After enduring a rough final month of the season, on the field and off, Iowa is looking to end a disappointing year on a high note with a win in the Insight Bowl. Its opponent, 10-2 Missouri, finished the season ranked 12th in the nation and nearly won the Big 12 North. Despite Iowa's suspensions and disappointing season, expect this to be a highly entertaining game.
10. Iowa will have solved its November woes
This game is going to go one of two ways for Iowa: either the Hawkeyes will band together after struggling for the last two months, or they will be completely out of sync.
It wouldn't be hard to predict the latter since "out of sync" basically describes Iowa's November, but the senior leadership on this team should have been able to work out their issues with over a month to prepare.
Kirk Ferentz teams are always ready for bowl games, regardless of their record (see 2006 Alamo Bowl) and don't expect to see anything different from a very talented squad, albeit with an underwhelming record.
9. The Hawkeyes will come out strong
One issue from 2009 that Iowa has been able to fix in 2010 is the ability to start fast. This year's Hawkeyes have jumped out to a lead on several occasions, even games they have lost.
The key this time, however, will be to keep piling on points, like Iowa did against Michigan State. The Missouri offense is very potent and the Hawkeyes can't afford to keep the Tigers in the game. Kirk Ferentz isn't very good at throwing in the dagger, but he may have to in order to leave the desert with a win.
8. Marcus Coker will rush for over 100 yards
This was supposed to be the year of the running back for Iowa, which had three experience and solid running backs returning. However, Brandon Wegher left the team before the season opener, Jewel Hampton was injured early in the season against Arizona, and Adam Robinson has been suspended for the bowl game.
So much for depth.
The rushing duties for the Insight Bowl will fall on true freshman Marcus Coker, who has rushed for over 400 yards this season, including 129 and 90 yards in starts against Indiana and Minnesota, respectively.
Coker is a big back who runs hard on every play, like a younger version of Shonn Greene. The bruising back from DeMatha, Maryland has a bright future as a Hawkeye and expect him to put on a show in the Insight Bowl, putting him in position for a significant amount of carries as a sophomore.
7. Marvin McNutt will have a career day
Since switching from quarterback to wide receiver, Marvin McNutt has become a top target for quarterback Ricky Stanzi. He quickly rose to the top of the depth chart and is known by fans for his acrobatic and clutch receptions.
With star receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos suspended for the bowl game, expect McNutt's role to increase significantly. He will be Stanzi's go-to receiver and will give the Iowa offense a taste of McNutt's role as a senior in 2012.
6. Adrian Clayborn will finally put up 2009 numbers
Although he claims he doesn't regret coming back in 2010, Adrian Clayborn has yet to put up the same kind of numbers that he accumulated in 2009. Yes, he was a consensus All-American, but his stats haven't backed up his contributions on the field.
Much of Clayborn's struggles have been due to double, and even triple teams that he sees game in and game out.
However, expect Clayborn showed the same kind of anger after the Minnesota loss that he did after the loss to Wisconsin. Like the Michigan State game, expect him to finally put up the stats that he did in 2009.
5. Blaine Gabbert will get his passing yards
Last year, the Iowa secondary, led by safety Tyler Sash, was a ball-hawking machine and gave even great opposing offenses nightmares.
However, the departure of corner Amari Spievey seems to have had a greater effect on the Hawkeyes than anticipated. Iowa ranks No. 55 in passing defense and has bent a bit too much this year in the "bend, but don't break" scheme.
The secondary has also struggled against solid passers who also have the ability to run, such as Northwestern's Dan Persa and Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor. Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert is mobile, just like those two, and also has an NFL-caliber arm. Expect him to rack up a decent chunk of yards. The game will be won based on how well Iowa can hold up against Gabbert in the red zone.
4. Missouri will struggle on the ground
The Missouri running game has been solid, but not overwhelming this year, as De'Vion Moore and Henry Josey have rushed for 485 and 425 yards, respectively. Gabbert has also been a significant factor in the rushing game, compiling 239 yards on the ground.
However, expect the Tigers' rushing offense to struggle. The Iowa defensive line has a clear physical advantage over the Missouri offensive line and expect one of the nation's most hyped units to return to dominant form in Tempe.
3. The linebackers will impress
Much like last year, when the Iowa linebackers were forced to step up against Georgia Tech's triple option offense, the middle of Iowa's defense will need to be at the top of its game against Missouri.
Gabbert's dual threat abilities will force the Hawkeye linebackers, particularly freshman middle linebacker James Morris, to stay alert and focused whenever Gabbert has the ball. Gabbert will rack up some passing yards against the Hawkeyes, but the linebackers will need to hold his mobility in check.
This is a young group of linebackers, with the exception of Jeremiah Hunter. However, they have improved with each game, and with a month to prepare in addition to Norm Parker's game plan, expect the linebackers to hold Gabbert's rushing abilities in check.
2. Ricky Stanzi will solidify his legacy
Despite the disappointing season, Ricky Stanzi will be remembered as one of Iowa's greatest quarterbacks of all-time. He was lightly recruited, but beat out a top prospect for the starting job in 2008. Since then, he has led the Hawkeyes to two January bowls, including a win in the Orange Bowl last season.
Although wins have been harder to come by this year, Stanzi has improved his stats tremendously. He has thrown for 2,804 yards and has 25 touchdowns, compared to only four interceptions. Statistically, this has been a career year for Stanzi, who erased any doubt of his chances to play in the NFL.
If Stanzi can get a win in Tempe, he will be the first Iowa quarterback to win three bowl games in his career. Expect him to do just that and solidify his legacy as a Hawkeye.
1. Iowa 27, Missouri 24
Everyone is predicting Iowa to lose this game because of the loss of Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. However, while DJK did make an impact, the Hawkeyes didn't live and die with his presence. Ironically, Iowa's best game, a 37-6 drubbing of Michigan State, was the only game DJK didn't have a reception.
Kirk Ferentz-coached teams are always ready for bowl games. Don't expect any different from this year's Hawkeye squad.
Iowa will jump out to an early 10-0 lead, but a Marcus Coker fumble will allow Missouri to get back into the game. Expect a surprisingly low-scoring 10-7 lead for Iowa at halftime.
Iowa will widen its lead again early in the second half, leading 27-17 until late in the fourth quarter. Missouri will get a touchdown, closing to within a field goal and the Iowa offense will stall, giving the Tigers the ball with three minutes left.
In a situation all too familiar to Hawkeye fans this season, Gabbert will drive down the field. This time, however, Iowa will come up with a big play to seal the game. The Hawkeyes will win their third straight bowl game and finally come up with a close win, something that has eluded them all season.