The Iowa Hawkeyes are just under two weeks from their season opener against foe Illinois State inside Kinnick Stadium. This is an intriguing year for Kirk Ferentz's bunch, with the results totally unpredictable. The main reason for that has to do with their fortunate schedule, but also because of the potential to have a more explosive offense and a defense that has a lot of solid pieces in place.
Hawkeye Insider dug in deep to come up with the ten most important players to this year's campaign. Not the best players, but the players that are integral to this team's success for the 2015-2016 season.
Defensive End Nate Meier
He's one of the leaders on the team, and has had a strong fall camp. It is crucial for the senior to become someone that defenses have to pay attention to so that they don't align everything Drew Ott's way.
Weakside Linebacker Cole Fisher
He was announced as the starter at the will linebacker spot earlier today. As the lone senior starter of the linebacker, and someone that beat out Bo Bower for the job, his play could be a pleasant surprise for the Hawkeye defense this year.
Defensive Tackle Nathan Bazata
Losing defensive tackle Darian Cooper in the Spring was a big loss, and Bazata will be asked to shoulder a lot of the load in the middle. It will be a rotation, but he's the one with the most potential to shine.
Tight End George Kittle
The loss of Jake Duzey was a significant one, and though two tight ends see the field a lot for Iowa, Kittle is the one with the big-play ability. He's made a lot of explosive plays during Fall camp, and he'll have to continue that for this offense to be multi-dimensional. Quarterback C.J. Beathard is going to need a security blanket, and Kittle is best equipped to handle that responsibility.
Center Austin Blythe
The offensive line is a big question mark this season, particulary on the outside where no experience exists. What does that mean? More responsibility for the senior snapping the ball. He needs to take this unit under his wing, do his part in mentoring and assisting the youngsters, and lead the charge to become a cohesive unit.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard
Most lists of this nature are usually composed with the quarterback holding the top spot, after all it is the most important position on the field. However, I think there are far more important areas of the Hawkeyes and it's pretty well-known what they're going to get from the junior signal-caller. His arm strength is an asset, and important for them to stretch the field vertically.
Defensive End Drew Ott
He's the best player on the team, but not quite the most important in terms of having success this year. Still, your best players have to show up and be productive if you want to have a chance. The raw egg-eating pass rusher has wreaked havoc on the offensive line during practice, and should do so throughout the Fall as well.
Wide Receiver Tevaun Smith
This is a position unit that needs to be able to create separation, make big plays, and stretch the field vertically. Who has the most ability to take the top off of a defense, and do that? Tevaun Smith. He's done it in the past, but needs to become more of a consistent threat this year.
Running Back LeShun Daniels
When Iowa has been the most successful under head coach Kirk Ferentz, they've run the ball at a high level. Their biggest seasons have had a ton of production on the ground. They need to get back to that. Daniels is the most talented player in the backfield, listed as the starter, and is primed for a big season. It needs to happen for the Hawkeyes.
Offensive Tackle Boone Myers
Yes, he isn't the only new offensive tackle being broke in, but he's the one protecting the blind side of Beathard, and he's the one that will often be blocking the opponent's best pass rusher. For the offense to develop any kind of rhythm, they will need strong pass protection, particularly off the edge. That is Myers' responsibility, and he's still figuring it out. He's had his good days and he's had his bad days. They will need more good days from him to reach their goals.