Replacing: Adam Robinson
Experience: Coker got extensive playing time throughout the final six contests for Iowa in 2010. All said and told, he got 114 carries on the season, picking up 622 yards (5.46 avg.) and three scores. Coker had three games with 20 or more carries and had 16 touches against Michigan State.
Upside: It's something of a misstatement to say that Coker is replacing Adam Robinson. He's already done that. When Robinson was injured midway through last season, Coker stepped in almost seamlessly. After Robinson got into a little legal trouble, Coker became the uncontested starter for Iowa's bowl game against Missouri.
Speaking of that game, it's worth repeating just how well Coker did in that match. As a true freshman, Coker bruised the Tigers to the tune of 219 yards on 33 carries (6.64 avg.) and two touchdowns.
Marcus has already demonstrated that he's capable of carrying a large portion of the offense. As noted above, he's had at least four opportunities to be a major part of the offensive production. During that time, he's proved to be relatively durable and consistent.
It also bares noting that Coker averaged 7.78 yards per carry against Ohio State's stiff run defense last year. Unfortunately, that number has to be tempered by the fact that he only carried the ball nine times in that game (what were you thinking O'Keefe?). He's shown that he's not just a one-trick pony that shines against weaker run defenses.
Downside: Now I've got to contradict myself a little. Yes, he did put up a decent average against Ohio State and he did have an offensive MVP performance in the Insight Bowl.
However, keep these numbers in mind (since they tend to get overlooked):
40—the number of yards Coker put up against Michigan State in 16 attempts (2.50 avg.)
90—yards gained at Minnesota in 21 attempts (4.29 avg.)
2—number of 100+ yard games out of seven games played (not started, but participated in)
Also, keep in mind that Coker's two 100+ yard games came against Indiana and Missouri. Neither of those teams are known for having stifling run defenses (80th and 62nd respectively, nationally).
Ohio State's run defense was very good (third nationally), but Coker only had nine carries. Could he have sustained that kind of production if he'd had to carry the ball 15 or 20 times? It's doubtful.
The games where Coker's numbers really look impressive (Ball State, Indiana, Ohio State and Missouri), he either a) faced weak run defenses, or b) didn't get enough carries to accurately evaluate what he might have done through a full game.
Impact Statement: Marcus Coker is a bruising back that reminds many Iowa fans of Doak Walker Award recipient Shonn Greene. He's big, powerful, and unafraid to take defenders head-on.
However, he doesn't get as low at impact as Greene did and has struggled for yards as many times as he's blasted for big gains.
If Coker can come back looking more like the freak-of-nature that he did against Missouri than the "eh, okay" back he did against Minnesota, then Iowa's offense will be fine. Much like 2008 when Greene shined, Iowa can rely heavily on Coker to be the foundation of the Hawkeye attack.
On the other hand, if he struggles as much as he did in the Michigan State game, Iowa will have to rely more heavily on James Vandenberg and the pass attack. It's never a great thing when a team like Iowa has to be pass-heavy.
What's more, Coker's health has to be a concern. He's not shown any signs of wear or tear, but the more he carries the ball, the more he'll be subjected to injury-inducing hits. Who else on the squad can provide such a solid foundation for Iowa?
Coker will set the tone for the entire offense. If he succeeds, Iowa's offense will be a force to take seriously. If he falters, Iowa will have to rely very heavily on an untested pass attack and a defense that lost a ton of star-quality personnel.