Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Who are the Iowa Hawkeyes?

[Full Disclosure: I graduated from Iowa]

If I were to personify the Iowa Hawkeyes, I'd see the team as either The Riddler from Batman or Matthew Lesko, the "get free money from the government" guy because this team is literally covered in question marks. Can Jake Christensen live up to his recruiting hype? Does the offensive line actually exist? Who, if anyone, will emerge at running back? Can any of the receivers stay healthy (or on the team)? Is the defense good enough to carry the offense? Over/Under .500 in field goal percentage?

I remember the high point of New Year's Day 2005. The Hawkeyes had just beaten an LSU team with the likes of JaMarcus Russell, Joseph Addai, Early Doucet, and Dwayne Bowe on a hail mary to win the Capital One Bowl. And, only a month later, the Hawks would sign one of the best recruiting classes in the nation (and certainly in school history). Iowa fans were on cloud 9 and believed it was time for Iowa to go from a respected member of the BigTen, competing for a conference title every now-and-then, to a powerhouse, joining Michigan and Ohio State in the conference's upper echelon.

Oh how things have changed. The Hawkeyes are 19-17 since then. And that illustrious 2005 recruiting class...a total bust. The majority of the class doesn't even play football for Iowa due to academic problems, transfers, and career-ending injuries. From there, the problems only get worse. You name it, it's gone wrong in Iowa City:

Sex Scandal? Check.

Theft/Credit Card Fraud? Check.

Numerous Underage Drinking Violations? Check.

Natural Disasters? Check.

To be honest, if not for some real cupcake opponents since 2004-2005, the Hawks wouldn't be anywhere near .500. So where do they go from here? Kirk Ferentz insists the off-the-field issues are being dealt with, and so far, there haven't been many new problems (having said that, the old ones are still pending).

So what's in store this year for Iowa? I have no idea...no one does. Sadly, they really remind me of the Chicago Bears. Despite my hopes and dreams, I have a sick feeling that Jake Christensen just is not a BigTen quarterback. He gets happy feet in the pocket, is too short to see over his o-line, has limited mobility, is inaccurate, and generally showed NO signs of improvement last year. I know he had a bad line and receivers with no experience, but even when the blocking was okay and someone was open, I felt like Jake missed more than anyone in the conference. Hell, some of his throws were so bad, even the defense couldn't get them. [Also, I know this might be total crap, but don't trust left-handed, white QBs. Besides Steve Young and Mark Brunnell, none that I can remember have been much better than average]. Just about everyone on the offensive line returns, but after last year, I'm not convinced that's a good thing. LT Bryan Bulaga could be the next Hawkeye great on the line, but after a freshman year with injuries, who knows? As for three 5-stars from the '05 class, OT Dace Richardson's career is over, OG Dan Doering cannot live up to his hype, and OG/C Rafael Eubanks was moved to guard because he isn't even the best center on the team now. Center Rob Bruggeman could be a bright spot, but OG Seth Olsen is overrated and OT Kyle Calloway basically sucks (he got consistently beat like a ginger step-child last year). Also, like my Bears from the NFL, the Hawkeyes have no proven running back (sure Shonn Greene looked like a stud in '06, but can he survive a full year and avoid fumbleitis?). The receivers are average, don't let Hawk fans tell you otherwise. Andy Brodell is finally healthy, but who can forget all of his game-changing (and game-blowing) drops from years' past. If people want to polish his knob because he had one good game against Texas in the Alamo Bowl that's fine with me, just don't act surprised when he gets cement hands. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos has the athleticism to be a star, but can he get open and hang on? Trey Stross is insignificant because he's always hurt. Lastly, Paul Cheney and Colin Sandeman have shown flashes, but the jury's still out. I can only hope the addition of WR coach Erik Campbell (from Michigan, where he coached David Terrell, Braylon Edwards, Mario Manningham, etc.) will help, but until a game is played, I'm not going to assume that's the case.

Sadly, for how bad the offense sounds, the defense could be really good. DTs Mitch King and Matt Kroul are proven and highly regarded. Plus, much like my gut feeling that Jake isn't a D1 QB, I think DEs Adrian Clayborn and either Christian Ballard are the real deal and will be playing on Sundays. LB A.J. Edds might be as good as Chad Greenway when his career is over, but for now he remains vastly underrated. Whoever claims the other linebacker spots will be a little green but incredibly athletic. As for the secondary, I hope CB Amari Spievey will surprise. He worked his ass off to get back to Iowa City (grades), and was a JUCO All-American in his year away. CB Bradley Fletcher is experienced but beatable, and CB Jordan Bernstine (if healthy) can be a star. The safeties are really solid but not too flashy.

As for punting, P Ryan Donahue has the leg to be All-BigTen. Kicking, however is a different story. As far as I can tell, Daniel Murray sucks. My money is on freshman Trent Mossbrucker to take over, but who knows how that'll turn out?

All-in-all, this team is a total mystery. The schedule doesn't get much easier, so that's a plus. If the o-line can make improvements from last year, Shonn Greene can live up to his potential, and Jake Christensen (or his replacement!) can manage something from the QB position, the team could win 8, 9, or even 10 games. But, that's a lot of "if"s. Say things go wrong and the offense looks like it did last year, then some serious changes will have to be made in the off-season. My prediction is 7-5: a lower-tier bowl game, a step in the right direction , and something to build on.

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