This isn't what you think. I'm not going to predict how the team will finish the 2011 season or even how well they'll do within the conference. There's plenty of time to get to that after spring drills.
However, with national signing day recently behind us, some new faces joining the black and gold and some questions that will have to be answered this coming year; I'm going to make a few predictions of what I expect to transpire over the next football cycle.
1. Iowa's Defense Will Be Better Than Advertised
This prediction requires a little more explanation than I have time for in just one article. However, let's start with the belief that Iowa's defense isn't going to be discussed as widely as it was entering the 2010 season.
There's good reason for that, obviously. Iowa loses All-American DE Adrian Clayborn, longtime starter DT/DE Christian Ballard and All-Star safeties Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood. Ordinarily, when a team loses that kind of talent, it's reasonable to expect a significant drop-off in production.
Iowa should be no different, right? Not so fast, Skeeter.
Broderick Binns is back. While he's not Adrian Clayborn, Binns did have two batted passes, a forced fumble and an interception that he returned 20 yards for a touchdown in 2010. He also had 5.5 sacks in 2009 along with nine broken passes, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.
Helping solidify the line is breakout star Mike Daniels at tackle. Daniels had 4.0 sacks last year to go along with 40 tackles, despite spending a good portion of the season as a backup.
The secondary will have some issues to answer, no doubt. However, Micah Hyde and Shaun Prater both had four interceptions and combined for three touchdowns off those interceptions.
The linebacker corps dealt with a bunch of injuries that kept the unit off balance for much of the season. Jeff Tarpinian is lost to graduation along with Jeremiha Hunter.
However, James Morris looked very good with 70 tackles to his credit, along with a sack and four passes defended. Tyler Nielsen will also return (and hopefully stay healthy) to add to his totals of 43 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, an interception and four passes blocked in eight games.
The safety position will be a little tougher to lock down, but Iowa did land 4-star recruit Nico Law who could step in immediately and offer some spark at one of the team's most visible defensive positions.
Certainly, Iowa's defense likely won't come out looking like the top-rated unit we're used to, but there's very good reason to believe that it won't be bad, either.
2. The Run Game Will Be Amazing
Not much of a prediction, huh? Yeah, anyone who has paid any attention at all to Iowa football knows by now how talented Marcus Coker is and how dangerous he can be as a running back. So, I'm not breaking any big news or making any stretches here.
It's not just about Coker, though. Unless he's Barry Sanders, any running back worth his salt knows that success in a pro-style system requires a decent offensive line.
James Ferentz, along with Adam Gettis, Riley Reiff and Markus Zusevics all return to a line that got markedly better as the 2010 season went on. In addition to those veterans, Iowa has last year's 4-star recruit Andrew Donnal waiting somewhere in the wings, along with Nolan MacMillan (recruited two years ago).
In a nutshell, Iowa's offensive line is more experienced than it was entering last year and proved itself to be a real asset. With Coker running behind them and a slew of talented young recruits behind him, the rush attack should be phenomenal for the Hawkeyes this year.
3. At Least a Couple of True Freshmen Will See Meaningful Playing Time
Last year, it was Marcus Coker and James Morris. C.J. Fiedorowicz also saw a little time as a true freshman. The year before that, it was Brandon Wegher and Micah Hyde with Keenan Davis getting some quality looks (including a touchdown).
In nearly every situation (except maybe Keenan and C.J.'s), those players took the field by necessity. Injuries or other voids in the depth charts left the coaching staff with few choices but to throw those guys in to help the team out.
Looking at the depth issues and potential voids Iowa faces this coming year, there's little doubt that a true freshman or two could be called on again, to help Iowa.
Nico Law has already been mentioned, but deserves to be repeated here. With both Sash and Greenwood departing the team, Iowa is in serious demand for a couple of talented safeties. Law was a 4-star recruit out of Forestville, MD who committed to Iowa back in October.
Rodney Coe is another strong possibility if he plays at linebacker rather than running back. As mentioned before, Iowa does return Tyler Nielsen and James Morris at linebacker, but there's a real lack of depth and at least one starting position up for grabs. Coe is a 4-star recruit out of Edwardsville, IL as both a RB and OLB.
Given Iowa's needs, it wouldn't be a stretch at all to see Coe moved to the defensive side of the ball and seeing real action at linebacker as a true freshman.
Iowa also landed 4-star recruits Jordan Walsh (OG) and Darian Cooper (DT) along with one of the most talented classes in Kirk Ferentz's tenure at Iowa. Either of those guys could find their way onto the field this year and there may very well be a diamond in the rough somewhere in this class that will shine right away.
4. There Will Be a Fourth Consecutive Bowl Victory
Okay, I said I wasn't going to make any predictions about how the team would do in 2011. So, I lied. I couldn't resist.
Over the last three years, Iowa has had its share of ups and downs on the football field. From coming away victorious as "the Heart Attack Hawks" in 2009 to losing just as many heartbreakers in 2010's disappointing season, Iowa has been through it all.
One thing has remained consistent, though. They've won their bowl games.
In 2008, after a rough three-game meltdown early in the year against Pittsburgh, Northwestern and Michigan State (two of which were on the road), Iowa rallied to win five of its last six regular season games. Three of those wins included Wisconsin, Penn State (who can forget that one?) and a 55-0 drubbing at Minnesota. They capped it all off with a 31-10 beating of South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
In 2009, the Hawkeyes jumped out to their best start in school history, winning the first nine contests. In those wins were Arizona, Penn State on the road, Wisconsin and that last-second thriller over Michigan State.
The Hawks suffered consecutive losses to Northwestern and Ohio State (who they took into overtime) while missing starting QB Ricky Stanzi to a high ankle sprain. They rebounded though, to defeat Georgia Tech 24-14 in the Orange Bowl.
Finally, this last year, Iowa rode a roller coaster. The Hawkeyes dropped four close matches to Arizona, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Ohio State. They followed it up with an uninspired loss to Minnesota to end the year at 7-5.
Still, they got a shot at redemption by facing 10-2 Missouri in the Insight Bowl. Iowa capitalized on the opportunity, winning 27-24.
They have a strong offense coming back. Their defense has plenty of potential and the schedule isn't so tough that they can't navigate a winning record. The season would truly be a disappointment if Iowa doesn't at least repeat its 2010 record and get another shot at an extra game.
Kirk Ferentz and his staff do a wonderful job of preparing the troops for battle when they have a little extra time to work on a game plan. If I didn't just jinx them, they'll bring home another bowl trophy. If they don't, blame me. I can take it...
5. Next Year's Recruiting Class Will Be Pretty Special
You heard it here first. Remember that.
Looking at Scout.com, there are some pretty impressive potential recruits with their eyes on the Hawkeyes.
Dorial Green-Beckham is a 5-star WR out of Springfield, MO who is looking at Iowa along with Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Missouri, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and USC.
Think Iowa is a long shot for DGB? Don't forget that Rodney Coe chose Iowa over some of the very same competition, as did C.J. Fiedorowicz.
Eddie Goldman is another 5-star recruit out of Washington D.C. He has offers from practically every school in the nation. Okay, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but have you seen his listing on Scout? He's got some big choices to make, but Iowa's still on that long and distinguished list.
Noah Spence is still another 5-star recruit looking at Iowa. A DE out of Harrisburg, PA, Spence is also being recruited by Penn State and Pitt, but Iowa is on his early list.
There are three 5-star, eight 4-star and 38 3-star recruits with Iowa on their radar. Obviously, the Hawkeyes aren't going to land all of them. They may not get half.
Still, the potential is there for an outstanding class and Iowa's most recent class is one of its best in a very long time. That alone gives me hope that the Hawkeyes can land another great class, as long as they get it done on the field this fall.
It's a long time until the 2011 season kicks off. We've still got to get through spring drills and summer practices before we can toss the first coin. It's never too early to get excited though, and Iowa fans do have good reason to be excited.
Is it September yet?