After a surprising 8-4 season for the 2008 Hawks, fans were left believing in a team that had only come up short in recent years. One has to wonder if the Iowa Hawkeyes can field a better team than last year's, or will it be back to the five hundred mark for Kirk Ferentz's club?
If a handful of players can be found to step up to the plate (couldn't resist, it's still baseball season) and fill the positions left behind by Shonn Greene, Mitch King, Matt Kroul, Andy Brodell, and Brandon Myers, then the Hawkeyes might have enough spunk to demand some national attention.
I say spunk because I see these Hawkeyes raising a few brows this fall. This team will spend a good amount of time in the national spotlight. Here's my take on what needs to happen for the 2009 Iowa Hawkeyes to have a successful outing.
Shonn Greene was undoubtedly the biggest loss to Iowa. Fortunately, if Jewel Hampton (SO) can stay healthy, he's the most easily replaced. Hampton carried the ball 91 times for a total of 478 yards and an Iowa freshman record seven touchdowns.
Is Hampton of Shonn Greene's caliber? Only time will tell, but he has the potential. Paki O'Meara (JR) and redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson, a two-time all-state selection from St. Petersburg, Florida, add some depth to the running back position.
Iowa suffered a heavy hit to the receiving core with the losses of wide receiver Andy Brodell and tight end Brandon Myers. Brodell was second in receptions for Iowa last year with 36 and Myers closely trailed with 34. Only Darrel Johnson-Koulianos (JR) had more with 44 receptions.
Quarterback Ricky Stanzi (JR) will need to replace two of his three favorite targets if the Hawkeye passing game is to be strong this season. Stanzi has the skill to make up for the loss, but who will step up on the receiving end?
It appears former quarterback Marvin McNutt (SO) came out of spring practice as the head receiver, and Trey Stross (SR) stands as the other first string receiver. Both beat out 'DJK' who is listed as second string after spring practice. The Iowa receiving core could be full of pleasant surprises for Stanzi and Hawkeye fans.
Tight ends Tony Moeaki (SR) and Allen Reisner (JR) will have to team up to fill the gap in the offense left by Brandon Myers. If Moeaki can stay healthy, he's a good football player with plenty of receiving skill. Reisner, a native of Marion, IA, could be one player to watch this year as somebody who could make an impact.
Ricky Stanzi came out ahead as the clear quarterback of the Iowa Hawkeyes last year and will take that standing into the 2009 season. Stanzi will be another player key to the success of the Hawkeyes.
If he can keep his mistakes to a minimum and provide more offense than last year—14 TDs isn't going to cut it with the loss of Greene—Stanzi will be set for a great year.
On the defensive side of things a lot of question marks have been created with the vacancies at the tackle position left by King and Kroul. While their replacements may not make up for the loss, much of King and Kroul's supporting cast still remains.
Norm Parker may frustrate some Hawkeyes' fans, but he always manages to put together a solid defense. Look for a little more bend in Parker's "bend but don't break" system. However, the Iowa defense will still be one of the toughest crews to score on in the Big Ten.
The 2009 edition of the Iowa Hawkeyes could improve on last year's 8-4 record. The schedule makes the task a daunting feat with the Hawks playing at Iowa State, Penn State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. However, if injuries don't take their toll and select players step up, it could be done.
Iowa enters the season ranked 21st in the nation, according to USA Today's Preseason Top 25. The pollsters believes in our Hawks' potential. It's time for Hawkeye Nation to rally behind our men and believe as well. That being said, I come down from my soap box and place my prediction of 10-2 (6-2) with a second place finish in the Big Ten for the Iowa Hawkeyes on the board.
Of course, I believe they can do better. A Big Ten Championship? A BCS Bowl bid? A final ranking in the top 10 in the polls at the end of the season? Why not?