2014 CFN Preview - Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa OT Brandon Scherff
Iowa OT Brandon Scherff
Posted Jul 23, 2014

Preview 2014 - Iowa could be 10-0 in late November. Consider yourself warned. (Getty Images)

Iowa Hawkeyes

Preview 2014

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- 2014 Iowa Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders
Head coach: Kirk Ferentz
16th year: 108-79
19th year overall: 120-100
Returning Lettermen
Off: 23, Def. 17, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best Iowa Players
1. OT Brandon Scherff, Sr.
2. DT Carl Davis, Sr.
3. DT Louis Trinca-Pasat, Sr.
4. QB Jake Rudock, Jr.
5. CB Desmond King, Jr.
6. WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, Sr.
7. C Austin Blythe, Jr.
8. RB Mark Weisman, Sr. 
9. OG Jordan Walsh, Jr.
10. S John Lowdermilk, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 Northern Iowa
Sep. 6 Ball State
Sep. 13 Iowa State
Sep. 20 at Pitt
Sep. 27 at Purdue
Oct. 11 Indiana
Oct. 18 at Maryland
Nov. 1 Northwestern
Nov. 8 at Minnesota
Nov. 15 at Illinois
Nov. 22 Wisconsin
Nov. 29 Nebraska

The common theme with the new Big Ten realignment is that the East is the far tougher of the two divisions – with Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan as the anchors – and with Wisconsin and Nebraska the only two powers in the West.

Iowa might be able to change that this year.

Northwestern will be better, and Minnesota will be solid, but Iowa might be that lurking team that could keep hanging around, hanging around, hanging around, and then boom … it’s November and there’s talk of College Gameday going to Iowa City for the matchup of the 10-0 Hawkeyes vs. Wisconsin.

No, Iowa isn’t one of the ten or 15 best teams in America, but it might start to look like it as the season wears on thanks to an absolutely magical schedule with no Ohio State, no Michigan State, no Michigan, and with Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Kinnick. When your toughest road trips are Pitt and Minnesota – which is almost like an Iowa home game – you have to take advantage.

The 4-8 clunker of two years ago seems like a distant memory after the strides made last season. The loss to Northern Illinois at home to kick things off wasn’t a plus – it’s still just a MAC team – but the other losses came to Michigan State, at Ohio State, Wisconsin, and in the bowl game against LSU. That’s not that bad, and other than the loss to the Badgers, the Hawkeyes battled well in defeat. Throw in the nice run at the end of the year with the overtime win over Northwestern, the dominant victory over Nebraska, and the win over Michigan thrown into the mix, and all of a sudden, this is a good-looking team coming into the year on a roll.

But can Iowa play, or will this be a case of good team/great schedule? Yeah, put Iowa in the SEC West and the results wouldn’t be pretty, but this year, in the Big Ten East, Kirk Ferentz has the type of team that could end up in Indianapolis for a 13th game.

The passing game that was non-existent at times in the 2012 disaster started to ramp things up last season, and now QB Jake Rudock knows what he’s doing and the receiving corps that was such a big, dull dud two years ago now looks like a strength.

The running backs are hardly scary, but Mark Weisman is a good veteran working behind a terrific line anchored by likely all-stars Brandon Scherff at tackle, center Austin Blythe and guard Jordan Walsh.

The defense loses all three fantastic linebackers, but the line should be a rock at times and the secondary has upside. The linebackers should figure it out quickly, and by the time they really need to know what they’re doing, they should be ready for late November against Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Can this be another version of the 2009, Orange Bowl-winning team? Ferentz has made big things happen before when no one was expecting it, and this year, with this slate, watch out.

What to watch for on offense: Expect the emergence of a better passing game. It’s not like Jake Rudock was bad, and he certainly provided more downfield pop for an offense that needed it, but the Hawkeye offense was still 83rd in the nation in passing efficiency and threw for a mere 197 yards per game. Defensive coordinators slept well at night with no worries about the Iowa receiving corps, but that should change a bit with Rudock in his second year at the starting helm and with more receiver depth than the program has had for a while. Again, things were better than 2012, but Kevonte Martin-Manley and Tevaun Smith weren’t big play performers on a regular basis. There’s some firepower to work with in Damond Powell and Jacob Hillyer, and unlike past seasons, now there are more options. Rudock should be in for a big year and could come close to the 3,000-yard mark.

What to watch for on defense: Uhhhhh, linebacker? It’s not just about losing veteran tacklers and playmakers from a defense that finished sixth in the nation and 19th against the run; it’s about losing heart-and-soul types in Anthony Hitchens, James Morris and Christian Kirksey. The three grew into the jobs together, and last season they were the team’s three top tacklers, combining for 223 stops with 12.5 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss with six picks – with most of the big plays coming from Morris. The Hawkeyes aren’t starting from scratch, but they need a big emergence and push coming from senior Quinton Alston in the middle and Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry on the outside. There’s good size, and the numbers will be there because of the position, but they need to prove they can control games like the previous trio could.

The team will be far better if… come away with points on every drive. Even with the easy schedule there should be plenty of close calls, and the scoring efficiency has to be there against the bigger and better teams late. Last year, PK Mike Meyer hit 16-of-22 field goals including lots and lots of short ones, but he also missed a few makeable kicks, too, including a 35-yarder against LSU and a key 36-yarder against Michigan. He’s gone, and Marshall Koehn has to be automatic inside the 40. Last year, Iowa came away with points just 76% of the time in the red zone, coming away empty twice against LSU. By comparison, the 2010 Iowa team scored 88% of the time when inside the 20 with 31 touchdowns, and the 2009 Orange Bowl team scored 84% of the time.

The Schedule: There's no real excuse not to have a great season. The non-conference schedule is manageable with the two tough games coming at Pitt and in the always-rough rivalry date against Iowa State, but Northern Iowa and Ball State – as much as they might be able to battle – need to be easy wins. Starting out the Big Ten campaign at Purdue couldn't be much easier going into an off-week.

Playing Indiana and Maryland from the East is about as nice as it gets, especially with a week off to follow and Northwestern, at Minnesota and at Illinois coming up next. It won't happen, but with this schedule, 10-0 isn't a crazy thought before hosting Wisconsin for the second year in a row and closing out against Nebraska.

Best offensive player: Senior OT Brandon Scherff. Florida State’s Cameron Erving and Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi are among the top three offensive tackle prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft. Scherff is the third one in the mix with the prototype size for a left tackle. It was a bit of a shocker that he didn’t leave early – he was projected to be a late first/early second rounder, at absolute worst – but this year he’ll be the anchor of a terrific line that did a nice job in pass protection and pounded away for a decent ground attack. An almost certain All-American, watch as the draft process starts to put him in as a sure-fire top 15 selection.

Best defensive player: Senior DT Carl Davis. Corner Desmond King is the rising star, safety John Lowdermilk appears ready for a big senior season, and the new linebackers will put up big numbers, but it’ll be the tackle tandem of Louis Trinca-Pasat and Davis that’ll anchor the defense that should finish in the top ten nationally again. These two made life easier for last year’s linebacking corps, and this year they’ll be a brick wall against the run. Davis is the bigger and better of the two, but they’re both terrific and both will end up with All-Big Ten honors.

Key player to a successful season: Senior LB Quinton Alston. All James Morris did last year was finish second on the team with 107 tackles with a team-leading eight sacks, 18 tackles for loss and four picks. The other two linebacker spots will be tough to fill with Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens gone, but it’s Morris who’s the most irreplaceable. Alston has to try. The 6-1, 232-pounder has the size to go along with the quickness and the skills, but now he has to produce in the middle and be the leader of the new corps.

The season will be a success if ... the Hawkeyes win the Big Ten West. They’ll never get a schedule this favorable again, and with all the key teams coming to Iowa City, and with eight starters back on offense, and with a good enough defense to finish in the top ten nationally, it’s okay to think about the division title. Anything less, considering the record should be amazing by late November, will fall flat.

Key game: Nov. 22 vs. Wisconsin. Last season, the Hawkeyes battled well in losses to elite Michigan State and Ohio State teams, and there was still time to crank out a great record and make some Big Ten noise, but Wisconsin came to town and ended all of that, holding the Hawkeyes to just 289 yards of total offense and with the passing game getting stuffed in the 28-9 loss that wasn’t quite as close as the blowout final score would indicate. This year, there’s a very, very good chance the Hawkeyes are favored in each of the first ten games before the big, bad Badgers roll into town. Beat them, and the Friday game against Nebraska six days later will probably be for huge things.

2013 Fun Stats:
- First Half Scoring: Iowa 181 – Opponents 92
- Fourth Down Conversions: Opponents 12-of-21 (57%) – Iowa 5-of-17 (29%)
- Sacks: Iowa 24 for 129 yards – Opponents 15 for 61 yards

- 2014 Iowa Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players