With such high expectations for the 2010 Iowa Hawkeye Football team, the non-conference schedule in September takes on slightly more significance than normal.
These contests will serve as more than warm-up games for Big Ten Conference play.
Each and every non-conference opponent can burst the Hawkeye dream of winning the Big Ten with a shot at playing in a BCS Championship Bowl, maybe even for the National Championship.
These are the first four games of the season––four games that Iowa must win to get off to the start they need heading into Conference play. Do they have the right stuff to beat these four teams?
September 4th - Eastern Illinois at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City
The Eastern Illinois Panthers enter the season with a National FCS Ranking of 18. They had an 8-4 record in 2009 and made an appearance in the FCS playoffs.
The Panthers belong to the Ohio Valley Conference and in 2009 they won the conference title, going 6-2. They will come into the 2010 season without an experienced quarterback at the helm, although sophomore Brandon Large is expected to get the nod to start on September 4 against Iowa’s vaunted defense.
But Large should find some security in the fact that he has a seasoned surrounding cast, including all-conference offensive line center Willie Henderson. The offense is anchored by running back, Mon Williams in his senior season. Last year Williams had 191 carries, gaining 870 yards, scoring nine touchdowns.
Coach Bob Spoo, starting his 23rd season at Eastern Illinois, considers the Panthers real contenders this year with depth and experience at many key positions.
The Panthers return 15 starters––seven on offense and eight on defense. Senior C.J. James, the Panthers starting cornerback leads the defense with 44 tackles and 5 interceptions in 2009.
Their linebacker corps is also largely intact as they return to 4-3 with senior linebacker Nick Nasti as their leading tackler. The Eastern Illinois Panthers are predicted to finish as No. 1 in the Conference again this year according to the Sports Network.
The Panthers are not strangers to visiting the Big Ten on the road. Last year Eastern Illinois visited Big 10 Rival Penn State losing 3-52 in Happy Valley––not a very happy conclusion––but certainly not unexpected.
With the memory of playing Northern Iowa weighing heavily on the minds of the Hawkeye players and coaches, Iowa should have no problem winning their first non-conference game of the season played at Kinnick Stadium before a stadium packed with Iowa fans. Iowa will not, however, take this team for granted.
September 11th - Iowa State at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City
It will be a real shame if the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry ceases once the Big Ten Conference realigns because it is a special weekend for Iowa fans as families divide for the game with different loyalties to support––but reunite to celebrate!
Last year Ricky Stanzi had one game in the first half and then another, better game in the second half in Ames as the Hawkeyes traveled across Interstate 80 to reach Jack Trice Stadium.
In the first half, Stanzi was not sharp, throwing errant passes that allowed for missed opportunities or resulting in interceptions. The running game was seemingly stalled until the freshmen could develop.
Much of the offense was spent airing it out but the running game grew during the game, gaining much needed yardage. Stanzi improved and the defense came up big with Cyclone turnovers and miscues.
Iowa State improved under the direction of new head coach Paul Rhoades, ending with a winning season and an upset win over Nebraska in Lincoln, no less. The Clones played the Minnesota Gophers and won the Insight Bowl in December of 2009.
There is much promise on this Iowa State team which returns almost all their offensive personnel from last year including QB Austen Arnaud––who has another year of experience under his belt with the new spread offense. Adam Robinson returns as running back and the offensive line has much experience and some depth.
The question for the Iowa State team is defense. Unless their defense jells quickly, expect Iowa to leave them exposed and scored upon. Iowa’s defense should be able to ruffle this Clone offense. Iowa will win this one at home.
September 18th - At Arizona Stadium in Tucson
The Hawkeyes must travel to Arizona for this ball game, which has Iowa fans nervous. Playing any team in the PAC Ten always tends to make the Iowa faithful a little queasy after more than forty years of Rose Bowl defeats going back to the days when the Rose Bowl was the culmination of the season in both conferences.
Last year Iowa won 27-17 in Iowa City defeating the Mike Stoops coached team––Stoops who played and coached at Iowa as a young man.
Arizona scored by intercepting a Stanzi pass, kicking a field goal and by scoring a touchdown on a pass play as the clock ticked down to just under two minutes. Otherwise, their offense was pretty much shut down by the Iowa defense––against an Arizona team with a reputation for rushing prowess.
Iowa ran it in three times and kicked two field goals. All in all, a satisfying day.
Arizona this year returns seven starters from their offense including their offensive line as well as their QB Nick Foles.
The offense will also be bolstered by two stalwart running backs with senior Nic Grigsby and junior Keola Antolin––both who compiled 1000-yard seasons in their careers. Their running styles complement each other and contribute to a powerful running game.
The Wildcat defense seems a little less steady with a depleted linebacker corps. There will be some rebuilding required before the defense hums again. This game should prove to be the first big test for Iowa in the 2010 season.
Expect Iowa’s defense to hold down the running game upon which the Wildcat offense is built and expect Iowa’s offense to take advantage of the weaker Arizona defense. Iowa will win this game but it will be close.
September 25th - At Ball State at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City
The Ball State Cardinals will travel to Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes. Last year was not a good year for Ball State as they went 2-10, 2-6 in the MAC West.
Coach Stan Parrish feels that the team gained some valuable experience in 2009 and he hopes the team can capitalize on that to build toward better results in 2010.
The Cardinals return nine starters on offense and seven on defense, so they have a solid basis for improvement based on experience. The key for the offense is their offensive line. They need to improve in that area vastly in order to allow the offense to flow.
If the line cannot hold, then it could be another very long season for Ball State.
On defense while the front line seems solid, the secondary needs to find some incoming talent to fill the gaps left by graduation. There appear to be more questions than answers when considering the football future of the Ball State Cardinals.
Coming into Iowa City, the Hawkeyes should have no trouble defeating this team––the last of the non-conference foes before welcoming the Penn State Nittany Lions into Kinnick the following week.
Knowing the coaching staff, the Hawkeyes will not be looking ahead to Penn State. They will pay special attention to the Ball State Cardinals as their last non-conference foe in before Big Ten Conference play. At this stage, Iowa should be 4-0.