HI Predicts Iowa '11

It's that time of year again. Hawkeye Insider Publisher Rob Howe predicts the upcoming Iowa football season on a game-by-game basis.

Another college football season is upon us, so that means its time for meaningless predictions. I wouldn't want to be left out of the fun parade.

Here's a look at Iowa's 2012 season, game-by-game. I was torn on quite a few matchups but in the end came up with 9-3:

  • GAME 1 - vs. Tennessee Tech, 9/3, 11 a.m.:
  • They're the Golden Eagles from the Ohio Valley Conference. Their most distinguished football alum is former LA Rams linebacker Jim Youngblood.

    And, they're the FCS cream puff FBS schools place on the schedule to help get bowl eligible. A loss by the Hawkeyes in a game like this one would create a meltdown of seismic proportions.

    Iowa fans always will have the '09 UNI game in the back of their minds serving as a reminder of what can happen if their team doesn't play well against an opponent from a lower level. Two blocked field goals by the Hawkeyes in the game's final minute preserving victory tells a cautionary tale.

    Tech rides into Kinnick Stadium with the slogan "the fastest 60 minutes in football." The Eagles want force the action on both sides of the ball.

    Tech did not play fare well against two BCS opponents in '10. They lost to Arkansas and TCU by a combined score of 106-10.

    Prediction: IOWA 42, Tennessee Tech 7

  • GAME 2 - at Iowa State, 9/10, 11 a.m.:
  • With Nebraska joining the Big Ten, there is talk that this series will go by the wayside down the road, especially if the conference goes to a nine-game league schedule. That would be a sad day.

    Iowa should always play the Cyclones. It's great for the state and a lot of fun. The talk that it's a no-win for the Hawkeyes is rubbish.

    Yes, the story line for the big game can get redundant. Iowa usually is favored and the hunted. Iowa State plays the underdog role well, providing hope for its fan base and fear for the Hawkeye followers.

    Plenty of Iowa fans will view this game as a walk in the park. It happens every year and I still don't get it.

    Iowa State will be a game opponent and its fans will create a hostile environment. Paul Rhoads can coach.

    It should be a match-up strength vs. strength. Iowa brings back an experienced offense against a Cyclone defense with eight starters returning. The Hawkeyes' defense and Iowa State's offense could experience some growing pains after being hit hard by graduation.

    This contest could come down to a turnover, special teams play or some other odd intangible. It should be a close one.

    Prediction: IOWA 24, ISU 20

  • GAME 3 - Pittsburgh, 9/17, 11 a.m.:
  • If it seems like a long time ago that the first part of this home-and-home was played, well, it was. Unlike the Syracuse series that was 2006-07, the Hawkeyes played at Pittsburgh in '08 and are just now getting the return game.

    Jake Christensen started the game at quarterback for Iowa. It would be the last start in his Hawkeye career, as Ricky Stanzi would take the reigns the next week against Iowa State.

    Iowa lost 21-20 that day in the Steel City. Most of the key players in that contest, like Shonn Greene and LeSean McCoy, have moved on to the NFL or post-playing careers.

    The Panthers fired Dave Wannstedt after last season and hired Mike Haywood from Miami of Ohio. The latter was then let go after two weeks on the job after being charged with domestic battery. Tulsa's Todd Graham then was brought in.

    While the first match-up against Pittsburgh was a smash-mouth, grind-it-out affair, this season's tilt will be a contrast in styles. Graham likes to have his offense snap the ball every 15 seconds (no huddle) and defensively the coach runs a 3-4 with plenty of blitz packages and speed.

    The middle of September tends to be warm in Iowa and the Panthers could create some problems if they succeed with the hurry-up offense. They also could force the Hawkeyes to be more multiple on defense and substitute with a somewhat inexperienced group.

    It's always tough to predict how much a new coach will be able to change a system he takes over from another philosophy. There's usually an adjustment period for the learning curve and personnel differences.

    Pitt will be coming off home games against Buffalo and Maine. The Hawkeyes will be returning from what should be a battle in Ames.

    I think this will be a close contest, something like what we saw a few years ago in Pennsylvania.

    Prediction: IOWA 27, Pitt 24

  • GAME 4 - Louisiana-Monroe, 9/24, TBA:
  • The Warhawks should be a welcome sight for Iowa after facing two consecutive BCS level opponents in the non-conference season. ULM is picked to finish third in the Sun Belt and will be a huge underdog in this game.

    About the only way this game is competitive into the second half is if the Hawkeyes come out flat. It's possible after the aforementioned tough road tilt coming into the contest.

    The Warhawks are a school that likes to schedule up in the pre-conference season. They open the campaign at Florida State on Sept. 3, a game that can be seen on ESPNU. Two weeks later, they're at TCU the Saturday before coming to Iowa City.

    Already overmatched, you have to figure ULM will be warn down from the competition and travel. If this one is close at all, that's not a good sign for the Hawkeyes.

    Prediction: IOWA 56, ULM 10

  • GAME 5 - at Penn State, 10/8, TBA.:
  • Hey. Look. Iowa opens the Big Ten season on the road. The Hawkeyes will have begun the league slate on the road in an amazing 10 of Kirk Ferentz's 13 seasons as head coach at the school.

    The good news is that Happy Valley has been pretty good to Ferentz during his tenure. The native of Pennsylvania has posted a 4-1 record at Beaver Stadium.

    The Hawkeyes rolled over Penn State, 21-10, in Iowa City last season. The game was not as competitive as the final score may indicate.

    This season's contest could come down to the quarterback position. Iowa's James Vandenberg will be starting his first conference game on the road since stepping in for Stanzi at Ohio State a few years back. The Nittany Lions have a competition on their hands with Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin figuring to battle it out. Both come into the season after experiencing mixed results last year.

    Penn State also must replace both tackles and a guard on it's O-line along with TB Evan Royster. The Hawkeyes return much more on that side of the ball to aid Vandenberg and put less on his shoulders.

    I think this games pits two pretty even teams with question marks against each other. In these situations, I give the edge to the home team.

    Prediction: Penn State 17, IOWA 10

  • GAME 6 - Northwestern, 10/15, 6 p.m.:
  • As much as Iowa has enjoyed beating Penn State during the Ferentz era, the Wildcats have proven to be a thorn in the Hawkeyes' side. Northwestern has won the last three games in the series and five of the last six.

    With all due respect to Michigan's Denard Robinson, Wildcat quarterback Dan Persa would be my choice as the pre-season's best returning signal caller.

    Northwestern should be a formidable foe against this season with nine starters back on offense and seven on defense. Four players return on the offensive line to protect Persa.

    Ferentz stresses preparing for each opponent equally, but if the Hawkeyes aren't a little more motivated for this one, something is wrong.

    Prediction: IOWA 28, Northwestern 24

  • GAME 7 - Indiana, 10/22, 11 a.m.:
  • Iowa escaped Bloomington by the skin of its teeth in '10 with a late TD pass attempt falling short for the Hoosiers. Despite the win, it turned out to be a foreshadowing of where the Hawkeye season was headed. They would not win another regular-season game.

    Even though Iowa's success greatly has exceeded what the Hoosiers have accomplished, Indiana, like Northwestern, has been a thorn in the Hawkeyes' side. Even the Iowa wins usually have been ugly and close.

    Like Northwestern, the Hoosiers have favored a high-octane offense that spreads the field. The Hawkeyes have struggled with that set throughout the Ferentz Era.

    Things probably won't get easier for Iowa now that former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has taken over the Hoosier reigns. He's already having success on the recruiting trail. While he won't have the talent level he enjoyed in Norman, Indiana has some strong athletes at the skill positions and should be able to put points on the board.

    The biggest question for Wilson will be at quarterback, where Ben Chappell's eligibility expired last season. He gave the Hawkeyes fits.

    Prediction: IOWA 34, Indiana 17

  • GAME 8 - at Minnesota, 10/29, TBA:
  • The Hawkeyes return to a place that has shown them some of the lowest lows under Ferentz. They looked lost in dropping last year's regular-season finale there. To wrap up 2006, they were embarrassed in Minneapolis.

    The Battle for Floyd of Rosedale no longer wraps up the season for these two rivals. The weather certainly should be better than it was last November when the Hawkeye defense looked frozen in its footsteps.

    The Golden Gophers welcome a new coaching regime with former Northern Illinois head man Jerry Kill now leading the way. While former coach Tim Brewster always seemed like a square peg fitting into a round hole in Minnesota, Kill is a no-nonsense builder of programs who could return Minnesota to respectability.

    Kill led Northern to bowl games the last three seasons. He instilled toughness in the Huskies that could also work well in Minneapolis.

    Kill will have his work cut out for him in Year 1 after the team lost 10 starters, including veteran quarterback Adam Weber. The Minnesota native holds the school records for passing yards in a season and career.

    Prediction: IOWA 31, Minnesota 13

  • GAME 9 - Michigan, 11/5, TBA:
  • For the third week in a row, the Hawkeyes will face a team with a new coaching staff. Michigan man Brady Hoke steps in for Rich Rodriguez in Ann Arbor.

    Like Kill in Minnesota, Hoke appears to be a much better fit than his predecessor was at Michigan. Also like Kill, Hoke is a rebuilder of programs who has won wherever he's been. His accomplishments at San Diego State and Ball State is very impressive.

    Hoke has a lot of work ahead of him. Rich Rod's system differed greatly from what he will attempt to employ. The Wolverines' defense the last few years has been an abomination.

    The good thing for Hoke and company is that there always is talent on the Michigan roster. This year is not different. The key for him will be using the multi-dimensional and explosive Denard Robinson in a more traditional offense, if the coach chooses to go that way in '11.

    Prediction: IOWA 28, Michigan 24

  • GAME 10 - Michigan State, 11/12, TBA:
  • A year after the Ricky Stanzi to Marin McNutt gem in East Lansing, the Hawkeyes embarrassed a very good Michigan State team last season in Kinnick Stadium. It turned out to be Iowa's best performance of the season and the worst for the Spartans.

    I believe last year was more of an aberration than will be the norm in this series. The two teams have built their programs similarly in that they're physical on defense and like the pound the ball on offense.

    Kirk Cousins should give Michigan State fans some comfort. Many of the league's teams will be replacing their quarterbacks, while the Spartans return a very solid veteran at the position. That's the good news.

    Michigan State will be replacing 16 starters overall, including both tackles and the its center on the offensive line. Standout linebackers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon also are gone.

    This will be a good test to see if Coach Mark Dantonio has built depth in his program through recruiting. The guys stepping into starting roles have been brought in and developed by this staff.

    Prediction: IOWA 20, MSU 17

  • GAME 11 - at Purdue, 11/19, TBA:
  • Boy, I can already feel the electricity from this new inter-divisional rivalry game. All they need now is a goofy trophy for the winner.

    Seriously, with as many changes and compromises made in Big ten expansion, if the worst thing that happens to the Hawkeyes is that Purdue is the designated protected rival from the Leaders Division, so be it. These teams have played some doozies after Ferentz returned to Iowa.

    The Boilermakers have been off of the Iowa schedule in Danny Hope's first two years as head coach in West Lafayette. He's 9-15 since replacing Cowboy Joe Tiller.

    The Boilermaker quarterbacks were hit hard by injury last season. On the plus side, they built depth and got several guys experience at the position.

    Hope also brings back all but six starters, including four of five offensive linemen. The defense will miss all-American end Ryan Kerrigan, but nine players return on that side of the ball.

    Purdue will be a team flying under the radar because if the last few season's performances. However, the Boilermakers boast some solid talent and could surprise.

    Prediction: Purdue 17, IOWA 14

  • GAME 12 - at Nebraska, 11/15, 11 a.m.
  • When you consider the outcome of Big Ten expansion, Iowa made out pretty well. The Hawkeyes added a natural, border rival and ended up with a premium nationally televised game the day after Thanksgiving.

    Nationally, Iowa will be viewed as the Robin to Nebraska's Batman in this matchup. The Cornhuskers represent the blue blood element of what could become a real nice rivalry.

    But like Michigan and Penn State have learned, Iowa can compete with anybody in the country most years. If the Hawkeyes don't have respect from the Nebraska fans yet, they will earn it early on.

    The Huskers are the consensus pick to win the Legends Division and likely will be favored to win this one in Lincoln. However, they'll be coming off back-to-back road games at Penn State and Michigan.

    This game likely will end up being a battle of wills with both teams favoring a running attack and physical, stingy defenses. Much like the Hawkeyes, Nebraska will need to replace some key players on both sides of the ball.

    Prediction: Nebraska 20, IOWA 13

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