The New Year is quickly approaching, which is good news for the Iowa Hawkeyes, who are looking for a fresh start.
The Hawkeyes came into the 2010 college football season with dreams of a national championship, but underachieved, finishing the year at 7-5 with a berth in the Insight Bowl.
Things could have been worse for Iowa (see Texas), but for a team hoping to make the jump from very good to great, 2010 was a punch in the gut. Here are 10 resolutions for the Hawkeyes that can help them regain their status as a top Big Ten team in 2011.
10. Be more creative on offense
While most Iowa fans are generally happy with their coaching staff, one consistent complaint is the predictability that the Hawkeyes display on offense.
Some of the whining is just out of frustration, but some of it is actually warranted. Offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe rarely lines up creative sets, and in an age of spread offenses and trick plays, Iowa is viewed as a team stuck in the dark ages.
As Kirk Ferentz stated earlier this week, nobody has a problem with the Hawkeyes' lack of creativity when they're winning. In fact, fans are typically proud of Iowa's vanilla scheme. However, mixing it up a little more wouldn't hurt.
O'Keefe noted during Insight Bowl prep that "the casual observer wouldn't notice," but Iowa has actually opened things up more this year.
And although the scheme works a majority of the time, Iowans would like it to be changed up just a little bit more on some occasions; just enough for the casual observer to be able to notice.
9. Get off the drugs
Sorry, I just had to throw that in there.
No, the majority of the Iowa football team is not doing drugs, as outlined by Ferentz and athletic director Gary Barta in a recent press conference following the Iowa drug scandal.
It was, in fact, an "isolated incident."
However, Iowa now has a perception across the country, albeit a misleading one, that it doesn't have control of its football program.
There is no doubt that rumors will begin again and Ferentz will receive the same criticisms he did following a string of arrests in 2007, and Iowa's athletic department needs to put an end to them right away.
The Hawkeye program tends to be as politically correct as possible and beats around the bush. But this time, Ferentz and his staff need to approach this problem head on and tackle it before any more rumors can start.
8. Put teams away
Because it runs such a conservative approach, Iowa tends to allow opponents to stay in games for too long. This has cost them on a couple of occasions this year, namely against Northwestern.
Because O'Keefe rarely throws in the dagger when he can, Iowa is often forced to scramble to keep a lead late in the game.
This was the case against Northwestern when All-Big Ten quarterback Dan Persa led a 14-point fourth quarter comeback to beat the Hawkeyes 21-17.
Although it involves taking risks, Iowa's coaching staff must learn to be more aggressive late in games so it can put teams away for good.
7. Own the fourth quarter
In 2009, the fourth quarter was Iowa's time to shine.
The Hawkeyes became famous for their fourth quarter comebacks, rallying to beat Northern Iowa, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana late in the game.
In 2010, however, the script was much different.
Iowa typically got out to an early lead, but on five occasions, couldn't hold on in the fourth quarter. The offense would go three-and-out, the defense couldn't hold, and the offense couldn't come back to win.
In 2011, Iowa needs to perform when the pressure is on and return to the clutch form that it had in 2009. If it doesn't expect the string of close losses to continue.
6. Beat Northwestern
Some teams just own others. There's no way to explain it.
Iowa has been on both sides of that phenomenon, as it has owned Penn State throughout the past decade, but continually lost to Northwestern.
Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats have declared the Iowa game a rivalry and have come out fired up for that game, regardless of either team's record, while the Hawkeyes have typically been flat.
It's hard to view Northwestern as a rival, but now that the teams share the same division, Iowa needs to embrace its new rivalry with the Wildcats in order to pull out a win.
It may sound crazy, but that may be the only way the Hawkeyes can bring enough fire to win.
5. Embrace the Nebraska rivalry
With Nebraska's entrance into the Big Ten, the Iowa-Nebraska rivalry finally has a chance to begin.
The game has all the makings of a great rivalry—border states, proud programs, huge fan bases, passionate fans—and the Big Ten apparently agrees, placing the game on the final weekend of the season.
With the loss of the ultra-competitive Wisconsin rivalry, Iowa needs to embrace its new border rivalry and help it become one of the major games in college football.
The Hawkeyes are already a major product within Iowa and, to an extent, within the Midwest. However, building this rivalry will "move the needle" nationally and it could become a huge TV draw and a staple on Thanksgiving weekend.
4. Protect James Vandenberg
Although Ricky Stanzi has provided some scares for Iowa fans throughout his career, the Hawkeyes have been blessed to have him at the helm for the past three years.
He led Iowa to two straight January bowls and brought Iowa football back from mediocrity.
From the little we have seen of James Vandenberg, he looks like he will be an adequate replacement for Stanzi. He has a solid arm, makes good decisions, and is an accurate passer. However, Iowa can't expect him to put up Stanzi-like numbers right away.
But in order to get the best out of Vandenberg, Iowa's offensive line has to do a better job than it did this year.
Four out of the Hawkeyes' five offensive linemen will be back next season, which should help bring some experience to an inexperienced offense. The offensive unit will have talent, as does Vandenberg, but in order to make sure the unit performs to the best of its ability, the Hawkeye offensive line must return to the form of the Kirk Ferentz units of old.
3. Stabilize the running game
Coming into 2010, Iowa's rushing attack was supposed to be the deepest in the Big Ten. Brandon Wegher, Adam Robinson, and Jewel Hampton all had game experience and all showed potential in separate situations.
However, Wegher left the team before the season, Hampton tore his ACL in the Arizona game—his second such injury in two years—and has since transferred, and Robinson is out for the Insight Bowl for "failing to meet team expectations."
That leaves freshman Marcus Coker in charge of rushing duties against Missouri.
Coker has shown promise in his action throughout the season, which has mainly come in the latter half of the year. He's a big bruising back, like a young Shonn Greene, and has potential to become Iowa's featured back in 2011, especially with a strong showing in the Insight Bowl.
Robinson will be invited to rejoin the team, according to Ferentz, and he and Coker could become a solid one-two punch. Rodney Coe, a 2011 recruit, could also join the mix.
But regardless of what Iowa's running situation is, it must figure out each player's role soon. After two years of uncertainty, stability is the most important factor in the Hawkeyes' backfield.
2. Overachieve again
Iowa teams always have a knack for defying expectations, whether those be good or bad.
Typically, Iowa teams overachieve, starting the season unranked or ranked near the bottom of the top 25, and end it in a January bowl.
However, twice in Kirk Ferentz's tenure—2005 and 2010—when Iowa had a chance to be a really special team, it failed to meet expectations.
Because of a failed 7-5 season, Iowa will once again be overlooked by the national media. This is just where Ferentz likes his team, out of the spotlight.
But in order to gain respect again, Iowa must do what Iowa does best—overachieve once again.
1. Regain the "will to win"
After a loss to 3-9 Minnesota in the regular season finale, Adrian Clayborn summed up the Hawkeyes' regular season in six words.
"We lost our will to win."
In 2009, Iowa was the team that always found a way to win, no matter what the odds were. In 2010, it was the team that always found a way to win.
Blame can't be placed on one person or one group. The players gave up in some instances and in many cases, the coaches didn't play to win, but instead played "not to lose."
Talent can only get a team so far, and in many close games—those are the only games its seems Iowa knows how to play—that will is the only different between winning and losing.
Iowa had talent in 2010, and it will in 2011 as well. But in order to turn next year into success, the Hawkeyes must regain that fire and competitive edge that they showed in 2009.
They must regain their "will to win."
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