2013 Iowa football's 10 things to know: Can Kirk Ferentz turn it around again?

Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

Kirk Ferentz has as much job security as a guy could ask for after three straight years of significantly diminishing returns. Will the faith in Ferentz pay off? The outlook is not particularly rosy. For more Hawkeyes, visit Black Heart Gold Pants.

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
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
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.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 117 96 102 95
RUSHING 104 81 87 77
PASSING 102 98 105 95
Standard Downs 92 85 95
Passing Downs 95 113 83
Redzone 81 93 64
Q1 Rk 48 1st Down Rk 98
Q2 Rk 111 2nd Down Rk 94
Q3 Rk 109 3rd Down Rk 84
Q4 Rk 81

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.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
James Vandenberg 223 389 2,249 57.3% 7 8 22 5.4% 5.1
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)






Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
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
James Vandenberg QB 41 172 4.2 4.7 4 -2.5
Greg Garmon RB 38 122 3.2 2.6 0 -3.9
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.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Keenan Davis SE 88 47 571 53.4% 6.5 23.3% 51.1% 6.7 70.4
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
Greg Garmon RB 13 8 57 61.5% 4.4 3.4% 53.8% 4.2 7.0
Zach Derby TE 12 6 48 50.0% 4.0 3.2% 75.0% 3.3 5.9
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.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 95.5 2.65 3.37 33.2% 66.7% 20.2% 108.4 5.1% 5.1%
Rank 88 102 50 115 62 85 56 70 41
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
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)

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 49 54 54 58
RUSHING 64 29 26 32
PASSING 45 89 95 86
Standard Downs 57 59 53
Passing Downs 64 45 71
Redzone 42 57 39
Q1 Rk 66 1st Down Rk 79
Q2 Rk 95 2nd Down Rk 22
Q3 Rk 59 3rd Down Rk 93
Q4 Rk 22

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.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 109.6 2.90 2.34 36.2% 60.9% 19.6% 78.7 3.7% 3.6%
Rank 24 57 12 34 22 58 95 96 109
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Joe Gaglione DE 11 33.5 4.9% 9 5 0 0 2 0
Louis Trinca-Pasat DT 6'3, 290 Jr. *** (5.6) 12 29.5 4.3% 4 0 0 1 0 1
Steve Bigach DT 12 27.5 4.0% 1.5 0.5 0 0 2 0
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)
Daumantas Venckus-
Cucchiara
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.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
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)







Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Micah Hyde CB 12 61.0 8.9% 4 0 1 14 2 3
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
Tom Donatell SS 12 31.0 4.5% 0.5 0 2 0 1 0
Nico Law SS 6'1, 200 Jr. *** (5.5) 12 22.0 3.2% 2 0 0 1 0 0
Greg Castillo CB 11 21.0 3.1% 0 0 2 1 0 0
Collin Sleeper DB 10 8.0 1.2% 0 0 0 0 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Connor Kornbrath 6'6, 240 So. 53 37.9 1 18 10 52.8%
John Wienke 14 37.8 4 2 9 78.6%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Mike Meyer 6'2, 190 Sr. 51 62.6 21 41.2%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Mike Meyer 6'2, 190 Sr. 25-25 12-13 92.3% 5-8 62.5%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Jordan Cotton KR 6'1, 192 Sr. 19 28.2 1
Greg Garmon KR 5 23.6 0
Keenan Davis KR 5 18.6 0
Micah Hyde PR 16 7.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 33
Net Punting 107
Net Kickoffs 30
Touchback Pct 40
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

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug Northern Illinois 39
7-Sep Missouri State NR
14-Sep at Iowa State 79
21-Sep Western Michigan 96
28-Sep at Minnesota 72
5-Oct Michigan State 18
19-Oct at Ohio State 10
26-Oct Northwestern 40
2-Nov Wisconsin 16
9-Nov at Purdue 80
23-Nov Michigan 28
29-Nov at Nebraska 21
Five-Year F/+ Rk 24
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 48
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* +12 / +5.1
TO Luck/Game 2.9
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 14 (7, 7)
Yds/Pt Margin** -0.6

10. The Minnesota game is enormous

Here's what I said about Minnesota's schedule last week:

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.

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