With 2011 in the books, it's time to focus on 2012.
Next year looks to be something of a rebuilding year for the Hawks. It's hard to say that following a 7-6 season, but one of the key issues that plagued Iowa last season does not appear to be solved. Specifically, the Hawks went into last year with questions regarding the defensive line—questions that ultimately were justified.
Next season, the Hawkeyes will once again replace three starters. Making the matter worse, the one full-time returning starter—Dominic Alvis—will be coming off a late-season ACL tear. He will likely be cleared to play by September, but he probably won't be 100 percent.
The good news is there is talent and experience in the linebacking corps and on the offense.
The bad news is Kirk Ferentz has historically had the bad habit of squandering offensive talent.
Moreover, Iowa will be without erstwhile defensive coordinator Norm Parker. What will the new-look defense do differently, if anything? Can the new DC come close to replicating Parker's success?
On paper, this doesn't look like a team that will compete for a division or conference championship. On the other hand, it does look like it could manage eight to nine wins, given that it will face a soft out-of-conference schedule.
It all comes down to what Ferentz does with his offense. Will an extra staff member make a difference on special teams, and what kind of changes—for better or worse—will the new defensive coordinator implement?
In bold signifies returning starter.
In bold with asterisk signifies multi-year returning starter.
In italics signifies returning all-conference player.
For my purposes, "returning starters" have started four or more games in their careers.
QB: James Vandenberg (Sr.), Jake Rudock (RFr.)
RB: Jordan Canzeri (So.)/ Greg Garmon (TrFr.), De'Andre Johnson (So.)
FB: Brad Rogers (Jr.), Jonathan Gimm (Sr.)
WR1: Keenan Davis (Sr.), Steven Staggs (Sr.)
WR2: Kevonte Martin-Manley (So.), Don Shumpert (Jr.)
TE1: C.J. Fiedorowicz (Jr.), Jake Duzey (RFr.)
TE2: Zach Derby (Sr.), Ray Hamilton (So.)
LT: Brandon Scherff (So.), Andrew Donnal (So.)
LG: Nolan MacMillan (Jr.), Jordan Walsh (RFr.)
C: James Ferentz (Sr.)*, Conor Boffeli (Jr.)
RG: Matt Tobin (Sr.), Drew Clark (Jr.)
RT: Brett Van Sloten (Jr.), Andrew Donnal (So.)
WDE: Dominic Alvis (Jr.), Melvin Spears (RFr.) / Shane DiBona (Jr.)
DT: Darian Cooper (RFr.), Carl Davis (So.)
DT: Mike Hardy (So.), Joe Gaglione (Sr.) / Steve Bigach (Sr.)
SDE: Steve Bigach (Sr.), Louis Trinca-Pasat (So.)
WLB: Christian Kirksey (Jr.), Anthony Hitchens (Jr.)
MLB: Quinton Alston (So.), Marcus Collins (So.)
SLB: James Morris (Jr.)*, Tom Donatell (Sr)
CB: Micah Hyde (Sr.)*, Greg Castillo (Sr.)
CB: B.J. Lowery (Jr.), Jordan Lomax (So.)
FS: Tanner Miller (Jr.), Jack Swanson (Sr.)
SS: Nico Law (So.), Collin Sleeper (Sr.)
K: Mike Meyer (Jr.)*, Marshall Koehn (RFr.)
P: Connor Kornbrath (TrFr.)
LS: Casey Kreiter (Jr.)
KR: Jordan Canzeri (So.), Kevonte Martin-Manley (So.)
PR: Damon Bullock (So.), Kevonte Martin-Manley (So.)
Also, the following lists the most likely candidate for some of Iowa's situational substitutions.
I will note that I had no problem with many of Norm Parker's tendencies, including not blitzing and
playing the same basic scheme regardless of the situation.
One issue I did have was always keeping his base defense on the field, even in obvious passing downs. Needless to say, five or six defensive backs can play a Cover 2 scheme just as adequately as three linebackers. I hope the new DC is more willing to play with his personnel groupings.
LB/S hybrid in Iowa's 3-3-5 or 4-2-5 alignment: Tom Donatell (Sr.)
Extra LB in 3-4-4 alignment: Morris will move inside and Hitchens (Jr.) will come in as outside backer.
Fifth DB: Castillo (Sr.)
Sixth OL: Boffeli (Jr.), Donnal (So.) or Walsh (RFr.)
Third WR in 3-1-1 sets: Martin-Manley (So.) moves to the slot and Shumpert (Jr.) moves to the outside.
In empty backfield sets, Davis, KMM and Shumpert line up, C.J. Fed flexes out and the running back lines up as a receiver.
I wouldn't be surprised if Hamilton changes position, which is why I feel Duzey is more likely to wind up as the third tight end. If Hamilton stays at tight end, he will be No. 3.
I expect the coaches to do a lot of shuffling with the linebackers. There are currently too many talented sophomore and junior linebackers with too few defensive ends and tight ends.
Provided Nolan MacMillan gets healthy, I expect Scherff, Donnal, Van Sloten and MacMillan to push hard for starting positions. However, it is difficult to say who will wind up at the open tackle positions and who will wind up at guard.
Finally, as is obvious, I expect true freshman Greg Garmon to gain immediate playing time. Moreover, running back depth is predicated on the current players on the roster. At this point, it's hard to believe they won't all transfer before August.