Okay, so the year hasn't turned out as we'd hoped.
For me, it is less a matter of the overall record than the way we got to that overall record. On the other hand, it could be a lot worse. Nobody can say this team isn't playing hard. We haven't reverted back to 2006.
Regardless, this has been a strange year. There is one game left in the season. It is against Minnesota and Iowa should win the game handily. Nevertheless, with 11 games down, I'm still not entirely sure what this team is made of.
I'm not going to bother going into the matchups with Minnesota, because on paper, this one is no contest.
However, I am going to point out five questions that we're left with as we close the books on the 2010 season. I am also going to point out five things (or more specifically, players or groups of players) to be particularly excited about as we look ahead.
First of all, let's start with statistics.
Stanzi's best game of the season—efficiency rating-wise—was against Michigan State. Against Sparty, he had a rating of 245.43.
Before Indiana, his worst game had been against Arizona, where his rating was 149.25. It also has to be noted that his rating in that game was knocked down considerably by an interception that was off his receiver's hands.
At Indiana, his rating was 144.43. At Northwestern, he had a rating of 122.63. Against Ohio State, 128.
Over this three-game skid, some have said he resembled Ricky Stanzi of old, but I don't think that's accurate. Rather, I think he has been more reminiscent of Jake Christensen, Iowa's starting quarterback in 2007.
Stanzi has looked scared to make mistakes (and thus, he has looked indecisive), he has looked uncomfortable in the pocket, and he has had happy feet.
Last year's Ricky Stanzi was a lot of things, but he was, it seemed, fearless. Of course, this led to plenty of boneheaded decisions to go along with his multiple miraculous fourth quarter comebacks.
Over the last three games, it has seemed like Stanzi has often thrown to his checkdown receiver before even giving his primary receivers a chance to get open.
In the end, I don't know what the problem has been.
However, when one considers the late career/season regression or stagnation of Iowa's last three starting quarterbacks, it does lend some degree of weight to the argument that the Hawks should devote one of its valued full-time coaching positions strictly to the signal caller.
One of the more pleasant surprises of the year has been the development of the offensive line.
This group in its fully healthy form, consists of two sophomores, one senior and two juniors. They began the season with the fewest returning O-line starts in the Big Ten. They were also 106th in the nation in that category.
Nevertheless, they have really come together as the season has worn on. Certainly, they have been nowhere near the best unit in the conference, but given their inexperience, one couldn't have expected them to be.
What they have done is a fair job of protecting quarterback Ricky Stanzi. They have also made enough room for the Hawks' top three rushers to average 4.72 yards per carry. This is despite the fact that, as usual, teams have blitzed mercilessly on passing downs and loaded the box to take away Iowa's running game.
It is true there have been some notable late game breakdowns for this crew. However, for the most part the job they have done has been solid.
This bodes well for next year, as there will be five experienced lineman returning. This will form a very solid foundation for the 2011 offense.
That is the largest group of seniors Kirk Ferentz has had, and to the best of my knowledge, it's not all that close.
Amongst those seniors, you've got DJK; the career record holder for both receptions and yards receiving.
You've got Ricky Stanzi, who will finish his career with more passing yards than any Iowa signal caller outside of Chuck Long and Drew Tate.
There is also Brett Greenwood who, heading into the Minnesota game, has 11 interceptions in his career.
Julian Vandervelde, Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, Ryan Donahue, Karl Klug.
Those are names that Iowa fans have grown used to, and after this year they won't be around anymore.
If the Hawks beat Minnesota and win their bowl game, that will be 29 wins over the past three seasons. That would be enough to tie for the second-best three year stretch in school history. No matter how their senior season went, that is not too shabby.
In Kirk Ferentz's system, experience is often king, and this group had as much experience as any group Ferentz is ever likely to graduate.
It's certainly bittersweet to watch them go, but more to the point, how will Ferentz replace a group of seniors and leaders this strong? And will he ever have this much experience again?
There is no denying that the Iowa defense has had problems at the linebacker position this season.
Firstly, two of the three starters, as well as one key reserve have been lost for the year. Secondly, the linebackers were struggling even before the injuries.
Due to those injuries, true frosh James Morris has stepped in as Iowa's starting MIKE linebacker.
Since taking over as full-time starter against Michigan State, Morris has averaged 10 tackles per game.
Right now, nobody is going to mistake his play for past Hawk MIKE's Pat Angerer or Abdul Hodge. However, remember that Angerer didn't become the starter until his fourth year on campus. Hodge took over during his third year.
This is Morris's true freshman year. As Norm Parker has said about past true freshmen, not even 12 months ago, Morris was still taking the yellow bus to school.
Morris has occasionally looked the part of a true freshman in coverage. Furthermore, although he is listed as 6'2", 215 pounds, he has some filling out to do.
Despite this, he has shown an amazing nose for the ball, incredible sideline-to-sideline speed, an ability to shed blocks and preternatural football instincts.
Is it going a bit far to say that Morris will be an All-American in two years? Maybe, but as long as he stays healthy, I will stand behind that prediction.
One of the biggest surprises this year has been kicker, true freshman and walk-on Michael Meyer.
The first reason he has been surprising is just the fact that he is playing. Iowa is currently carrying two scholarship kickers: senior Daniel Murray and sophomore Trent Mossbrucker. Both have starting experience.
Last year's starter Murray was injured at the beginning of the season, but has since gotten healthy. Mossbrucker was the starting kicker until Meyer took his job following the Arizona game. However, Meyer's redshirt was pulled during the first game of the year, as he has been the kickoff man since game one.
Meyer is 11 of 14 on field goals for a 78.5 percentage. He has also missed two key extra points.
Perhaps these are not stellar numbers until you consider the following: Nate Kaeding had a 63.6 field goal percentage during his freshman year. He was only good on 72.7 percent his sophomore year.
Also, the only kicker that has kicked for over 80 percent since 2005 has been the aforementioned Mossbrucker in 2008. However, he did not finish the year as the starter, did not handle kickoff duties and has always had questionable distance on his kicks.
Hopefully, Meyer will be the keystone of the first remotely steady Iowa kicking game since Kyle Schlicher's junior year in 2005.
Maybe its time the Iowa coaching staff revisits the way it approaches special teams.
After all, I can't remember the last time the Iowa special teams, from top-to-bottom, has been a positive for the Hawkeyes.
Actually, I can remember: It was 2004.
I don't mean to say that the Hawk special teams have consistently been a liability for Iowa, the way they were against Arizona this season. Furthermore, it is worth pointing out some of the bigger special teams plays over the last few years, including Andy Brodell's 2008 punt return against Iowa State, and Adrian Clayborn's 2009 blocked punt against Penn State.
Nevertheless, as previously noted, Iowa hasn't really had a consistent kicking game since 2005.
In the end, I'm not saying that Iowa has had bad special teams. I'm saying that top-to-bottom, they have been average to slightly-above-average. The question is, is that good enough?
Under Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes have depended upon superior special teams to give them an edge over teams with more offensive and defensive firepower. That was one of the keys to success of the 2002-2004 Hawks. That was also something that was specifically missing between 2005-2007, and what was often in short demand this season.
If Iowa is to regain the consistent edge they have had in the past, perhaps the key lies in reinvigorated special teams play.
I am not going to pile it on about how Ferentz has to switch to a spread offense, or become a blitzing team, etc.
I have said many times that I am a strict adherent of Ferentz's conservatism, and I believe the consistency of his conservatism has been a strength of the program.
Nevertheless, if this past season shows one thing, it is that Ferentz has got to be more flexible. This has been no more evident than with Iowa's defense.
Its struggles have been well documented. I do not think Iowa has to adjust its overall defensive philosophy. The issues they have had this season do not discount the success they have had over the past 10 years.
The fact is, Iowa's bend-don't-break, Tampa 2 defense is effective. Ten years worth of statistics bear that out.
But what happens when the front four just aren't creating pressure? What happens when a team's offense is specifically built to beat your defense (like Northwestern)?
The Hawks need some sort of backup plans. In the end, when push comes to shove, they can't afford to consistently allow teams to convert third and fourth downs for want of a pass rush.
If the defensive line isn't getting the job done in that capacity, Ferentz and company have to figure out some other way to do it.
I know, we said the same thing last year. Iowa will be three-deep at tailback. Yet, by the fourth week of the season, we were down to one.
Nevertheless, it's hard to look at this group and not get excited.
First of all, there is the lightning—Jewel Hampton. He is the speedster of the bunch, and the most likely to get the big plays.
Then there is the thunder—Marcus Coker. At 230 pounds, he looks more like a typical Wisconsin back.
Finally, there is the inexplicably strange weather patterns of Adam Robinson. He's not terribly fast, he's not terribly big, he doesn't have great burst. He just carries the mail.
Of course, all of this is predicated on Jewel coming back from his second ACL tear and A-Rob returning from what seems to be his second concussion in less than a month.
However, if all three are healthy and playing next year, think about opposing teams having to prepare for that bunch.
James Morris, Tanner Miller, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Anthony Hitchens, Marcus Coker, B.J. Lowery, Christian Kirksey, Don Shumpert, Michael Meyer.
The last time Iowa burned this many redshirts was 2007, when they burned 11.
Let's look back at that group, and that team. In 2007, Iowa wound up 6-6 and bowl-less for the first time since 2000. That was an extremely inexperienced group, that, more relevantly, also had a short supply of bodies.
Much of this was due to the attrition of the 2005 class. Thirteen of that 24-man class never walked onto Kinnick Field on Senior Day. Different players left the team for different reasons, but what was important was that many of them had already departed by 2007.
This left a shorthanded Iowa squad that had to press a number of players into action; some before they were ready.
In contrast, the 2010 squad doesn't have that issue. Certainly, players have come and gone, but the 2008 and 2009 classes have not seen any mass defections.
In effect, I guess we're left to wonder, have those 2008 and 2009 players not been developing as the coaches would have liked? Is this 2010 class that good? Is it just a matter of taking preemptive steps to replace this year's huge graduating class (many of who were amongst those 2007 true frosh)?
Right now, the Big Ten co-leaders in interceptions are Brett Greenwood and Shaun Prater. Both have four picks.
Tied for third with three picks is true sophomore and first-year starter Micah Hyde.
Meanwhile, Tyler Sash has two picks and 13 in his career.
Certainly, this group has had breakdowns this year, but they have created turnovers.
Looking ahead, the only one of the group that will graduate is Brett Greenwood. That will be a huge loss. Compounding that loss is the fact that outside of Greenwood, Iowa has no experience at the free safety position.
Greenwood's current backup is true freshman Tanner Miller. Miller has held the backup position for much of the season. However, redshirt sophomore Jack Swanson started the year as Greenwood's understudy.
Whoever does wind up replacing Greenwood, he will have some substantial shoes to fill. Nevertheless, if he is up to the job, Iowa should have one of the best secondaries in the conference in 2011.
This could make things much easier on a front seven that will graduate a number of multi-year starters.