1. Iowa Secondary vs. Minnesota Receivers
The Iowa secondary will be much improved from a stellar season last year. ESPN's Adam Rittenberg calls cornerback Amari Spievey "one of the best in the country" and sophomore Tyler Sash will also be greatly improved after a surprisingly impressive freshman year.
Saftey Brett Greenwood is also improved and this outstanding secondary will be one of the top units in the Big Ten.
It's safe to say that Iowa's secondary won't face many threats this year, but Minneosta's wide receivers should give them a challenge. At the same time, Iowa's secondary will be the Minnesota receiving corp's main challenge of 2009.
The main matchup I am looking to see is Eric Decker vs. Amari Spievey. This is the one of the best receivers vs. the best corner in the Big Ten and should be a very fun matchup to watch.
2. Iowa Linebackers vs. Terrelle Pryor
Iowa, like most years, will have an incredible linebacking corps in 2009. They are coming off of a 2008 which they came into as unknowns, and came out as stars. Pat Angerer is considered by many to be a preseason All-Big Ten and All-American candidate.
His counterparts, AJ Edds and Jeremiha Hunter also have a great shot to be on an All-Big Ten team, and Phil Steele ranks the unit as a whole the sixth best in the nation.
While they are good in pass coverage (Angerer led the league with five interceptions), the real strength of this unit is their run stopping. They were particularly good against option quarterbacks in 2008, and with everyone coming back for 2009, they should be even better. Iowa's linebackers should present a rare challenge to Pryor's running abilities.
If they force him to throw, they could have a shot at beating Ohio State in Columbus.
3. Iowa Offensive Line vs. Michigan Defensive Line
After a miserable 2007, Iowa's offensive line restored its usual strength in 2008 and were much of the reason for Shonn Greene's success. That unit, that Phill Steele ranks fifth in the nation, will be even better in 2009 and may be able to help new Iowa running back Jewel Hampton climb to the top of the Big Ten in rushing yards.
Star junior tackle Bryan Bulaga may be a top five pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and ESPN ranks him the fifth best player and best offensive lineman in the Big Ten.
The only question mark is Kyle Calloway. He was caught driving his moped drunk and may be suspended for the beginning of the season. If he is suspended, it really won't matter too much is the long run, as he would only be suspended for Iowa's first game, against Northern Iowa. The one team that may challenge Iowa's offensive line is Michigan.
Once again, the only team that will challenge Michigan's defensive line is Iowa. Brandon Minor should be an All-Big Ten selection and his matchup against Bulaga should be the Big Ten's most exciting battle in the trenches of 2009.
4. Ricky Stanzi vs. Penn State Fans
We all know that Rick Stanzi can stay poised at home. He improved throughout the year in 2008, and capped that off with amazing performances against Penn State and South Carolina (basically a home game for Iowa, as the Hawkeyes had more fans in Tampa than the Gamecocks).
The improvement that we witnessed at the end of 2008 should carry over into next year. The problem is, he has never been truly tested in a road game. He was less than impressive against Michigan State, but that was early in the season and the outcome would have been much different later in the year.
The Penn State game will be Stanzi's first main road test and it comes fairly early in the season, on September 26. To make matters worse, it is a night game and white outs in Happy Valley make it tough for any quarterback to keep their poise.
If he can stay poised, like he did at Kinnick last year, and block out the fans, he should be able to keep Iowa in the game. If not, it will be a long day for the Hawkeyes. It will be a very fun, mental matchup to watch.
5. Iowa Tight Ends vs. Penn State Linebackers
Iowa primarily passes to their tight ends when they throw the ball, and they did a pretty decent job of it in 2008. Even though Tony Moeaki was hurt (again), tight ends Brandon Myers and Alan Reisner stepped up to help out Stanzi.
Myers is gone, but Reisner showed last year that he has plenty of capability and can be an outstanding tight end. If Moeaki is finally healthy, this will be one of the best tight end units in the Big Ten.
Linebacker U will be one of the main challenges the Iowa tight ends face in 2009. Navarro Bowman and Sean Lee are two of the best linebackers in the country, but may have some trouble with Iowa's talented tight ends.
If Reisner can give Penn State trouble, they may lose focus on the running game and the other wide receivers, opening up some holes for Stanzi and Hampton. The matchup will fly under the radar, but don't be surprised if Iowa can start making some moves on Penn State's defense because of their tight ends.