Are you ready for some Hawkeye football? It is not for the faint of heart or fair-weather fans. You are either a rock or you are not. There is no fence riding or “boohooing." You gotta wear a snarl and be ready for a blow to the gut—as disappointment can hit at any moment.
What you must understand from the outset is that Iowa is all about defense. While lack of “Big D” can undermine most college football programs, defense remains the heart and soul of the University of Iowa’s recent favorable football fortunes.
Just look at last year. You had to have a strong heart and nerves of steel to weather the tsunami peaks and valleys that characterized an Iowa victory in 2009. The Hawkeyes eked by week after week, securing four wins by three points or less. Herald the defense!
The Hawkeyes also came back in the second half in their games against Penn State and Wisconsin to secure wins. Another heart-stopper came on a touchdown pass to steal the game away at Michigan State as time expired.
Finally, what about holding on until Iowa scored four touchdowns in the last quarter to suffocate Indiana's hopes for an upset? Sedatives du jour became the cocktail before each Iowa kickoff.
At one point, Iowa was 9-0 with non-believers still discrediting the best team in the Big Ten. At that juncture, the bottom fell out for the Iowa team and its fans. On November 7th, Ricky Stanzi, Iowa’s vaunted quarterback, twisted his ankle in a game with Northwestern as he was being sacked.
The Hawkeyes lost that game 17-10 behind freshman quarterback James Vandenberg playing his first important minutes. The following week, the Hawkeyes and Vandenberg lost to Ohio State in overtime 27-24. So close to perfection, ending the season finally at 11-2.
As a reward for their spectacular season, the Iowa Hawkeyes were selected to play in the Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech. They defeated the Yellow-Jackets 24-14 in a game that was not as close as the score indicated, and they ended the year ranked seventh in the nation.
But it could have been an entirely different scenario if Iowa had not held on to win 17-16 during that opening day contest in Iowa City. The path for success came into focus against Northern Iowa when Iowa’s defense blocked two last second field goal attempts by the Panthers to save the win that afternoon and ultimately the football season in Iowa City.
The game against UNI led the defensive unit to recognize that it was up to them to salvage the season by holding down the opposition until the Iowa offense could crystallize. Norm Parker and his defensive stalwarts rolled up their sleeves and led the Big Ten in pass defense and pass efficiency defense, while ranking second in interceptions and third in scoring defense, total defense, and first downs allowed.
By the end of the season, nationally, Iowa was third in pass defense efficiency, fourth in pass defense, eighth in scoring defense, and first downs allowed and 10th in total defense.
Norm Parker, defensive coordinator for the University of Iowa, has created a dynasty of sorts in Iowa City with stellar defensive players populating the Iowa ranks on Saturday game days. Under Parker's direction, Iowa has ranked among the top 10 in the nation in rushing defense four times. Iowa has been in the top 10 in scoring defense in each of the past two seasons after ranking 12th in 2007.
Starting his 12th season under head coach Kirk Ferentz, the expectations for the 2010 season are high—very high, based on Norm Parker’s defense. For Iowa D equals Clayborn, Klug, Ballard, and Binns for starters.
Iowa lost three defensive starters to the NFL last season, and they are still predicted to contend for the Big Ten title in 2010. The line returns preseason favorite All American senior defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who will be joined on the line by another contender for top honors, senior defensive tackle Karl Klug.
Senior Christian Ballard will stand in again at defensive tackle along with junior defensive end Broderick Binns. The front four on Iowa’s defensive line will prove to be more than most offensive lines can handle. Add to that Ryan Donahue as one of the nation’s top punters as well as junior strong safety Tyler Sash, and you have a force to be reckoned with.
Iowa appears to enjoy a cornucopia of defensive specialists to make its season bright. Iowa could very well have the best defensive line in the country. But for Norm Parker, what you see on paper does not count until you send the defense into battle.
The difference, as Kirk Ferentz is quick to point out, between winning and losing can be very thin. The difference between mediocre and great can be one player.
Unless Iowa jells as a team on both offense and defense, individual players and their statistics do not mean much. But you have the feeling that with these coaches, Ferentz and Parker, this team will not only be ready, they will be eager to prove to the state and to the nation that this will be an Iowa team for the ages.
Sports Illustrated ranks the Iowa Hawkeyes at the No. 5 position in their preseason college football power rankings; ESPN selected Iowa in at the No. 9 spot; Sporting News threw the Hawkeyes in at the No. 13 slot—talk about unlucky! Athlon says that Iowa comes in at No. 12.
Overall, so far, it appears Iowa does not quite measure up to top 10 caliber, but not because of its defense. The reservations exist because of the offensive line which is going through a period of rebuilding.
There will be miles of press before the season gets underway, and like Norm Parker surely tells his players, it all depends on how you play game after game. A good season is won, not predicted.