Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. Bucking trends
The F/+ chart below basically looks like the climax to a roller coaster, doesn't it? After limping to a 19-18 record from 2005-07 (following an incredible 31-7 run from 2002-04), Iowa surged to a second peak in the Kirk Ferentz era. It jumped from 6-6 and 70th in the F/+ rankings in 2007 to 9-4 and 12th in 2008, then 11-2 and 11th in 2009. And then came the nearly linear downhill slide. 8-5 and 21st in 2010. 7-6 and 46th in 2011. 4-8 and 7-2nd in 2012.
Iowa is in a bit of a tailspin at the moment. After playing decent football for the first half of the 2012 season, the Hawkeyes crumbled down the stretch and finished with their worst record since they went 3-9 in Ferentz's second season (2000). The football has grown stale in Iowa City, and it's safe to say the fans have noticed.
A coach less accomplished than Ferentz probably wouldn't have survived to coach another year after this downward trend. An athletic director less patient than Iowa's Gary Barta would probably be tightening the screws quite a bit. But as it stands, Barta seems pretty happy with Ferentz, and even if he wasn't, an incredible buyout would render him incapable of doing anything about it anyway.
So yeah, Ferentz will remain at Iowa for the foreseeable future. That's probably not a good thing, but it's not impossible for Ferentz to right the wrong kind of trend. For starters, he's done it once already. Iowa's 2010-12 span is strangely similar to that of 2005-07, and at the program's most uncertain point, the Hawkeyes made a lovely leap. And Oregon State made a similar recovery just last season, bouncing from 3-9, 88th, and hopeless in 2011 to 9-4 and 18th.
Of course, a year ago I was finding a lot more hope in Oregon State than I am right now. Anything can happen, but it's hard to get too excited about what the Hawkeyes will look like on the field in 2013.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 72|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||vs. Northern Illinois||18-17||W||21.0 - 9.2||W|
|8-Sep||Iowa State||6-9||L||15.5 - 23.3||L|
|15-Sep||Northern Iowa||27-16||W||28.7 - 37.7||L|
|22-Sep||Central Michigan||31-32||L||37.8 - 27.2||W|
|29-Sep||Minnesota||31-13||W||29.9 - 24.7||W|
|13-Oct||at Michigan State||19-16||W||22.4 - 23.7||L|
|20-Oct||Penn State||14-38||L||15.6 - 28.8||L|
|27-Oct||at Northwestern||17-28||L||25.5 - 39.9||L|
|3-Nov||at Indiana||21-24||L||19.9 - 29.3||L|
|10-Nov||Purdue||24-27||L||15.5 - 34.1||L|
|17-Nov||at Michigan||17-42||L||30.1 - 43.7||L|
|23-Nov||Nebraska||7-13||L||16.0 - 18.4||L|
|Points Per Game||19.3||113||22.9||33|
|Adj. Points Per Game||23.2||107||28.3||64|
2. Things fall apart
It took a lot to lose to Central Michigan. Iowa averaged 8.1 yards per play to CMU's 5.7 and took control of the game with a 17-0 run in the second half to go up, 31-23, with barely two minutes remaining. But the Hawkeyes lost the game's only fumble (which led to a field goal), the game's terribly slow pace (CMU ran 69 plays, Iowa only 53) allowed CMU to keep things close, and the Chippewas recovered a late onside kick and bombed in a 47-yard field goal at the buzzer.
That's a long way of pointing out that the CMU loss was more of a "s*** happens" game than a sign of things to come. Iowa was at best average through the first half of the season, but it was at least that. Beginning with the Penn State game, however, Iowa was just plain awful.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 6 games): Iowa 25.9, Opponent 24.3 (plus-1.6)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 6 games): Opponent 32.4, Iowa 20.4 (minus-12.0)
A mediocre offense fell apart (which is what happens when your run-first offense doesn't have a running back and you can't even pretend to pass the ball), and an above-average defense lost any semblance of an edge. Iowa gained just 200 yards against Nebraska, 209 versus Penn State, 257 versus Michigan State, and 264 against Purdue (!); meanwhile, Michigan gained 513, Penn State gained 504, Purdue gained 490, and Indiana gained 473.
If you're enduring a bad season, you at least want to be able to point to youth or late improvement as a sign of hope for the next season. Iowa wasn't just amazingly young, and there was no improvement whatsoever.
|Q1 Rk||48||1st Down Rk||98|
|Q2 Rk||111||2nd Down Rk||94|
|Q3 Rk||109||3rd Down Rk||84|
3. Kirk Ferentz hired Greg Davis to fix his offense
I can't get past it.
A year ago, tasked with fixing an offense that had fallen to a respectable but less-than-elite 41st in Off. F/+, Kirk Ferentz decided to hire Greg Davis as his offensive coordinator. Davis was the coordinator for some strong offenses at Texas, but the Longhorns ranked fourth in Off. F/+ in 2008 and ninth in 2009 despite a general lack of success on standard downs (the play-calling and game-planning downs, so to speak). I've long called former Texas quarterback Colt McCoy a passing-downs magician for his ability to bail Texas out consistently on third-and-7. Well, without McCoy, Davis' last two offenses have ranked 100th in Off. F/+ (Texas 2010) and 94th (Iowa 2012).
Now, even the best offensive coordinator in the country would have found things difficult in Iowa City last year. Iowa lost so many running backs that BHGP's AIRBHG became an Urban Dictionary entry, the line was shaky, and there was little to no demonstrable talent in the receiving corps (or at quarterback, for that matter). This offense was doomed from the start, but assuming Greg Davis had the answers for this multitude of questions seemed misguided from the start.
Again, Ferentz could turn this thing around. Things like that happen in college football. But this hire did not lend much optimism to the cause.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Cody Sokol||6'2, 215||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Jake Rudock||6'3, 205||So.||*** (5.6)|
|C.J. Beathard||6'2, 180||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Mark Weisman||RB||6'0, 236||Jr.||** (5.2)||159||815||5.1||5.9||8||+4.2|
|Damon Bullock||RB||6'0, 200||Jr.||** (5.2)||135||513||3.8||2.9||3||-12.6|
|Jordan Canzeri (2011)||RB||5'9, 192||So.||** (5.2)||31||114||3.7||N/A||0||N/A|
|Barkley Hill||RB||6'0, 218||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Michael Malloy||RB||6'0, 215||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
4. The running game should improve
Again, Davis was dealt an awful hand. Mark Weisman, once a walk-on fullback, got the running back job by default, erupted (98 carries, 632 yards, eight touchdowns in four games), got hurt, then got hurt again. After averaging 6.4 yards per carry in his first four games as primary back, Weisman missed two games and averaged just 3.1 per carry in his last four games. And with all the depth chart issues at play -- Marcus Coker transferring, Jordan Canzeri suffering a torn ACL, De'Andre Johnson getting dismissed in August, four-star freshman Greg Garmon barely played, then transferred -- Iowa had no better options down the stretch than a gimpy Weisman.
In theory, things should improve on the ground this fall. For starters, Weisman is healthy; so is Canzeri, the top backup in 2011. Davis evidently prefers bigger backs, and he's got a few of them now in not only Weisman, but also redshirt freshmen Barkley Hill and Michael Malloy. Unless (or until) injuries or transfers wreck this unit, too, the backfield looks alright. Not great, but not completely desperate.
Of course, improvement at running back won't mean much if the line regresses from an already below-average state. After getting shuffled around quite a bit last fall, Iowa does return seven players with starting experience, but they have combined for just 36 career starts, and the Hawkeyes will be without their only two multi-year starters.
|Kevonte Martin-Manley||WR||6'0, 205||Jr.||** (5.4)||81||52||569||64.2%||7.0||21.4%||56.8%||7.1||70.2|
|C.J. Fiedorowicz||TE||6'7, 265||Sr.||**** (5.9)||65||45||435||69.2%||6.7||17.2%||52.3%||6.9||53.7|
|Damon Bullock||RB||6'0, 200||Jr.||** (5.2)||30||18||167||60.0%||5.6||7.9%||53.3%||5.8||20.6|
|Jordan Cotton||WR||6'1, 192||Sr.||*** (5.7)||26||12||172||46.2%||6.6||6.9%||46.2%||7.3||21.2|
|Mark Weisman||RB||6'0, 236||Jr.||** (5.2)||25||15||90||60.0%||3.6||6.6%||56.0%||3.3||11.1|
|Tevaun Smith||SE||6'2, 200||So.||*** (5.5)||10||3||31||30.0%||3.1||2.6%||70.0%||3.0||3.8|
|Don Shumpert||WR||6'3, 200||Sr.||*** (5.7)||9||6||29||66.7%||3.2||2.4%||44.4%||3.5||3.6|
|Jake Duzey||TE||6'4, 245||So.||*** (5.5)||7||3||16||42.9%||2.3||1.9%||42.9%||2.1||2.0|
|Henry Krieger Coble||TE||6'4, 245||So.||*** (5.5)||6||4||30||66.7%||5.0||1.6%||83.3%||4.7||3.7|
|Jacob Hillyer||SE||6'4, 205||So.||*** (5.5)||3||1||15||33.3%||5.0||0.8%||33.3%||9.1||1.9|
|Ray Hamilton||TE||6'5, 252||Jr.||**** (5.8)||2||2||20||100.0%||10.0||0.5%||100.0%||6.0||2.5|
|Jon Wisnieski||TE||6'5, 215||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
5. The passing game … probably won't be worse
Surely, right? It can only get so much worse, anyway.
Perhaps because of depth issues in the backfield, Iowa threw the ball quite a bit last fall, more than you would expect from a Ferentz offense. This was a problem, as the passing game was awful. James Vandenberg wasn't particularly good, but we don't really know how good he was because he had so little to work with. After completing 59 percent of his passes at 6.5 per attempt in 2011, his averages fell to 57 percent and just 5.1 in 2012 without the services of Marvin McNutt, Jr.
Keenan Davis, a decent No. 2 in 2011 (8.3 yards per target), was a pretty poor No. 1, and of the 13 players targeted at least three times in 2012, none averaged better than 7.0 yards per target. Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz showed nice hands and no explosiveness, while the only player with a decent per-catch average (Jordan Cotton) has an awful catch rate (46 percent). Of the four wideouts on the post-spring depth chart, Kevonte Martin-Manley was decent, and the other three combined to catch 16 of 39 passes for 218 yards last year. Yuck.
An iffy receiving corps is not the best "Congratulations, You've Won the Iowa Starting Quarterback Job!" present, but whoever emerges from a three-way dead heat -- Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol, or C.J. Beathard -- will get just that. Rudock emerged from the spring with a slight edge, but he still has a lot of work to do. But at least the bar is set pretty low for whoever ends up on the first string.
|James Ferentz||C||38 career starts; 2012 2nd All-Big Ten|
|Matt Tobin||LT||22 career starts|
|Brett Van Sloten||RT||6'7, 300||Sr.||** (5.4)||12 career starts|
|Austin Blythe||C||6'3, 300||So.||**** (5.8)||9 career starts|
|Brandon Scherff||LT||6'5, 315||Jr.||*** (5.7)||7 career starts|
|Conor Boffeli||LG||6'5, 295||Sr.||*** (5.5)||3 career starts|
|Andrew Donnal||RG||6'7, 305||Jr.||**** (5.8)||3 career starts|
|Nolan MacMillan||OT||6'6, 294||Sr.||*** (5.5)||1 career start|
|Jordan Walsh||RG||6'4, 290||So.||**** (5.8)||1 career start|
|Drew Clark||LG||6'4, 288||Sr.||*** (5.5)|
|Eric Simmons||LG||6'2, 300||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Tommy Gaul||C||6'3, 277||Jr.||NR|
|Ryan Ward||LT||6'5, 290||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Mitch Keppy||RT||6'5, 295||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Colin Goebel||OL||6'4, 275||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Q1 Rk||66||1st Down Rk||79|
|Q2 Rk||95||2nd Down Rk||22|
|Q3 Rk||59||3rd Down Rk||93|
6. "A great defense against the run is nothing without a good pass defense"
I used this Football Outsiders Almanac line in Wednesday's Michigan preview, and I'll use it again here because Iowa's defense experienced the exact same dynamic as Michigan's last fall, only more extreme: strong against the run, putrid against the pass. This was by no means Ferentz's best run defense, but it was good enough, preventing opportunities and stepping up in short-yardage.
But the Hawkeyes were unable to replace the pass-rush production of departed tackle Mike Daniels -- in all, Iowa got 10.5 sacks from the tackle position in 2011 and got 0.5 last year -- and the secondary couldn't make up the difference. The pass defense was awful in famed coordinator Norm Parker's final season (92nd in Passing S&P+) and got no better under Phil Parker last year.
To say the least, this is a hindrance.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Louis Trinca-Pasat||DT||6'3, 290||Jr.||*** (5.6)||12||29.5||4.3%||4||0||0||1||0||1|
|Darian Cooper||DT||6'2, 280||So.||*** (5.7)||12||25.0||3.7%||3.5||0||0||2||0||1|
|Dominic Alvis||DE||6'4, 265||Sr.||** (5.0)||12||24.5||3.6%||5||3||0||3||1||1|
|Carl Davis||DT||6'5, 315||Jr.||*** (5.6)||11||10.0||1.5%||1.5||0||0||0||0||1|
|Mike Hardy||DE||6'5, 275||Jr.||*** (5.6)||10||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Riley McMinn||DE||6'7, 260||So.||*** (5.6)||6||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Drew Ott||DE||6'4, 265||So.||*** (5.5)||5||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Melvin Spears||DE||6'2, 265||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Jaleel Johnson||DT||6'4, 310||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Faith Ekakitie||DT||6'3, 287||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|DE||6'5, 235||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
7. Strength gets stronger
As poor as the line was in generating pass pressure, it was stout against run blocking. With the return of tackles Louis Trinca-Pasat and Darian Cooper and the potential addition of a couple of four-star redshirt freshmen to the rotation, that shouldn't change. Iowa also returns everybody at linebacker, and I would be shocked if the Hawkeyes didn't rank in the Rushing S&P+ top 30 again.
In terms of strength and leverage, this is a high-quality unit. It's got size, and while it doesn't make a lot of plays in the backfield, it doesn't allow you to get very far downfield either. We tend to have pretty high expectations for the Iowa line in this regard -- the Hawkeyes' defensive surge in 2008-09 was fueled by a line that was both stout and capable of disrupting the run by itself, freeing the back seven to play read-and-react defense against the pass (and swallow the deeper passing game).
The problem, of course, was that those lines had pass rushers like Adrian Clayborn, Broderick Binns, Karl Klug and Mitch King, guys capable of punishing quarterbacks without the help of much blitzing. The 2013 Iowa line has a potentially strong pass rusher in Dominic Alvis ... and a bunch of players who are either unknowns or known for the wrong things.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Anthony Hitchens||WLB||6'1, 233||Sr.||** (5.4)||11||90.0||13.2%||5.5||1||0||0||0||0|
|James Morris||MLB||6'2, 240||Sr.||*** (5.7)||12||82.5||12.1%||9||1.5||1||4||1||1|
|Christian Kirksey||OLB||6'2, 235||Sr.||*** (5.6)||12||68.5||10.0%||3.5||2||2||2||1||4|
|Quinton Alston||MLB||6'1, 232||Jr.||*** (5.7)||10||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Travis Perry||OLB||6'3, 232||So.||** (5.2)||11||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Marcus Collins||LB||6'0, 222||Jr.||** (5.2)||6||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Nate Meier||LB||6'2, 235||So.||** (5.3)||1||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Cole Fisher||WLB||6'2, 228||So.||*** (5.5)|
|John Kenny||LB||6'2, 210||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Reggie Spearman||LB||6'2, 220||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Tanner Miller||FS||6'2, 207||Sr.||** (5.1)||12||48.0||7.0%||3||0||1||5||1||0|
|B.J. Lowery||CB||5'11, 193||Sr.||*** (5.6)||10||41.0||6.0%||1||0||1||3||0||0|
|Nico Law||SS||6'1, 200||Jr.||*** (5.5)||12||22.0||3.2%||2||0||0||1||0||0|
|Sean Draper||CB||6'0, 180||So.||*** (5.6)||11||5.5||0.8%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|John Lowdermilk||FS||6'2, 207||Jr.||** (5.3)||11||4.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Lomax||CB||5'10, 190||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Ruben Lile||DB||6'3, 210||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Maurice Fleming||CB||6'0, 188||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Anthony Gair||SS||6'2, 200||RSFr.||NR|
|Malik Rucker||DB||6'0, 175||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
8. Weakness gets weaker
Make no mistake: The offense is the main problem this year. Even if it'd had the 2009 defense last year, Iowa would have only been a decent team because of the inability to throw the ball or keep runners on the field. But the pass defense really was bad. And while the solid run defense could get even better in 2013, the less-than-solid pass D could potentially get worse. That's what happens when you lose not only your best pass rusher from a unit bereft of pass rushers, but also your only quality on-ball defender.
It seemed like Micah Hyde was at Iowa for 16 years, but he is now a Green Bay Packer. The Iowa secondary defensed (intercepted or broke up) 32 passes last season; Hyde alone had 15 of them. Norm Parker's defenses relied on technique, discipline, and individual play-making ability to dominate without a tactically aggressive approach; at first glance, it appears that Phil Parker's defense is quite similar. That's a problem when there is minimal individual play-making ability. Without disruptive forces, this defense is just passive.
And beyond that, experience could be an issue as well; four of last year's top seven defensive backs are gone. Now, beyond Hyde, this unit wasn't necessarily something to write home about (and really, who "writes home" these days, anyway?), but experience is still usually better than inexperience. This unit needs a couple of pleasant surprises this fall.
|Connor Kornbrath||6'6, 240||So.||53||37.9||1||18||10||52.8%|
|Mike Meyer||6'2, 190||Sr.||51||62.6||21||41.2%|
|Mike Meyer||6'2, 190||Sr.||25-25||12-13||92.3%||5-8||62.5%|
|Jordan Cotton||KR||6'1, 192||Sr.||19||28.2||1|
|Special Teams F/+||33|
|Field Goal Pct||23|
|Kick Returns Avg||50|
|Punt Returns Avg||80|
9. Coax more out of special teams
You can win some games with a good run offense, a good run defense, and a turtle's pace. Iowa has proven that through the years. Granted, your passing offense and defense can't be complete and total liabilities, but if there is at least competence there, then you can aim to win the field position battle and leverage yourself into opportunities to win games.
If you lose the field position battle, however, there are problems. While the Iowa special teams unit as a whole was pretty decent, punting and punt coverage were issues. And without a solid punt returner in Hyde, trading punts for punts might not work out very well for Iowa.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|14-Sep||at Iowa State||79|
|19-Oct||at Ohio State||10|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||24|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||48|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+12 / +5.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||14 (7, 7)|
10. The Minnesota game is enormous
Minnesota plays five teams projected worse than 60th in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2013. The Gophers play four of them in the first four weeks of the season, three at home. Throw in a home game versus Iowa, and you've got an incredibly navigable September. Minnesota better take full advantage of that, however, because there might not be a sure win on the schedule after that.
One can say almost exactly the same thing about Iowa. The Hawkeyes play five teams projected worse than 70th, and they get four of them in the first five weeks of the season, two at home. Five of their last seven opponents are projected 28th or better. If Iowa is to assure itself of only a one-year bowl drought, a fast start is an absolute must. There is room for perhaps one lower-tier Big Ten team to work its way toward six wins; the loser of the Iowa-Minnesota game will find the going very, very tough.
Again, turnarounds can happen. That Kirk Ferentz has already pulled one off in his tenure proves that he is indeed capable of it. But Mark Weisman probably isn't Shonn Greene. Kevonte Martin-Manley and Tevaun Smith are probably not Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt. Nobody on the defensive line is anywhere close to Adrian Clayborn. And it doesn't appear there's a Tyler Sash or Amari Spievey for that matter, either. Recruiting has not produced much standout talent recently, and Ferentz didn't exactly inspire with his choice of offensive coordinator.
Stability is typically a good thing -- and lord knows Ferentz has more job security than normal for this situation -- but you need talent for the stability to pay off. I'm not sure Iowa has enough of it anymore. Maybe a batch of freshmen and redshirt freshmen can bring both life and explosiveness to the table. But that's not a "maybe" that tends to come to fruition.