Top 50 Countdown: No. 43 Iowa

Coach: Kirk Ferentz | Staff
In 2006: 6-7, 2-6; lost to Texas 26-24 in the Alamo Bowl.
Returning starters: Offense: 8. Defense: 8.
Key losses: QB Drew Tate; G Mike Elgin; T Marshal Yanda; G Mike Jones; SS Marcus Paschal; FS Miguel Merrick.
2007 breakdown: Top 10 players | Outlook | Offense | Defense | Special teams | Coaching | Schedule

Breaking down the offense

Overview: Even with a new starting quarterback, the Hawkeyes have the potential to be extremely productive. Jake Christensen had a solid performance against Northern Illinois when he filled in for an injured Drew Tate. Running back Albert Young is healthy again, and Dominique Douglas heads a good group of receivers. The offensive line, however, raises concerns with three new starters.

IOWA TOP 10
Albert Young will be the Hawkeyes' main weapon in 2007.

1. RB Albert Young
2. DE Kenny Iwebema
3. LB Mike Klinkenborg
4. WR Dominique Douglas
5. DE Bryan Mattison
6. QB Jake Christensen
7. DE Tony Moeaki
8. OT Seth Olsen
9. CB Charles Godfrey
10. DT Mitch King
Best player: Young. His production dropped from 1,334 yards in 2005 to 779 last year. If he shakes the injury bug, he could be a top running back in the conference again.

Most overrated: OT Dace Richardson. Richardson came to Iowa as a Rivals100 member in 2005 but has yet to make much of a splash. His season was cut short last year due to injury. He could improve if he develops more of a mean streak.

Most underrated: Young. It was only two seasons ago when Young ran for more than 1,300 yards and 5.4 yards per carry for the Hawkeyes. A year of struggling with injuries has caused him to fall back to the pack of Big Ten running backs.

Must step up: Christensen played well in his only start last season, but Drew Tate was an effective starting quarterback for three seasons. Matching his production won't be easy.

Impact newcomer: Wide receiver James Cleveland was a three-star recruit in 2006. After sitting out a year, he should provide speed to the receiving corps.

Position battle: Both guard spots are open with the departure of Mike Elkin and Mike Jones to the NFL. Andy Kuempel, Dan Doering and Wes Aeschliman are vying for the starting jobs.

New in 2007: Of course, the new QB will be the most obvious difference. However, the Hawkeyes will also have a new kicker. Austin Signor and Daniel Murray are challenging for that position.

Grade the units:
QB: B. Drew Tate is gone, but the lefty Christensen is a more-than-capable replacement.
RB: B+. If healthy, Young could rush for 1,000 yards. Speedy Damian Sims is a quality backup.
WR: B+. TE Scott Chandler will be missed, but Andy Brodell (724 yards) and Douglas (654 yards) give Christensen quality options.
OL: C+. Injuries decimated what has been one of Iowa's strength of late. A healthy year from the line will jump-start the offense.

Breaking down the defense

Overview: The Hawkeyes were slightly below average in 2006 and allowed three opponents to exceed 30 points. However, significant improvement is expected as long as the defensive line stays intact. DE Kenny Iwebema and DT Mitch King battled injuries last season. Their health is vital because depth will be an issue up front. The linebackers should be good. Although the safeties are new, two senior starters return at corner to boost the secondary.

Best player: LB Mike Klinkenborg. With 129 stops last year, Klinkenborg is the typical tackling machine for an Iowa linebacker. From his spot in the middle, he is a classic plugger.

Most overrated: King. King was a Rivals.com Freshman All-American in 2005, but fell behind last year. He played hurt and also showed he could be undersized (6-3, 254) for a Big Ten tackle.

Most underrated: Iwebema. He is the defense's answer to Young. He was first-team All-Big Ten in 2005 but started only seven games due to injury in 2006.

Must step up: LB Mike Humpal was slowed by nagging injuries in '06, but he is a good athlete with a lot of potential. If his play matches his ability, the linebacker corps could quickly become a point of strength.

Iowa Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 at Northern Illinois
Sept. 8 Syracuse
Sept. 15 at Iowa State
Sept. 22 at Wisconsin
Sept. 29 Indiana
Oct. 6 at Penn State
Oct. 13 Illinois
Oct. 20 at Purdue
Oct. 27 Michigan State
Nov. 3 at Northwestern
Nov. 10 Minnesota
Nov. 17 Western Michigan
Shoes to fill: SS Marcus Wilson and FS Brett Greenwood are likely to replace last year's starters Marcus Paschal - an All-Big Ten selection - and Miguel Merrick. Both CBs return, so the success of the secondary will largely depend on how Wilson and Greenwood perform.

Impact newcomer: Like Humpal, A.J. Edds is another reason the Hawkeyes could be very good at linebacker. A converted tight end, he played well in a reserve role as a freshman.

Position battle: Although Wilson and Greenwood appear to be the front-runners to step into starting positions at safety, Harold Dalton and Lance Tillison won't go to the sideline without putting up a fight.

New in 2007: Not much is new with eight returning starters, but it could be much different than the unit which ranked 68th nationally in '06. Iwebema, King, Humpal and CB Adam Shada all missed time with injuries a year ago. All have recovered, and they could significantly improve the Hawkeyes.

Grade the units:
DL: B. The line returns four starters from last year and should improve with a healthy Iwebema.
LB: B. Always a strength for Iowa, this unit could be again with Klinkenborg and Humpal.
DB: B-. Iowa's pass defense ranked 72nd in the nation last year. Corners Shada and Godfrey return, but the Hawkeyes must replace both safeties.

Breaking down the special teams

Overview: The Hawkeyes will have a new kicker this season with either Austin Signor or Daniel Murray handling those chores. Also, Ryan Donahue will take over at punter. This spring he launched towering kicks, but mixed in a few shanks, too. That is to be expected from a freshman. His consistency might be an issue. The Hawkeyes also need vast improvement on kickoff returns after ranking near the bottom of the NCAA last season.

Best player: When Godfrey isn't playing CB, he's an effective gunner on the punt team.

Grade the units:
K: C+. Whoever takes over will have to fill the shoes of Nate Kaeding and Kyle Schlicher
P: B-. Donahue has a big leg but lacks experience.
KR: C-. Sims and Shonn Greene were part of a disappointing kick return unit.
PR: B. Douglas and Andy Brodell both averaged more than 10 yards per return.

Breaking down the coaching

Overview: Kirk Ferentz remains one of the nation's most respected coaches, but the locals may get restless if the Hawkeyes don't improve this year. A couple of average seasons don't sit well after three consecutive years (2002-2004) of double-digit victory totals. Offensively, the Hawkeyes have been called too conservative at times. However, they're also usually effective at what they do.

Season outlook with bowl forecast
All things point to a rebound year for the Hawkeyes after going 6-7. Several key players have recovered from injuries. Most importantly, Iowa dodges both Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten schedule. The conference title is likely out of reach with road trips to Wisconsin and Penn State, but Iowa could go to one of the better Big Ten bowls like the Outback.
Grade the coaches:
Head coach: A. Last season was a tough one for Ferentz, but he still manages to get a lot out of a little. Having his team healthy could lead to a rebound year.
Offense: B. Look for a meat-and-potatoes attack with Young leading the way for ninth-year coordinator Ken O'Keefe.
Defense: B. A two-time Broyles Award finalist, coordinator Norm Parker is another assistant entering his ninth year at Iowa.

Special teams: C. Special teams have been a plus for Iowa in recent years, but a new kicker/punter tandem along with average returners means coaches have their work cut out for them.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 50. Coming tomorrow: No. 42.


 

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