The 2012 Iowa Hawkeyes offense was terrible.
Despite that, as coach Kirk Ferentz (via Bryce Miller of Hawkcentral) noted, this was not "a dog-crap team." On the other hand, an offense that scores 19.3 points per game (113th in the country) can fairly be called "dog crap," even if the talent is there.
Next year's offense will be much the same.
There are holes, to be sure, but there is also talent—certainly enough talent to score more than 19 points per game.
The following will look at who that talent is and where it will wind up on the depth chart on opening day when the Hawks take on the MAC champion Northern Illinois Huskies.
The starters in question are listed first, with the backups listed following the backslash (/).
Players with an asterisk (*) next to their name are returning starters. A "returning starter," for my purposes, started at least four games in 2012.
The player's year is listed in parentheses next to his name. The year reflects what said player will be during the 2013 football season.
This is an opening-day depth chart projection. Consequently, when players are listed with an "OR" between their names, the position battle will be ongoing. As Hawkeyes fans know, this is not uncommon with Ferentz.
Finally, no true freshmen who have yet to sign a letter of intent were considered.
Left Tackle: Brandon Scherff (Jr.)*/ Andrew Donnal (Jr.)
Right Tackle Brett Van Sloten (Sr.)*/ Nolan MacMillan (Sr.)
Others in the Mix: Ryan Ward (R.Fr.)
Scherff will lock down the left tackle spot after coming off a leg injury that prematurely ended his season. Hopefully, he can come back where he left off, as he had been establishing himself as one of the premiere linemen in the Big Ten.
Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, he could consider a premature exit to the NFL if he has a strong 2013.
Van Sloten will continue at right tackle. The senior is nowhere near as dominant as Scherff, but he is steady. A notable final year will push him into the later rounds of the draft.
Donnal would likely be the next man in if either of the tackles get hurt. If he wins a starting guard spot, then, in the event of an injury, he would shift over and another player would take over inside.
MacMillan is fourth in the pecking order.
It will be tough sledding if the Hawks get past the top two backups.
Left Guard: Nolan MacMillan (Sr.) OR Andrew Donnal (Jr.)/ Jordan Walsh (So.)
Right Guard: Austin Blythe (So.)*/ Drew Clark (Sr.)
Others in the Mix: Conor Boffeli (Sr.)*, Eric Simmons (So.), Mitch Keppy (R.Fr.), Reid Sealby (R.Fr.)
Iowa has an array of riches at guard. The top four all have experience, and the competition for the two starting spots will be stiff.
MacMillan looked to be the next in the line of great Iowa linemen before injuries derailed his career in 2010 and 2011. He grabbed two starts (per Phil Steele) in 2012, but he looked rusty and was promptly pulled. Two straight years of health will put him back in game shape and give him the opportunity to finish his career off well.
At 6'7", Donnal is more reminiscent of a tackle, but he was coming on as a guard until a leg injury derailed his season. He will be the next man in at guard or tackle if he doesn't win a spot in the starting lineup.
Blythe started nine games in 2012. He began the year as the starting left guard, but health and shaky play pushed him down to the second string. After Scherff and Donnal went out, Blythe came back and improved minimally as the year progressed. A former Rivals 4-star recruit, he has a high ceiling and will be expected to turn his experience into stronger, more consistent play.
Walsh gained valuable minutes in 2012, but looked shaky. Unless he has made considerable progress over the offseason, look for him to provide depth until 2014.
Finally, Clark has been on the depth chart for the past two seasons. He seems like the type of player who always provides depth, but will never see any game action.
Center: Conor Boffeli (Sr.)*/ Austin Blythe (So.)* OR Eric Simmons (So.)
Others in the Mix: None
Boffeli has been the backup center for two years. In 2012, he started the final three games at left guard.
Now that James Ferentz has graduated, he will have the best shot of grabbing the starting position.
As previously mentioned, Blythe will be a front runner for a starting guard spot, but as Scott Dochterman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported, "his future might be at center." If he doesn't win the spot, he could be No. 2 with a move to the middle likely in 2014.
Finally, Simmons is a JUCO recruit who redshirted last year.
Tight End No. 1: C.J. Fiedorowicz (Sr.)*
Tight End No. 2: Henry Krieger-Coble (So.)
Others in the Mix: Ray Hamilton (Jr.), Jake Duzey (So.), George Kittle (R.Fr.)
This will be Fiedorowicz's last year to live up to the potential that had Rivals rank him 2010's No. 5 tight end in the country.
In 2012, he had 45 receptions for 433 yards and one touchdown. Though the 45 receptions were the most for an Iowa tight end since Scott Chandler in 2006, his 9.66 yards per catch (YPC) is the lowest YPC of a starting tight end in the Ferentz era. Furthermore, he seemed absent through most of the season until the final two games, at which point, as Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette tweeted,
RT @tomfornelli Greg Davis just discovered CJ Fiedorowicz in practice this week.— Mike Hlas (@Hlas) November 17, 2012
That led to C.J. Fed putting up 14 receptions for 155 yards over the final two contests.
Meanwhile, the No. 2—virtually a starter in Iowa's offense, and, in fact, Iowa did start a second tight end in three of its final four games—in the last two games was Krieger-Coble. He recorded four receptions for 30 yards including a touchdown grab.
Hamilton began the season as the No. 2, but after an off-week arrest and an undisciplined special teams penalty, he seemed to go into Kirk Ferentz's doghouse. He recorded two catches on the season—both in the first half of the year. Like Fiedorowicz, Hamilton is a Rivals 4-star recruit that has yet to live up to his potential.
Finally, Duzey saw some action last year, catching three passes for 16 yards. He came to Iowa as a big receiver, and is small for a traditional tight end. In effect, he would make an ideal H-back if the Iowa coaches decide to get creative.
If the Iowa offensive brain trust decides not to wait until the final two games to use their tight ends, the No. 2 and even No. 3 spot could be a heated position battle. This is one of the deepest and most talented position groups on the team, and the coaches would be well advised to look west on how to utilize that talent.
Wide Receiver No. 1: Kevonte Martin-Manley (Jr.)*/ Tevaun Smith (So.)
Wide Receiver No. 2: Jordan Cotton (Sr.)/ Jacob Hillyer (So.)
Wide Receiver No. 3: Tevaun Smith (So.)/ Don Shumpert (Sr.)
Others in the Mix: Greg Mabin (R.Fr.), Cameron Wilson (R.Fr.)
As Scott Dochterman noted, Greg Davis was critical of his receivers' speed preceding the season, and unfortunately, the receivers, fast or not, didn't have a great year. On the other hand, the quarterbacking, play calling and overall coaching left a great deal to be desired, so it's difficult to say how much of the blame was on the receivers.
Heading into 2013, the Hawkeyes still look shorthanded when it comes to the wide receivers.
Jordan Cotton is more of a speedster; thus, he is more in line with what Davis wants out of his receivers. Cotton was one of the few Hawkeyes that palpably improved as the year went forward. He went from being buried on the depth chart to No. 3, finishing the year with 12 receptions for 172 yards and one touchdown. He will be the second starter.
It is wide open after K-Mart and Cotton. JUCO-commit Damond Powell will find his way into the top four if he signs with Iowa. According to Scout, Powell is still shopping around.
Otherwise, Smith has the inside track for the third spot, having finished 2012 the strongest. Shumpert has one more year to make a splash and Hillyer is talented, but he might be a bad fit for Davis's offense.
Fullback: Brad Rogers (Sr.)*/ Nate Meier (R.Fr.)
Others in the Mix: None
He missed the final four games of 2012, which was a large part of the reason why Iowa started a second tight end or third receiver in lieu of its typical starting fullback. In other words, there was nobody to take Rogers' place.
If he is healthy, he will be the starting fullback for the 2013 Hawks.
With no other fullbacks on the roster, look for Iowa to make some position changes.
Meier has plenty of experience as a running back, having gained, according to Rivals, 2,494 yards as a high school senior. Moreover, according to nationalfootballpost.com, Meier worked out at running back when he first arrived on campus.
He eventually moved to linebacker, where he practiced throughout 2012, though his Iowa page lists him as "LB/RB". Either way, he won't see the depth chart for at least another year if he remains on defense. In effect, if he wants to earn immediate playing time, a move to fullback is his best option.
As previously noted, in Greg Davis's offense, Iowa would be best off scrapping the traditional fullback role and moving toward an H-back. As a former high school tailback, Meier, along with the aforementioned Jake Duzey, could serve well in that capacity.
Tailback: Mark Weisman (Jr.)*/ Jordan Canzeri (So.) OR Damon Bullock (Jr.)*
Others in the Mix: Barkley Hill (R.Fr.), Andre Dawson (Jr.)
Weisman was the feel-good story of the year for Iowa—a walk-on transfer fullback that ascended the depth chart and became the starting tailback. For a few weeks, he was the Big Ten's leading rusher (yards-per-carry). Then, he twisted his knee in the tying score against Michigan State and wasn't the same for the rest of the year.
He still finished the season with respectable numbers: 815 yards, eight touchdowns, 5.13 YPC, 15 receptions and one touchdown grab.
He will be Iowa's top back next year.
Canzeri would have been the top running back last year, but a torn ACL suffered near the end of spring practice put him out of commission. The work ethic that allowed him to get back onto the depth chart only six months after his injury—though he never played—will make it hard to keep him on the bench in 2013.
Bullock began 2012 as the Hawks' top guy, but a concussion kept him out for a few weeks. As Marc Morehouse detailed, he began his career as a receiver, but the transfer and/or injury of every Hawkeye back put him and kept him in the backfield.
He has done a solid job—513 yards, 3.80 YPC, three touchdowns, 18 receptions in 2012—but if Iowa manages to hold onto more than two running backs, he could still move back to receiver where the Hawks are short handed.
In fact, if Ferentz and Davis could get creative with the offense (imagine that), they could use Bullock as a utility running back, slot receiver and return man.
As to whether Ferentz has the sense to use both thunder and lighting—whoever the "lightning" in this scenario might be—to complement each other—instead of going with his typical method of leaning on one back—is another story.
Iowa fans joke about AIRBHG, but many of the running back issues are self-created. In the end, nobody wants to play for a team that can't find creative ways to use running backs or get multiple running backs on to the field.
Quarterback: Cody Sokol (Jr.)/ Jake Rudock (So.)
Others in the Mix: C.J. Beathard (R.Fr.)
Jake Rudock spent his entire freshman season as the backup quarterback, yet he never took a snap.
This was despite the Penn State and Michigan games being out of reach by halftime, and the Hawks having nothing to play for but pride against Nebraska.
Perhaps this was Ferentz being stubborn, but it's difficult to believe there isn't a greater plan going on behind the scenes.
Sokol came to Iowa as a JUCO transfer from Scotsdale Community College. As Morehouse reported, Sokol broke a number of passing records as a Fighting Artichoke (officially the best college football nickname ever).
It would have been pointless to waste Sokol's redshirt on meaningless fourth-quarter snaps. In effect, it is possible that Sokol was the true No. 2, but he wasn't listed as such and didn't play in order to protect his redshirt.
Finally, if Beathard had been the true front runner to succeed James Vandenberg, as Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register suggested, he likely wouldn't have redshirted this year. In effect, the redshirt freshman is a long shot to beat out Sokol or Ruduck.