than reasonable given the Hawks' soft schedule—then 2012's inexperienced Hawkeye squad will be able to enter the offseason with its collective heads held high.
Beyondthebets.com recently put Iowa's over/under win total at eight. That puts the Hawks equal with Michigan State and in the top half of the conference, all of which leads me to believe that these pundits seeing something that I'm missing.
Yes, Iowa has a soft schedule, but it also has a slew of issues, all of which I've gone over in the previous installments.
Either way, I'm going to agree with the pundits and say that the Hawks—whose over/under should be seven wins—put up eight victories.
The defense will be a problem, but more blitzing and aggressive cornerbacks will get the defense off the field on third downs, which, this season, will be more important than points allowed.
Meanwhile, I can't say whether Greg Davis will be successful as the offensive coordinator in the long run, but the changes he is implementing this year are perfectly suited to JVB's skill set. As long as the pass-catchers hold up their end of the bargain, Iowa should be able to move the ball.
In effect, I have Iowa losing on the road to Michigan and Michigan State, and dropping home games against Iowa State and Nebraska.
I don't think Iowa will be an eight-win caliber team, but I don't think the 2010 squad was a seven-win caliber team. Sometimes, that's how it goes, for better or worse.
Check out past installments of 2012 Big Ten Breakdown, beginning with the most recent, the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Full disclosure: Unlike the rest of this series, which takes an in-depth look at each Big Ten team, I am an Iowa fan. I hope that has not colored the way I looked at the Hawks or any of their opponents. I pride myself on being unbiased, but one who is biased is generally unaware of his active prejudices.