The calendar has flipped to June. The end of August, and the start of the 2014 college football season, doesn’t seem so far away.
Iowa’s football team returned to campus Monday to start workouts under strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle. College football magazines are popping up on newsstands, and gridiron conversation around the water cooler is becoming more common.
For one Hawkeye fan, the glass is half full heading into Kirk Ferentz’s 16th season as Iowa’s head football coach. For the other, the glass is half empty. The black-and-gold debate will continue right up to the Aug. 30 season opener against Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.
PHOTOS: IOWA’S PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
There’s plenty to dissect between now and the start of the season.
So, with just 12 1/2 weeks until the opener, here are five summer conversation starters — and what the Glass-Half-Full fan might say vs. Mr. or Mrs. Glass-Half-Empty — about what has become a highly anticipated Hawkeye season:
The Big Ten grows to 14 teams with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers. But for the old-school Hawkeye fan, the Big Ten will always be Ohio State and Michigan — Woody against Bo, three yards and a cloud of dust.
Iowa’s 2014 schedule doesn’t include Michigan or Ohio State. Or Michigan State. Or Penn State. Is the Hawkeyes’ schedule really that easy?
Glass Half Full: The Hawkeyes are going to get to double-digit wins for the fifth time in the Ferentz era. I’ve already started saving my money for a bowl game in Florida or California.
Glass Half Empty: I’m not so sure about that. I can still see those back-to-back blocked field goals against Northern Iowa in 2009. And the Panthers might have the best running back in the state in David Johnson. Iowa State’s 9-6 win at Kinnick in 2012 is burned into my brain. We lost at Pittsburgh the last time we played there in 2008. Indiana has given us fits in recent years. Northwestern, too. And playing at Minnesota for a fourth time in five years is problematic. About the only two days I’m not worried about are Oct. 4 and Oct. 25. We play bye.
THE KICKING GAME
Mike Meyer finished his Hawkeye career by making 122 consecutive PATs, a school record. He also converted 61 of 80 career field goals. His long snapper, three-year starter, Casey Kreiter, is also gone. Punter Connor Kornbrath returns, but Iowa brought in junior-college punter Dillon Kidd. Is this an area of serious concern?
Glass Half Empty: I admit it, I took Kreiter’s snaps and Meyer’s kicks for granted the past three seasons. I noticed in the spring game that Marshall Koehn had a strong leg. But accuracy, I’m not so sure. Same with Alden Haffer. The uprights could take a beating. As far as punting, why did Ferentz bring in Kidd with Kornbrath just a junior?
Glass Half Full: I admit I’d like to see Kornbrath become more consistent. But I think competition will be good for him. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kidd win the job, judging by the spring game. As far as Koehn, I think the great Nate Kaeding will work with him this summer to get his mind and his leg working as one. No one had heard of Meyer heading into the 2010 season. He turned out OK.
Ferentz is 108-79 at Iowa, with 11 bowl appearances in 15 seasons. He’s tied for third nationally, with Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, in longevity among FBS coaches. Does he need to loosen up in Season 16?
Glass Half Empty: I wish Ferentz would open things up a little. He’s Mr. Vanilla on the sidelines. How about at least a chocolate-and-vanilla twist cone once in a while?
Glass Half Full: You’re stuck in that same old stereotype. Did you not see the third-down Raider package on defense last season? And the move to no-huddle that produced more snaps on offense? Did you not hear Ferentz discuss the possibility of playing Mark Weisman at fullback in a two-back set, or going to a two-quarterback attack this season with a series or two designed for backup C.J. Beathard?
Iowa’s total offense increased from 286.8 yards in 2012 to 377 last season. The running game went from 106.6 to 179.9 yards per game, and total plays increased from 66.1 to 71.1. But how about turning those nice gains into big-play potential and a high-powered offense?
Glass Half Full: With a year of experience under his belt, and all his downfield receivers back, I see quarterback Jake Rudock going for more big-strike plays. There’s an influx of talent like wide receiver Derrick Willies joining the mix, too. And all the running backs return.
Glass Half Empty: The running game concerns me. Brandon Scherff is a beast at left tackle, but I’m concerned about depth in the offensive line. And we struggled inside the red zone last year. In nine first-and-goal situations between the 7- and 9-yard lines, we scored just five touchdowns. All the backs return, but I don’t see a home-run hitter. Just nine running plays of 20 yards or more, and none longer than 43 yards, leaves me wanting more.
Iowa’s secondary allowed 20 touchdown passes and 10.5 yards per catch last season. And now with B.J. Lowery gone, left cornerback remains up for grabs with Jordan Lomax moving to replace Tanner Miller at free safety. Can the secondary slow teams down?
Glass Half Empty: Teams like Indiana and Northwestern, and their pass-first approach, scare me. They seem to eat us up. And we lost three linebackers who were solid in pass coverage as well.
Glass Half Full: OK, but the defensive line is a strength of the team, and quarterbacks aren’t going to have time to dance around and wait for receivers to come open with Carl Davis in their face. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker has expanded his duties to coach the secondary, too. We’ll be fine. See you in a sunny state in January.
Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and covers Hawkeye football and basketball. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football