With just 79 days until Iowa's home season kicks off with a Jake Christensen-less Eastern Illinois, there is unquestionable buzz.
Some Iowa fans (myself included) have thrown around the possibility of a Big Ten championship and even a spot in the BCS national title game. With their penchant for close wins, I personally think Iowa would be much better off with a playoff format if they want a title, but there is still some hope for the Hawkeyes.
Let's first examine their strengths, and then what I see as four major flaws in the upcoming team.
Iowa has a lot of strengths:
Defense (in general) is always tough for Iowa.
Adrian Clayborn will be a top 10 draft pick, and with good reason.
The buzz around this upcoming season is going to create an atmosphere maybe never before seen at Kinnick.
Iowa's goal-line offense can always convert, and the Hawkeyes are able to produce big plays as well.
The schedule favors Iowa with all the tough games—Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin at home. The only debatably tough road contests are Arizona and Michigan.
It's still one more year until Nebraska.
But with all this (and much more) in Iowa City's favor, there are still some concerns. These are not unanswered questions like most lists, these are concerns that are agreed upon by most Iowa fans as hindrances to a BCS game.
After watching every Iowa game last season, the Hawkeyes totally dominated exactly one game.
That was a 35-3 win at Iowa State in a game against their worst opponent of the season—and yes, I think Northern Iowa would beat Iowa State. Of course, many said the Hawkeyes were overachieving when they competed with Ohio State, taking them to overtime in the 'Shoe, and when they defeated Penn State on the road. And those critics may have a point.
Iowa beat Northern Iowa and Arkansas State by a combined FOUR points. Both games were at home. Yikes.
Against a pitiful Indiana, Iowa gave up five interceptions, and only got back into the game because of the luckiest play I've ever seen (and let me say, I was uber-confused as well).
Of course, this stigma is great when Iowa plays Penn State or Ohio State or Georgia Tech. The Hawkeyes are always ready for a big game, and at least keep it interesting. But then against the Hoosiers, or say, a reeling Michigan in 2009 (who Iowa beat by two at home), Iowa always keeps the game close.
A team looking for a BCS title needs to win games, period. But let's say there's three undefeated teams left at years end. Much like an NCAA selection committee, pollsters will look at margin of victory. And Iowa can't afford to defeat Eastern Illinois and Ball State by single digits this season.
Ricky Stanzi is the Ron Artest of Iowa Football.
No, he's never charged into the bleachers at Jack Trice Stadium to beat up heckling Iowa State fans, but it seems as though Ricky is always helping or hurting Iowa. He's never just... there.
He has a penchant for big game touchdowns (see: Michigan State with no time remaining), but he also threw picks to Arizona and Michigan right near the start of the game. Against Indiana he threw five interceptions in the first three quarters before bringing Iowa back into the game with two touchdown passes.
It seems that Ricky helps more than he hurts, because of the timing of his interceptions. In the fourth quarter Ricky is pretty much all business, while the first through third are a little more casual.
But this article is examining the run to a BCS title game, and one that will involve the nation's top two teams. With likely all the positive luck used up last year in their 9-0 start, Stanzi can't expect to recover every time he throws a Tarvaris Jackson-esque gift to the defense.
This may be one of those knee-jerk reactions, but when every person who went to spring practice (since Kirk doesn't like a full-out spring game) comes out of Kinnick saying our kickers looked bad, that's scary.
I'm speaking exclusively about the placekickers, since one of the most popular players on the Iowa team is punter Ryan Donahue, whose work even inspired some tongue-in-cheek "Donahue for Heisman" posters during games last year.
The Hawkeyes have two kickers on the roster who see any action. Daniel Murray is going to be a senior, and is known for being clutch against Penn State (what an odd reputation) with his game-winner in Kinnick two years ago and then the dagger in the 2009 game in Happy Valley.
Last season Murray made 73.1 percent of his field goals, including 6-11 from 40 yards or more. But for some reason Coach Ferentz has stated that Trent Mossbrucker, Iowa's other placekicker, is still in the running for a position.
The Bruck got no playing time last season, but actually got more snaps in the spring practice, something many chalk up to his ability to hit from distance.
The main concern for Iowa is that in spring practice, neither Murray or Mossbrucker looked good. At all. And while neither of the two are Nate Kaeding, their performances have made fans wonder if, come clutch time, either can hit their marks.
I think that Derrell Johnson-Koulianos is Iowa's best receiver. It's hard to disagree. But beyond that it's a sea of guys that will have a good game from time to time, but are rarely consistent threat.
Marvin McNutt is getting better, as are Keenan Davis and Jordan Cotton—both of whom will see more playing time this year. Colin Sandeman is basically a return specialist at this point. Even DJK isn't used as much as anyone thinks he should be because of his dysfunctional relationship with coaching (at least that's the majority of speculation).
I've already addressed that Richard Stanzi (as ESPN's bottom line has called him before) can be erratic. But sometimes it's because he doesn't have an elite receiver that's open. Last year his go-to guy in big spots was his TE Tony Moeaki, who graduated.
If there was a guy putting up big numbers, that would at least command a double team, it would help out the senior quarterback in a big way. But for now, it's all guys who are probably number two and three receivers on most teams catching the football.
Do these four things really matter? The short answer is no, but the long one is yes.
In short, Iowa got past them last season, so there's no reason they can't get past them this season. But last season was also filled with luck and a ridiculous amount of close games.
Iowa didn't lose any games by double digits last season, falling to Northwestern by seven and Ohio State by three. But Iowa also won games over inferior opponents by some margins that are way too close.
This year the Hawkeyes are not a cinderella team. People expect Iowa to succeed, meaning more stock will be put into a game featuring the Black and Gold. And if there's a good coach able to expose even just a couple of these flaws (I'm thinking Jim Tressel or Mike Stoops), Iowa can't make it to the big game.