In terms of expectations laid out for the Iowa Hawkeyes football team, this is undoubtedly one of the most enormous seasons in the university's history.
Iowa is ranked in the top 10 by the AP (9th), USA Today's Coaches Poll (10th), and Lindy's Sports' preseason poll (10th).
As if those rankings weren't enough, a couple bold ESPN employees raised the bar even further.
Lee Corso picked the Hawkeyes to claim the Big Ten title this season on College GameDay's preseason show, as did senior writer Ivan Maisel. But Maisel put his neck on the line by picking Iowa to lose to Alabama in the BCS national championship game.
Locally, the Hawkeye faithful are either drinking the Kool Aid or maintaining a cautiously optimistic outlook for the upcoming campaign. Predictions have ranged from 8-4 to 10-2, but not too many people are willing to accept one simple fact:
The Iowa Hawkeyes can live up to all expectations this year. Look at the schedule. Iowa will not enter a single game this season without a moderate-to-good chance of winning.
Anything less than a repeat two-loss season would be disappointing from this group. Last year, I made a prediction that some may have seen as a reach.
Turns out I was right.
Never one to settle, I, like Maisel, will keep reaching. I predict the Iowa Hawkeyes to run the table, going 12-0. The Hawks will take the Big Ten title, but I'm not sold on whether they will be able to get a bid for the BCS title game, even with a perfect record. But more on that some other time.
That's my prediction and I'll stand by it, though some will disagree.
They will say, and rightfully so, the Hawkeyes were only blocked FGs, blocked punts, tipped balls, missed tackles, etc. away from finishing 2009 with a much worse record.
What those people are forgetting, however, is that Iowa may have also been one play away from winning the Big Ten. Of course, nobody can ever determine whether Ricky Stanzi's injury would have saved Iowa from dropping games to Northwestern or Ohio State. But chances are good it would have made an impact.
Football, such as any other sport, is a game of inches. But getting each inch—making one play count—is a heck of a battle.
Point being, don't downplay Iowa's success last season and don't downplay its potential this season.
The Hawkeyes are minus three excellent offensive linemen, a true shut-down corner and almost an entire starting linebacker corps. Those are legitimate concerns for 2010. It's time to ease them.
Iowa's offensive line hasn't always been as solid as they were last season, but they've been passable. The squad even had growing pains last season before settling in. Riley Reiff and Julien Vandervelde will have to help ease the inevitable adjustments the rest of the young offensive line will need to go through before, hopefully, finding a rhythm down the stretch.
Returning playmakers such as Ricky Stanzi, Adam Robinson, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Marvin McNutt and adding a healthy Jewel Hampton to the mix will make some of the inevitable early mistakes from the young offensive line more forgivable. Those mistakes just can't continue come conference games.
Amari Spievey's jump to the NFL also creates a role that needs to be filled. Look for Tyler Sash, who's been named to the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list and a first team preseason all-Big Ten selection by Phil Steele to have more of an impact as teams throw the ball a little more often—and get picked off more often—now that Spievey is gone. There to help Sash will be Phil Steele second team all-Big Ten selections DB Shaun Prater and FS Brett Greenwood.
As for the linebacker position, Iowa will be fine. Yes, Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds were big playmakers and keys to the Iowa defense, but they can be replaced. Senior Jeremiah Hunter was second on the team with 89 tackles. He probably won't be so quiet about it this year and could be the next Iowa linebacker talked highly of come draft time.
The other factor that should lessen worries over Iowa's linebacking corps is that they're actually not all that young. Hunter and fellow starter Jeff Tarpinian are seniors, and so is Troy Johnson, who appears on the Hawkeyes' two-deep. In front of Johnson is junior Tyler Nielsen and behind Tarpinian is junior Bruce Davis, who could see playing time.
No, the linebacking corps doesn't have a lot of starting experience, but they're not inexperienced. Johnson saw action in all 13 games last season and Tarpinian played in 12. They collected 20 tackles a piece.
Johnson was named Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week after Iowa's 12-0 victory over Minnesota last season. In that game, his first ever start, Johnson recorded 11 tackles, one sack, one tipped pass and he forced and recovered a fumble.
Tarpinian has made a name for himself by delivering hits on special teams.
Like Tarpinian's decapitating of Daryl Stonum, the Hawkeyes will be sending shock-waves throughout the college football landscape this season.