Iowa Hawkeyes football preview 2013: Best case, worst case, prediction

Photo: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes enter the 2013 season on the heels of the program’s first losing mark since 2000, Kirk Ferentz’s second year as coach. The losing record also marks just the fourth bowless season in his tenure in Iowa City. The season was going to be one of transition last year after both defensive and offensive coordinators left the program. While the defense promoted from within and looked pretty good at times, finishing 33rd in the nation in points allowed per game, the Hawkeyes’ offense wasn’t so lucky. Greg Davis, who had been booted from Texas in 2010 and sat out for a season, was a surprise pick by Ferentz. The shocker turned into a disaster: No. 102-nationally in passing, 104th in rushing and 113th in scoring at just 19.3 points per game. Brutal.

Installing Davis’ new scheme and a lack of personnel to run his schemes are worth a large percentage of the blame. Further exacerbating the issues were injuries that just ravaged the line and running backs corps, making life that much harder. The Hawks were also plagued by bad luck. They lost to rival Iowa State, 9-6, in a woeful offensive game, then gave up an onside kick and lost to Central Michigan and finally, Iowa suffered three losses in-league by a combined 12 points. At times Iowa did look like a 4-8 club, but for the most part they were better than that record indicates.

When healthy, the offensive line is one of the league’s best, maybe even top three or four. When healthy, Mark Weisman is a powerful back. A woeful rushing game in 2012 will improve and take some of the load off of first-time starting QB Jake Rudock. Rudock even has some talent to throw to. Kevonte Martin-Manley is an above-average wideout with good speed and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is a big target with three full years in the system. More importantly, he has improved in each of his seasons as a contributor to the gameplan. Defensively, several starters return including all three linebackers: Anthony Hitchens, James Morris and Christian Kirksey. All three have to do a better job at recognizing play fakes, especially Morris, but they are very experienced and sure tacklers.

2013 Schedule:

Northern Illinois: 12-2 (8-0) – MAC

Best Case: Two teams beat NIU a season ago. Florida State in the Orange Bowl and Iowa in the season opener. 1-0

Worst Case: Quarterback Jordan Lynch is a stud, we all know that. Huskies could be real good this year. 0-1

Prediction: This game looks like a tall order, but Northern will be debuting a new coach and Iowa City promises some pretty good home field advantage – but for the love of god, please have some special teams this year. Iowa gave up an NCAA-record 635 onside kicks last fall. Hang on, that might be a typo. Hawks win in the second straight nail biter between these two teams. W: 21-17, 1-0

Missouri State: 3-8 (3-5) – Missouri Valley (FCS)

Best Case: The Hawks’ up-tempo attack (that feels strange typing if you know anything about Iowa pre-Greg Davis) finally looks the way he told us it would as Rudock and gang get on the board early and often. 2-0

Worst Case: I know last season was pretty long at times last year, but they aren’t down to the level of losing to FCS teams, let alone bad FCS teams. 1-1

Prediction: Much like the best case paragraph but replace early and often with “sometime in the first quarter” and “every few possessions.” W: 42-10, 2-0

At Iowa State: 6-7 (3-6) – Big 12

Best Case: The Cyclones barely beat Iowa a year ago and with one quarterback graduating and another transferring, ISU is going through their own issues on offense. As a side note (oddly placed here since I have nowhere else to put it), it is kind of cool that ISU played Tulsa in the opener last year, won and played them in a bowl but lost. The two teams have the rubber match in the Cyclone’s non-con slate this year. 3-0

Worst Case: ISU brings back nine starters total, not a whole lot, but they do have some talent at important places including defensive back. There’s also the fact they’ve had Iowa’s number for the most part under Ferentz. 1-2

Prediction: With the fanbase restless this game feels like a must win for Iowa. Not just in terms of making a bowl this year but perception of the program. I think the staff knows this and will come out accordingly. It won’t be a pretty win, it never is in this rivalry for either side, but the Hawks eek it out. W: 17-14, 3-0

Western Michigan: 4-8 (2-6) – MAC

Best Case: I’m sorry but any team that lost to Eastern Michigan last year has to be beaten down by Iowa no matter what. 4-0

Worst Case: Again, even if league play turns sour, the Hawks have more than enough talent to win this one. 2-2

Prediction: After a physical game with the rival, Iowa gets a chance to enjoy a little tune-up. Put a few things on tape, give people a few new looks and add some depth by getting the second unit in during the third. W: 35-10, 4-0

At Minnesota: 6-7 (2-6) – Big Ten

Best Case: Iowa played its best game against the Gophers last season. How about an encore. 5-0

Worst Case: Max Shortell was the starter at that point in the season for Minnesota. Perhaps Philip Nelson proves more capable and limits his turnovers, something Shortell failed to do. 2-3

Prediction: Weisman tallied 177 yards against the Gophers’ defense a season ago. I don’t think the Gophers will have much bite on that side of the ball and I think their offense will take a bit of a step back as Minny’s two best wideouts have moved on. W: 24-13, 5-0 (1-0)

Michigan State: 7-6 (3-5) – Big Ten

Best Case: Hawks win up in East Lansing, the league (and nation) is stunned as Iowa earns bowl eligibility real early. 6-0

Worst Case: Iowa’s offense sputters like last year against one of the Big Ten’s best defenses. 2-4

Prediction: MSU faces a trip to Notre Dame early. I think they have the talent to split the tough trips to Iowa City and South Bend. Unfortunately for Ferentz and Co., I have the Irish game being the loss in the split. L: 24-21, 5-1 (1-1)

At Ohio State: 12-0 (8-0) – Big Ten

Best Case: Hawks keep it tight on the road, but in the end there are just not enough pieces to win. 6-1

Worst Case: Iowa still is trying to find an offensive rhythm and the Buckeyes feast on the inferior foe in an ugly league game. 2-5

Prediction: On paper, Iowa’s OL should get some push against OSU’s front seven, but everywhere else the tale of the tape goes OSU’s way. Bucks’ get a safety for the unusual final. L: 26-14, 5-2 (1-2)

Northwestern: 10-3 (5-3) – Big Ten

Best Case: Iowa’s resurgent season continues to unfold, meanwhile the Wildcats have taken a step back and maybe even face a few injuries by the midpoint of the year. 7-1

Worst Case: NU has ripped off a lot of wins since Pat Fitzgerald was hired by his alma mater. Attention Iowa players, do not break the leg of a man who may end up coaching against you one day. 2-6

Prediction: NU has a lot more sure things, especially offensively. Without seeing Rudock in an actual game, I have to pick the Wildcats to win at Kinnick. Again. L: 24-13, 5-3 (1-3)

Wisconsin: 8-6 (4-4) – Big Ten

Best Case: Badgers were even worse (115th) at passing that Iowa was last season. With a new coach and system, perhaps the struggles under center continue for Bucky. 8-1

Worst Case: Iowa’s miserable season gets even worse as they drop another trophy game in a weak effort. 2-7

Prediction: Iowa has a tough season with five preseason top 25-ranked foes in their final six games. They could easily lose them all, but I think they’ll pull an upset. I’m going to pick it to happen against the Badgers. I don’t really have a good reason, other than it is the most winnable of the group. Well, here is a decent one: UW is again a one-dimensional offense and Iowa picks a good day to stuff the run. W: 20-17, 6-3 (2-3)

At Purdue: 6-7 (3-5) – Big Ten

Best Case: Holy crap Iowa has nine wins and with just one league loss is in the drivers seat. STOP THE PRESSES. 9-1

Worst Case: Officially tank mode, sadly there is no draft in college football. Ferentz loses the locker room and Greg Davis gets canned after the game. 2-8

Prediction: Purdue snuck away with a three point victory last year in Iowa City, a game in which mounting injuries certainly cost the Hawks. They lost by three after only mustering 74 rushing yards and 190 passing. Iowa’s marginal improvement combined with Purdue taking an expected step backwards with a new coach has me leaning Iowa for a road win. W: 28-21, 7-3 (3-3)

Michigan: 8-5 (6-2) – Big Ten

Best Case: Iowa is the improved program of the league, enjoying an Oregon State-type run towards nine or so wins. Mark it No. 10 as Devin Gardner either fails to match the hype or the relative thinness of the Michigan roster rears its head this late in the season. 10-1

Worst Case: Michigan comes in with a lot to play for, maybe even 11-0 and in the thick of the BCS race. Iowa meanwhile just wants the year to end. 2-9

Prediction: The schedule sets up nicely for a trap game (UM has just come off Nebraska and Northwestern and have OSU the following week) especially if Iowa has shown any sort of improvement. That being said, there’s just too much talent for the boys from Ann Arbor to tank the Hawks this far into the year. L: 28-14, 7-4 (3-4)

At Nebraska: 10-4 (7-1) – Big Ten

Best Case: Iowa defies all expectations and wins around nine games including finally getting on the board in this “rivalry.” Added bonus, the game is so boring and so few Iowa people watch on TV that the Big Ten realizes something everyone in Iowa already knew—WE DON’T WANT TO PLAY ON THE FRIDAY AFTER THANKSGIVING!!!! They then cancel this “rivalry” and give us Minnesota on the final Saturday as it should have been all along. 11-1

Worst Case: Nebraska gets to 12-0 in impressive fashion. The league then decides that Iowa hasn’t tried hard enough in this “rivalry” and to get the correct motivation from Iowa, they move it from the Friday after Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving day itself. 2-10

Prediction: Iowa keeps it close again, but while trying to catch up, Nebraska is able to run the clock with that ground attack. L: 24-17, 7-5 (3-5)

Final Thoughts:

I tend to pad Iowa’s record by about two wins since I’m a homer. With that out of the way, I think a more realistic Best Case would be nine wins. The predictions look okay, but the pessimist in me thinks it is more likely Iowa split its first two games, against NIU and ISU. Upsetting Wisconsin was also bold and probably foolish. Even if all that breaks the wrong way and they go 5-7, I think the losing record will be more due to a very difficult schedule. Iowa wasn’t as bad as 4-8 last year and if they do miss a bowl I don’t think they’ll be as bad as that losing record indicates either. This is a program trying to go from a conservative pro style with deep passes to a more up-tempo, quick strike (but short) passing offensive scheme. It will take a few recruiting classes to do that so another down year is possible – heck, even likely, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Not yet, at least, and certainly not when five of your eight losses were by a combined 16 points. Way too early to put baby in the corner (There’s our first 1980s movie reference of the season).

  • cobrabobby

    Why do Iowa fans still accept the fact that Ferentz is still their coach? Contractual? Grow some —– and demand a change. He is out of touch,
    unwilling to change to the modern game of SCORING MORE POINTS THAN
    THE OPPOSITION, cannot keep any talent on the roster, (How many transfers
    have occurred in the past 5 years), and with the exception of being an above
    average O-line coach, is too arrogant and stubborn to listen and adapt to the
    modern game of college football.
    Take a look at Pat Fitzgerald, who can do more than most with what he has for talent, and take a page from his coaching style, OR, take a page from Iowa football history, hire another Hayden Fry, better yet, another Gundy, Stoops,
    or yes, even a young Meyer type, open it up, make it fun to watch and support
    instead of an unapproachable, stubborn, out of touch, washed up robot like Ferentz,
    The guy is boring, predictable, stubborn, and can’t keep any potentially great
    talent on the roster.
    You Iowa fans are some of the best in the nation, but I cannot understand why you continue to accept him as your coach.

  • Josh Cook

    Great comment, thanks! As a writer trying to be objective for gamedayr and an Iowa fan I find it hard to walk that line but your post really warranted a breakdown of each point.

    The first about his contract. Yes the buy out his high but I think Iowa could and still would pull that trigger if it came to it. I’m sure the folks writing the checks though want to be one-thousand percent sure that paying that sum is in the best interest competitively and financially.

    As for people leaving the program, every school has some of that but what made it feel like Iowa was leading the nation was that so much of the departures were at one key position, running back. It wasn’t an isolated off-season either and it wasn’t scrubs.

    Totally agree about Fitzgerald. On a side note I’m curious what it would take for another school or the NFL to pry him away from his alma mater.

    As far as your dream coaches of Mike Gundy, Bob Stoops or a young Meyer type. I think Gundy is pretty happy at his alma mater. Stoops was offered the job, in 1998 and is of course a part of that Fry tree. He seems pretty happy with Norman though. A young Meyer type is a great idea on paper but you have to be sure. Too many programs have cycled through coaches thinking they up-and-comer they found from the MAC or Sun Belt or whatever was a perfect fit. Pitt went through 3 coaches in as many years. Remember Cincy’s history between Bobby P and Charlie Strong?

    As far as the philosophical style of play…I’m actually okay with it (in theory). Alabama, Stanford, Notre Dame, Michigan, LSU all use pro style offenses and really look to establish the run. None of them are that flashy. There are plenty of other elite programs that are the same. Even Ohio State is conservative compared to an Oregon. Here’s the thing though about why this is in theory. No matter what you run you need to run it well and Greg Davis has shown to be a horrible play caller.

    Lastly your final point about why fans continue to accept him. It is actually a minority that does. You go to Iowa City, listen to sports talk etc. and his seat has never been warmer. The natives are restless yet the university (possibly because of that pay out or past success) has not budged.

    Personally, I think with two league titles and several top 10 finishes that the man has earned the right to try and dig us out. Now my leash doesn’t extend that far. The longer he keeps Davis on the longer my frustration will point to him. Another thing that drives me crazy is KF used to coach the special teams. Back when we were at KF’s hayday the special teams was a big strength for us. Since he has turned that over to an assistant we are routinely caught by fake punts and onside kicks. If I were the AD (and the buyout wasn’t a factor)…I would say Iowa has this year to make a bowl or at least show major leaps and then 2013. That’s it. That is 24 (now 23 with the loss) regular season games for Kirk to show that the program is headed in the right direction. One way to prove that to me is to fire Greg Davis. I know it isn’t ideal to do that in the middle of a season but Wisconsin did to their OL coach and you know what? The line got better.

    All in all, these are very trying times for the Hawkeye faithful.

    Thanks again for your great post and keep coming back to gamedayr.