IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa failed to live up to preseason hype in 2014. As a result, two things happened: one, the fans were very upset, and two, they lowered their expectations for next year.
The Hawkeye faithful falls in line with most schools across the country. Their hopes are tied to what happened the previous campaign.
Iowa won eight games and reached the Outback Bowl against LSU last fall a year after being 4-8. That set the bar for it to be the Big Ten West Division champions or bust in '14. A 7-5 result with three losses in four November games and relinquishing all four rivalry trophies soured those who root for the Black and Gold.
The Hawkeyes are expected to return a good amount of talent on both sides of the ball for '15. In the first of a two-part series, we take a look at the offense:
Starter - Jake Rudock, RS SR: Don't kill the messenger. You'll hear Ferentz talk about there being open competition at every position. It's coach speak. Rudock is unlikely to lose his starting position unless he's injured.
Backup - C.J. Beathard, RS JR: Provided he's on the roster for 2015, Beathard again will play the role of valuable No. 2 man. Ferentz and Greg Davis talked about a QB rotation this season but it just doesn't work with two guys sharing similar skill sets. And, the coaches couldn't appear more uncomfortable with it.
Others in the Mix: Tyler Wiegers was an injury away from playing as a true freshman this fall. That would not have been good. That's not a knock on the Michigan native. He's just a work in progress like most young players in the program. If Beathard were to transfer, Wiegers moves up to No. 2. If not, he's likely relegated to third-team reps. Incoming freshman Drew Cook and Ryan Boyle will red shirt.
Starter - Jordan Canzeri, RS SR: It would be nice to watch Canzeri play a full season void of injury. That's yet to happen. Perhaps it's based on his smallish frame. But after four years in the weight program, he's solid and should be able to handle 10-15 carries a game. He's a threat in the passing game as well.
Backup - LeShun Daniels, TR JR: The Ohio native would have benefitted from red shirting his first year on campus or even this past season but being thrown into the fire early should pay dividends in '15. He's the thunder to Canzeri's lightning.
Others in the Mix: Akrum Wadley should see significant playing time as the No. 3 back provided he hangs onto the football. He and Canzeri offer similar skill sets. Jonathan Parker is listed as a running back. Maybe his role could expand in playing that position in the traditional sense but it's more likely he'll continue being utilized in the jet sweep and other alignments that give him the ball in space to take advantage of his speed. C.J. Hilliard will be an option now as a redshirt freshman. Karon Higdon brings to Iowa City a comparable skill set to Wadley and Canzeri.
Starters - Tevaun Smith, TR SR; Matt Vandeberg, TR JR: Smith quietly paced the Hawkeyes in receiving yards this regular season with 559. He also caught 41 passes (2nd on team) and three touchdowns (tied for 1st). The reason his solid year flies under the radar is because the talent level and skill set is louder than the production at this point. But, he's a guy that does his best work stretching the field. And, well, you know…Vandeberg is mister reliable. Opposite of Smith, his numbers exceed his choir boy appearance. His 18.5 yards per reception was the best on the team. And he's as sure-handed as they come.
Others in the Mix: Jacob Hillyer (RS SR) is listed as a starter but Iowa's official depth chart shows 12 players on offense. He'll play plenty, especially in the red zone. After that, this group features a whole lot of question marks. The Derrick Willies story is well known. He would have been among the top four. With he, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Damond Powell and Andrew Stone gone, Smith, Vandenberg, Hillyer and Riley McCarron will be the only returning receivers to catch a college pass. McCarron did not catch a ball this fall. Derrick Mitchell Jr. and Andre Harris will be redshirt sophomores. True freshman Jay Scheel, who missed most of this season with an injury, will be playing catch up this bowl prep and in the spring but certainly possesses the raw skills to be a productive player at this level. The Hawkeyes have verbal commitments from three receivers in the 2015 recruiting class. Adrian Falconer, Emmanuel Ogwo and Jerminic Smith look to follow in the footsteps of Smith and Vandeberg in earning playing time as true freshmen.
Starter - Jake Duzey, TR SR: I'm going to go with Duzey here but certainly wouldn't be surprised to see Henry Krieger Coble on the depth chart's first line. Either way, these two are 1 and 1A. And that puts Iowa in good shape going into '15. Ray Hamilton was utilized more as a blocker than receiver this fall, catching just 15 passes despite being listed as the first-teamer all year. Duzey pulled in 36 balls for 392 yards and three scores. His playing time will be tied to his improvements as a blocker, something Krieger Coble does very well. Krieger Coble caught just three passes for 28 yards but two of those grabs were touchdowns. He underwent surgery late this season but a full recovery is expected.
Others in the Mix: George Kittle caught just one pass for 25 yards in '14 after recording five as a freshman. He's expected to move up another spot on the depth chart next fall and provides an athletic threat in the passing game. Jon Wisnieski missed this season after suffering an ACL injury. While he'll have plenty of catching up to do on the three guys ahead of him on the two-deep, he's talented enough to advance. Walk-on Peter Pekar provides depth. Incoming recruit Nate Vejvoda likely is headed for a redshirt year.
Starter - Adam Cox, RS SR: The Hawkeyes are fortunate to have three solid options here. Cox was projected to start before tearing his ACL in August. Provided he fully recovers, he appears a strong candidate to reclaim the No. 1 spot as a senior in '15. He's a physical blocker and also threatens the defense as a receiver.
Others in the Mix: Macon Plewa stepped in as a high-end replacement for Cox before injury issues sidelined him for much of the fall. When he made it into the lineup, he proved worthy and certainly could claim the starting gig next season. John Kenny seamlessly transitioned from linebacker to fullback after Cox went down and took the vast majority of the game reps. A good athlete, he'll provide stiff competition at this position with normal physical development expected going into his redshirt sophomore campaign.
Starters - Austin Blythe, RS SR; Ike Boettger, RS SO; Sean Welsh, RS SO; Jordan Walsh, RS SR; Cole Croston, RS JR: The Hawkeyes head into spring practice with no position more unsettled than offensive line. Gone will be Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff along with fellow starters Tommy Gaul and Andrew Donnal. Blythe looks like the only lock to start and that could be at center or guard, although a return to the middle is preferred. Boettger appears to be Sherff's heir apparent and sits in the clubhouse with the lead at left tackle. Walsh has started for much of the last two seasons but proved to be disappointingly inconsistent at guard in '14. Likewise, Welsh experienced turbulence in his first-year starting on the interior. Croston, a Hawkeye legacy, has worked his way up the ladder from walk-on to serious contender for a starting spot in his fourth year in campus. He and the others not named Blythe should expect plenty of competition for No. 1 jobs.
Others in the Mix: I didn't list Boone Myers, Ryan Ward and Eric Simmons as starters here but they will have something to say on how things play out this spring and in August camp. To me, they're in the mix of eight vying for five spots. Ward, like Boettger, received playing time in '14 as a blocking tight end. Myers may have played had he not been injured. Simmons enters his redshirt senior year with two years of JUCO and two more campaigns at Iowa under his belt. Mitch Keppy and Colin Goebel also could ascend up the two-deep with strong off-seasons. Redshirt-freshman-to-be, Keegan Render, might push his athletic 300-pound frame into game action as well. The Hawkeyes addressed the future at the position in the '15 recruiting class but it's unlikely any of the incoming prospects will see the field in their first years on campus.
Starter - Marshall Koehn, RS SR: After a rocky start, the Solon product performed well in his first year as the No. 1 kicker. He connected on 10 of his last 11 field goal attempts, which included kicks from 52, 48 and 46 yards. He also recorded 42 touchbacks on 63 kickoffs and converted all 34 extra-point tries.
Others in the Mix: True freshman Mick Ellis saw his redshirt removed when Koehn missed on three of his first five field goal attempts, all of which were inside 40 yards. Ellis was brought in on a scholarship so the hope is he takes the reigns from Koehn in '16. If Koehn remains consistent, a red-shirt year for Ellis next fall would give him three seasons as the starter. Miguel Recinos walked on from Mason City in '14. The coaches like his potential.