2011 Iowa Preview
Iowa OT Riley Reiff
Iowa OT Riley Reiff
Posted Jun 3, 2011

Iowa has some rebuilding to do after losing a ton of NFL talent, but there's a good core of players to work around led by star left tackle Riley Reiff. Did the program get through the controversies over the last several months to be ready to challenge for the Big Ten title? What's missing? Check out the CFN 2011 Iowa Preview.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Preview 2011

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Kirk Ferentz
13th year: 89-60
16th year overall: 101-81
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 20, Def. 16, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 28
Ten Best Iowa Players
1. OT Riley Reiff, Jr.
2. CB Shaun Prater, Sr.
3. WR Marvin McNutt, Sr.
4. RB Marcus Coker, Soph.
5. CB Micah Hyde, Jr.
6. C James Ferentz, Jr.
7. DE Broderick Binns, Sr.
8. DT Mike Daniels, Sr.
9. LB James Morris, Soph.
10. OG Adam Gettis, Sr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 Tennessee Tech
Sep. 10 at Iowa State
Sep. 17 Pitt
Sep. 24 ULM
Oct. 8 at Penn State
Oct. 15 Northwestern
Oct. 22 Indiana
Oct. 29 at Minnesota
Nov. 5 Michigan
Nov. 12 Michigan State
Nov. 19 at Purdue
Nov. 26 at Nebraska

Iowa doesn't rebuild; it works the system and finds ways to keep on winning.

The last several months were trying with scandal after scandal keeping the program in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. From running back Brandon Wegher leaving the team before the season began, to the embarrassment of losing star receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos before the Insight Bowl to drug charges, to the suspension of top running back Adam Robinson, to the scare of a way-too-hard workout that hospitalized 13 players for rhabdomyolysis, and all the rumors and speculation that followed, and it wasn't exactly the best of times for head coach Kirk Ferentz. Not helping the cause was a disappointing 8-5 season from a team that should've been in the hunt for the Big Ten title.

How much did all the drama affect Iowa football? Ferentz came up with one of his best recruiting classes in his 13 years at the school.

Compared to the fun had at Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Auburn, the storms passed over Iowa rather quickly and easily, and now it's about focusing on the season and the task at hand. It's also about trying to rebuild and rebound after a disappointing 2010, but Ferentz might have the program just where he wants it considering Iowa thrives when no one seems to notice.

Think of it this way; had 2009 and 2010 been switched around, and if the loaded Hawkeyes of last year went 11-2 with an Orange Bowl win and the 2009 team had a stepping-stone 8-5 campaign, the no one would've thought twice. Iowa overachieved and seemed to come up with every miraculous break in 2009, but that was a strong team that made things happen, while last year's squad underachieved but was better than the final record might have indicated. In many ways last year's team was far better than the previous one, but the record wasn't there to show it.

And now the pressure is off. Last year was supposed to be when Iowa dominated, but this year it has to kick off its new era in the Big Ten by playing well out of the spotlight compared to Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, and even to some extent because of the coaching change, Minnesota. Of course, along with the Huskers, all anyone cares about is the Ohio State fiasco, and Penn State and Wisconsin always get headlines.

Helping with the flying-under-the-radar theme, the Hawkeyes have to overcome the loss of QB Ricky Stanzi, Johnson-Koulianos, tackling-machine safety Tyler Sash, guard Julian Vandervelde, leading tackler Jeremiha Hunter, punter Ryan Donahue, and defensive linemen Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug, with Clayborn, Ballard, Stanzi, Klug, Vandervelde, and Sash all getting drafted.

The team will be more than fine.

For all the concerns on both sides of the ball, Iowa gets back a tremendous offensive line that should be the best in the Big Ten if everyone stays healthy. RB Marcus Coker is a rising superstar, and the rest of the skill players should be more than fine if QB James Vandenberg can be merely adequate. The corner tandem of Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde will be terrific, there's good athleticism on the defensive front seven, and there's help on the way from the strong recruiting class.

With 22 players drafted over the last five years - compared to 16 at Wisconsin, 20 at Penn State, 20 at Michigan, 20 at Nebraska, and ten at Michigan State – the talent level has been strong, and there's more where that came from. Meanwhile, Ferentz is going as strong as ever considering the scandals weren't in the same hemisphere as what happened in Columbus, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

So now the goal is to try to stay under the radar just enough to shock and surprise with a run for the Legends title, but at this point under Ferentz, it shouldn't be surprising at all if his team is in Indianapolis after 12 games.

What to watch for on offense: The No. 2 running back. How things have changed over the last 12 months. Last year at this time, Iowa was loaded with top-shelf tailback options with a slew of talents like Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton leading a deep corps. Now, it's Marcus Coker and, um, uh, a lot of prayers for Coker's health. A few years ago, the running back situation was considered a disaster until Shonn Greene became the best back in America. Coker could have a similar Doak Walker-like season working behind a nasty offensive line, but if he goes down the coaching staff will be mining the current recruiting class for live bodies.

What to watch for on defense: Strong safety. The Iowa defensive front has to find a steady pass rusher and the linebacking corps could use more size, but things will be fine with a little bit of time. The secondary is a different animal with more overall talent than the other units on the defense, but it'll have to figure out the right combination. Shaun Prater is a star corner and won't move, but Micah Hyde is a tremendous tackler on the other side and could move to safety. If that happens, then Tanner Miller could end up at strong safety to try to replace tone-setter Tyler Sash, or Hyde could step into the position with 6-1, 185-pound size and good athleticism. No matter who takes over, Sash's 79 tackles and two interceptions will be sorely missed.

The team will be far better if … the starting five on the offensive line can stay healthy. Riley Reiff is one of the best left tackles in college football and will be a first round draft pick if he leaves early after this season. James Ferentz is a rising star at center and a terrific quarterback for the veteran group. Markus Zusevics is a strong right tackle who'll earn all-star honors, right guard Nolan MacMillen is a tremendous young blocker, and coaches, particularly Kirk Ferentz, love left guard Adam Gettis. If these five players can stay on the field in the same combination for the entire season, the offense will be dominant. However, Gettis can't stay healthy and MacMillan was dinged up all last season. If Reiff or Ferentz go down, the panic sirens will go off.

The schedule: Considering the rebuilding job needing to be done in several areas, the home game against Pitt is hardly a given win and the rivalry date against Iowa State is always a hard fight even when everything is going perfectly. Iowa only has to leave the state twice until late November, and one of those away games, Minnesota, is like a home game with the way the fans travel. On the plus side, there couldn't be a bigger break than getting Indiana and Purdue from the Leaders and missing Ohio State and Wisconsin, but there is a trip to Penn State. The season plays out well with a nice run of four home games in five weeks in the middle of the year before closing out against Purdue and Nebraska. That big, shiny showdown at the end against the Huskers could be for the Legends title.

Best offensive player: Junior OT Riley Reiff. He's not a huge tackle by NFL standards, but the 6-6, 300-pounder is still considered a first round draft talent with good athleticism and the strength and toughness to handle himself against the stronger defenders. On a line full of veterans, Reiff is the standout at left tackle that everything will work around, and he's more than good enough to keep new starting quarterback James Vandenberg clean.

Best defensive player: Senior CB Shaun Prater. It wasn't a total shock that he didn't leave early for the NFL, but he would've been a mid-round pick. With great speed and terrific tackling skills, he'll be great at the Combine and he should have the tape to shine as he locks up on everyone's No. 1 target. However, his running mate, versatile corner Micah Hyde, isn't far behind talent-wise.

Key player to a successful season: Senior DE Broderick Binns. He was supposed to be a part of a fearsome foursome line going into last year, but he lost his starting job and registered just one sack with no tackles for loss. This year, the 6-2, 261-pounder needs to be the pass rushing terror everyone was expecting him to become. There's potential and promise along the rest of the line, but the spotlight will be on Binns to save a pass rush that did next to nothing at times even with all the NFL talent up front.

The season will be a success if … Iowa wins the Legends. This is a flawed team in so many ways, but there's no reason at this point in the Ferentz era to shoot for anything less than a division title and a shot at the Big Ten title. The Michigan and Michigan State games are at home, there's no Ohio State or Wisconsin to deal with, and the rest of the slate is just manageable enough to build up a bit of a cushion before the regular season finale at Nebraska.

Key game: Nov. 26 at Nebraska. The Hawkeyes have four home games in five weeks and have winnable road games over the second half of the season at Minnesota and Purdue. Considering Nebraska has a brutal conference slate to deal with, as long as the Hawkeyes can take care of its own with wins over Michigan and Michigan State, they could be in the driver's seat for the division title going into Lincoln. If nothing else, this should be the start of a whale of a rivalry with the two schools roughly 300 miles away.

2010 Fun Stats:
- 1st Half Scoring: Iowa 215 – Opponents 100
- Penalties: Opponents 85 for 753 yards – Iowa 64 for 486 yards
- Punt Return Average: Iowa 8.2 – Opponents 3.9

- 2011 Iowa Preview | 2011 Iowa Offense
- 2011 Iowa Defense | 2011 Iowa Depth Chart
- Iowa Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006