Big 10: The Favorites
According to the latest media poll regarding Big 10 Football, Ohio State is the preseason favorite to win the conference championship. What a revelation! It's about as surprising as the fact that Oklahoma is expected to do well.
Add to that the general consensus that once again the Big 10 is going to be a major disappointment in the BCS and you have assembled everything you need to know about the dreary football future for the Big 10 in 2009.
Sadly, we've all heard this news before. Every Big 10 season seems topped by Ohio State. The only traditional fact that has altered this perpetual scenario in the Big 10 is that once again Michigan is in a slump. Michigan State occupies the No. 3 spot instead of the Wolverines with Penn State predicted to come in at No. 2 in the standings.
For his sake, we can only hope that second-year coach Rich Rodriguez produces something better than a 3-9 season or he can wave goodbye to Big Blue and head back to West Virginia or worse.
The overpowering disappointment in reading all of the preseason hype is that once again everyone is overlooking the best Big 10 team at the end of 2008—the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Iowa’s defensive line, according to ESPN, is third behind Ohio State and Penn State. Of course, Iowa lost tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, both of whom were four-year starters. They return talented ends Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard, though. Clayborn is expected to win Big 10 honors this year.
70-year-old defensive coordinator Norm Parker will also find a way to plug the middle hopefully utilizing the talents of Karl Klug and Mike Daniels. Norm Parker assures that takeaways will flourish again for Iowa in 2009 just as they did in 2008, although the loss of King and Kroul will hurt Iowa’s defense against the run in the short-term.
The offensive line suffers with the departure of center Rob Bruggerman, but the rest of the line remains intact and Iowa will once again field a strong offensive line.
ESPN, to date, has ranked Iowa’s linebacker corps as second in the Big 10 behind Penn State. They cite Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds, both returning seniors, as team leaders. Angerer tied for the lead in interceptions in the Big 10 in 2008, and led the Hawkeyes on the field with 106 tackles.
The truth is that Iowa’s team is relegated once again to finish in the middle of the pack because they have a very tough road schedule.
Facing Iowa State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State on the road is a daunting task, no doubt. Iowa was 2-3 on the road last year, but they still managed to win six of their last seven games. They also triumphed in their New Year’s Day Outback Bowl Game embarrassing South Carolina 31-10.
Iowa, of course, owed much of its success to the best running back in the nation, Shonn Greene, who set records at Iowa and in the Big 10. An All-American in 2008, Greene won the Doak Walker Award, was Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year, and was a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award.
Greene was a third-round pick by the New York Jets (65th overall), posting school records of 1,850 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns last season.
Standing in Greene’s cleats will be a big task, but running back Jewel Hampton will attempt to do just that. Hampton gained 461 yards on 91 carries filling in for Greene as a backup. The coaching staff also has hopes for red-shirt freshman Jeff Brinson.
Iowa’s biggest weapon, however, must be returning quarterback Ricky Stanzi, whose rocky first part of 2008 provided a springboard for success for the rest of the season.
Once Coach Kirk Ferentz settled the quarterback question, inserting Stanzi into the starting lineup, the roller coaster ride began. Iowa won its first three games, then lost its next three. Finally, they ended the season by winning six of their last seven games with Stanzi firmly in charge.
His growth at the quarterback position will allow Stanzi to be a leader on the field, taking over where he left off at the end of last season. His experience under fire will go a long way to giving Iowa an edge they lacked early in 2008.
One of their wins was an upset of the highly ranked Penn State team slated to be the potential number one team in the country at the time. The win rocked the Big 10 to its proverbial core and sent the Hawkeyes on a winning binge.
We suspect that on September 26, folks in Happy Valley will be extremely nervous entertaining the Iowa Hawkeyes. That game alone could mark a turning point for the Iowa team—if they win it, the victory would take them to the top. If they lose, they might enjoy a fine season, but not a great one.
“We were a pretty good team last season,” according to Iowa Coach Ferentz, “As is usually the case when you’re a good team, you find yourself having to replace some people if you’re going to have another good team. But we definitely have a chance.”
We are waiting to see if the Hawkeyes can do it again in 2009. We believe they can...