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This spring, questions aplenty for Iowa football

[ 8 ] March 22, 2011 |

It’s still a few months before the preseason college football magazines hit the newsstands, but you can assume one thing about Iowa as it enters spring practice: The 2011 Iowa team will not be burdened by the same high expectations that proved beyond the reach of the 2010 squad, which finished 8-5 overall.

Iowa has gone from being a Big Ten contender to a Big Ten defender of itself, a shift caused by failed expectations on and off the field. A season filled with more losses than expected has been followed by an offseason filled with more controversy than expected.

The start of spring practice this week won’t change the fact that Iowa’s leading receiver and its leading rusher from last season both were kicked off the team after being arrested on drug charges in December.

It also won’t cause people to stop wondering why 13 Iowa players were hospitalized for a kidney condition after participating in strenuous workouts in late January.

And it won’t erase being embarrassed by the results of an investigative report by Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports that outlined police records of the teams in the magazine’s top 25 poll to start the 2010 season. Pittsburgh led the dubious list with 22 players, while Iowa and Arkansas tied for second with 18.

But spring practice will give fans a nice diversion for a change.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, obviously, could do without the negative publicity because it ultimately reflects badly on him, fair or unfair. But as far as questioning his team for next season, have at it.

If we’ve learned anything about life under Ferentz besides the fact that he is as conservative as he predictable, it’s that his teams do better as the hunter instead of the hunted. Iowa usually only gets one season to prove the prognosticators wrong. Fail to meet their expectations and then suffer the consequences.

I’ll be surprised if Iowa is picked higher than fifth place by any of the preseason magazines.

It’s bad enough that Iowa struggled last season, but the fact that it happened to a veteran team will cause prognosticators to think less about the 2011 team. If Iowa couldn’t contend for a Big Ten title last season despite having a three-year starter at quarterback, three senior starters on the defensive line, two veteran safeties patrolling the secondary, the most prolific receiver in school history and an all-Big Ten punter helping to win the battle for field position, how in Pete’s sake can it contend without them this season?

That’s just one of many questions being asked about Iowa this spring.

Was the 2010 season an aberration or the start of another stretch of mediocrity, which the 2005 season proved to be?

Is junior James Vandenberg more like the quarterback that played well against Ohio State for one half as a sophomore in 2009 or more like the quarterback that struggled against Northwestern and Minnesota that same season?

Was Marcus Coker’s 219-yard rushing performance against Missouri in the Insight Bowl in December a sign of more things to come from the sophomore-to-be or simply one game when everything clicked for Iowa’s rushing attack?

Is Keenan Davis ready to make an impact at receiver after playing sparingly as a freshman and sophomore?

Will senior-to-be linebacker Tyler Nielsen make a full recovery from the neck injury that caused him to miss the final five games last season?

Will sophomore-to-be linebacker James Morris continue his ascent to stardom?

Can whoever replaces Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood at the two safety positions come close to matching their productivity on the field?

Can senior-to-be defensive back Jordan Bernstine stay healthy for an entire season and make a significant contribution?

Can somebody come close to doing what Ryan Donahue did as Iowa’s starting punter over the past four seasons?

How will Iowa handle having Nebraska on the schedule?

And can defensive coordinator Norm Parker avoid having more health-related setbacks?

None of those questions will be answered during spring practice, but they will be addressed on a daily basis.

Spring practice represents a fresh start. It’s a time for hope and optimism because every team is undefeated and will stay that way until next fall.

Spring practice is one of Ferentz’s favorite times to be a head coach because he enjoys the teaching aspect. He might enjoy it more this spring with Iowa flying under the radar.


Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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