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July 1, 2013Follow @JohnVeldhuis
The last few seasons have been hard on the Iowa Hawkeyes, who capped off an 11-win season with an Orange Bowl victory over Georgia Tech just over three years ago. Since then the Hawkeyes have broke even at 19-19 over the last three seasons, and last year's 4-8 record snapped a four-year postseason streak.
It's gotten to the point where Kirk Ferentz, the dean of Big Ten head coaches, has started to feel his once ice-cold seat start to thaw. Ferentz responded by giving his coaching staff a makeover, but it remains to be seen if Iowa's problems are closer to a bump in the road than a crash into a ditch. Thankfully, Tom Kakert of HawkeyeReport.com stopped by to fill us in on what's happened to Iowa since they last played the Badgers in 2010. His answers are included below. Be sure to follow Tom on Twitter as well!
First of all, I'm just curious as to what happened to Iowa? I don't think any of us expected them to fall in to a rut like this so soon after winning the Orange Bowl after the 2009 season. What went wrong for the Hawkeyes since that BCS game?
Tom Kakert: I think it comes down to a couple of things happening to the Hawkeyes over the course of a few years. First, Iowa was hit with a lot of attrition and lack of players developing in the 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes. Iowa is more of a developmental program and when they have an attrition rate of nearly 50% of the recruits over a two year span, that's going to leave a mark and it did. Iowa was particularly hard hit on the defensive line and once the group led by current NFL players Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, and Karl Klug left Iowa's campus, they just didn't have anyone in the pipeline with anything close to their abilities. The second thing that happened is a change at offensive coordinator. Long time coordinator Ken O'Keefe left after the 2011 season for a job with the Miami Dolphins and Iowa hired Greg Davis, who was sacrificed at Texas the previous year. Davis is a pretty solid coordinator based on his resume, but what he wanted and what Iowa senior signal caller James Vandenberg could provide was like fitting a square peg into a round hole. Iowa is good when their defensive line is good and they weren't last year. They lacked playmakers and offensive consistency all season and that will bring you to a very disappointing 4-8 season and losing your last six games. I should note that Iowa was doing fairly well despite their limitations until offensive lineman Brandon Scherff went down with a season ending injury and running back Mark Weisman became hobbled with an ankle injury.
Iowa has a different look on the coaching staff since these two teams last met in 2010. Who are the new coordinators, and what kind of offensive and defensive styles do they bring to the table? Were they successful in their first year?
TK: Iowa is very different because of the new coordinators. Honestly, on the defensive side, there's not a whole lot of change under new coordinator Phil Parker. He learned the game under Norm Parker (no relation) as a player at Michigan State and as a coach at Iowa. Phil Parker might blitz a little more and play more aggressively in the secondary, but the schemes are pretty much the same thing that Big Ten fans have seen from the Hawkeyes. Offensively, it's getting even more different this spring. Kirk Ferentz has never been a hurry up spread the ball out type of coach, but all spring that's what the Hawkeye offense ran. They were basically in a hurry up offense and in the shot gun nearly all the time. Will that happen this fall? I'm still not convinced. I think that is going to be one of the bigger stories of fall camp. Will they run this new look offense or stick to what they have done basically all of Ferentz era?
Who are the offensive and defensive players to watch this year? Are there any unheralded players you expect to break out in 2013?
TK: On the offensive side, I think the most interesting position to watch will be quarterback. It's still a three man race for the starting spot, but the odds are that it will end up being Jake Rudock who gets the job over Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard. None of those three quarterbacks have ever taken a snap at the D1 level, so it's a huge mystery how any of them will perform. On offense, I would keep an eye on Brandon Schreff at left tackle. He's really good and is in line to be Iowa's next high NFL pick following in the footsteps of Robert Gallery, Bryan Bulaga, and Riley Reiff. I'd also say Mark Weisman is one to watch. He was a blocking fullback last year at this time and then injuries hit and he moved back to running back and was sensation for a three week stretch. Classic big back who punishes people and loves contact. On the defensive side, I'd say Carl Davis is a player to watch. He's a legit 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds with a lot of talent. Now the consistency is catching up with the talent and he had the best spring of any Iowa player on the defensive line. Iowa's linebacker trio of James Morris, Christian Kirksey, and Anthony Hitchens are all seasoned and experienced seniors. All three are solid football players. As far as breakout players, the guy with the most potential might be tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. He's a very impressive looking sculpted athlete with a lot of pure athletic ability. He's due for a big season and I think this might be the year he puts it together.
Is Kirk Ferentz really on the hot seat? The Hawkeyes have been down recently, but how long of a leash do you think the Iowa athletic department gives him as he tries to rebuild the program?
TK: Whether Kirk Ferentz is on the hot seat depends on who you talk to. I'd say the seat is warming up at this point and if Iowa misses out on a bowl game again this year, it's officially hot. The one thing that keeps the seat from getting too warm is his contact, which runs thru 2020. If he is fired simply because he doesn't win enough games, he is due 3/4 of his four million dollar a year salary. Some schools can scratch out that check pretty easily, but Iowa probably isn't one of them and he still has the strong support of athletic director Gary Barta and many of the higher level boosters at the University of Iowa. But, if Iowa is 4-8 or worse in 2013, seat is hot even with the huge buyout. My guess would be Ferentz wouldn't get fired if they struggle this year, but he would probably change coordinators in hopes of turning things around.
Finally, what does Iowa need to do to pull themselves out of the rut they're in? Is this a small swoon or something deeper that will take longer to fix? Do you expect that Hawkeyes to improve, and what does improvement look like for them this year as far as their record goes?
TK: I think you touched on the biggest question that frankly no one knows the answer to, is this a dip or something deeper. If you look at the history of Iowa Football since the early 80's when Hayden Fry arrived and ended Iowa's nearly 20-year streak of losing seasons, over the course of a five year stretch, the Hawkeyes usually have one season that you would term special and contend for a Big Ten title. They have a building year where they get to a bowl game followed by a strong year, usually around 8/9 wins. Then they have a couple of years around the .500 mark. That's pretty much been the trend and when the sample of 30 years of data, that's a pretty good trend line to follow. I think the big thing for this team this season will be for the players who have gained experience to rebound for a tough year. The attitude of the players seems very good, but they have to find guys who can make plays on both sides of the ball. That's how you win in college football team. Make no mistake; this is a big year for Iowa. They went 4-8 last year against a fairly weak conference schedule. This year they get Wisconsin and Ohio State back on the schedule, so it will be much more difficult.
Thanks again to Tom for giving us his take on the Hawkeyes.