Howe: Time for Improvement

Iowa finishes up another spring of practice on Saturday with it's annual open scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium. Not much is expected from the Hawkeyes this fall, but we've seen them surprise people before in these situations.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - A caller to our Saturday morning radio show suggested that Iowa's offensive ineptitude in 2012 resulted from injuries. He felt like his Hawkeyes could win five more games than it did last fall, putting them at a robust nine triumphs this upcoming season.

After exchanging the is-this-guy-drunk look with my co-host, Tom Suter, we countered the caller's assertion, pointing out that Iowa fell at home to Iowa State and Central Michigan before the health issues arose. We could not sink his optimism.

The discussion serves as a key reason as to why we love sports. There's intrigue. You know, that's why they play the game.

People predicting a major turnaround in Iowa's fortunes are in the minority. Big Ten Network Senior Writer Tom Dienhart ranks Iowa eighth in the league and believes it will miss the postseason for a second year in a row. Athlon's sees things getting worse in Iowa City.

Iowa's open practice in West Des Moines a few weeks ago hasn't sprouted good feelings. The offense looked shaky and none of the three quarterbacks competing for the starting spot created comfort in an already skeptical fan base.

The Hawkeyes hit the field again on Saturday at 2 p.m for their annual open spring scrimmage. They're unlikely to convince anyone that they're headed to the Rose Bowl in January.

One thing we couldn't tell our caller, however, was that he was wrong. He also wasn't right. None of us knew what would become Iowa in 2013.

We base our view on an upcoming campaign largely on what a team did last year and the players it returns. We have no idea if those athletes will improve, if new ones will emerge or if they all will work better together.

Based on recent history, it makes sense to take a stance that Iowa football is in the midst of a decline beginning after the 2009 season and it will continue. Faith in Coach Kirk Ferentz is dwindling. His approval rating may be at an all-time low.

Saturday's caller got me thinking, however. I, and other Iowa fans, have doubted Ferentz's ability to rebuild his program and have been proven wrong before.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, saw 2002's Big Ten Championship coming after the Hawkeyes won one game three years earlier. When Kinnick Stadium emptied following a season-ending loss to Western Michigan in '07, it was not a foreshadowing of an Orange Bowl appearance in '09.

Maybe it is time for another resurgence under Ferentz. It's not like Iowa is playing in a dominant conference, either. The Big Ten is as down as it's been in recent memory.

As bad as Iowa's 4-8 record looked last fall, it really only saw one blowout, a 42-17 whooping at Michigan. In good times and bad, Ferentz's M.O. has been to play conservative football and be in position to win in the fourth quarter.

It's hard to believe the Hawkeye offense can look any more inept than did under new offensive coordinator Greg Davis last year when it scored a Big-Ten worst 22 touchdowns. The bar of seven scoring passes from '13 is set pretty low. Iowa's line and running backs are solid.

Defensively, a veteran unit must find a way to pressure the quarterback. The line boasts some potential and it's not outlandish to think some of those prospects emerge, although far from a given.

Chris White was brought in to coordinate special teams after successfully coaching those units for the Minnesota Vikings. He's provided a nice foundation with senior kicker Mike Meyer and returning punter, Connor Kornbrath. It's not a stretch to think Iowa can make strides in its third phase.

I'm nowhere near being on board with our caller. I would be stunned if the Hawkeyes win nine games against an improved schedule.

However, I'm not lining up with the people that see Iowa's win total regressing from '12. Getting to six or seven victories is reasonable when you consider Ferentz's history of developing players.

It's conceivable that the team we're seeing in open practices this month can make considerable strides by September's season opener. Again, it's been known to happen around here.


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