Football Footnotes with Rob Howe: 8-3

Most preseason prognosticators place Iowa somewhere in the middle of the Big Ten standings. And that's fine with the Hawkeyes.

"We expected to not be one of the top teams," Iowa strong safety Bob Sanders said. " The same thing happened last year and look how the year turned out."

The Hawkeyes barreled to an 11-2 season with an 8-0 conference mark. They finished as the No. 8 team nationally.

"I didn't worry too much last year where we were picked," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We thought we were going to have a pretty good football team. That wasn't really the consensus out there in the magazines.

"You really don't worry about those things. I'm all for those publications. I'm all for predictions. That's the fun of sports. Fortunately, things get decided on the field."

Iowa lost four starters on its offensive line, a Heisman Trophy runner-up in quarterback Brad Banks and all-world tight end Dallas Clark. All-American defensive tackle Colin Cole and super middle linebacker Fred Barr also exited.

Those factors probably weighed heavily in the preseason predictions. The Chicago Sun-Times chose the Hawkeyes as the eighth-best group in the Big Ten.

"That's those guys' job," Sanders said. "I guess they know what they're talking about. It's just something that you can't worry about too much.

"We just have a team that knows that every year is different and it really doesn't matter what people say. We're the ones that have to take care of business and show people what we can do."

Ferentz predicts a wide-open conference race. He would be surprised if two teams went undefeated in league play, as happened with his team and National Champion Ohio State a year ago.

In fact, National Champion Michigan in 1997 was the lone Big Ten team to run the conference schedule in the previous six years.

"We feel like we're going to have a good football team," Ferentz said. "The good news is that we have some strengths. In years past, we've gone the season not sure where our strengths were. We're going to try to play to our strengths and see what happens.

"I think it's fair to say that our margin of error is a little slimmer than other teams. There's no doubt about that. As long as you realize that and you get that across to your players, it's still possible."

NO FEAR: A lot of the so-called experts predict another national championship for Ohio State.

The Hawkeyes travel to Columbus on Oct. 18 for a match-up that most fans wanted, but nobody saw, last season.

"It's not like they're unbeatable or that you can't beat them," Sanders said. "It's not like we're going to be afraid to play them or we're going to be intimidated by them. We just have to go out and play better than we would play any other game."

Ohio State won five games last season by six or fewer points. It beat Miami, 31-24, in overtime in the national championship game.

Controversy hit the Buckeyes' program recently. The New York Times published a story that charged the school with academic improprieties in regards to start running back Maurice Clarett.

"I think it will be a distraction for awhile," Sanders said. "I don't think it will last that long. Things are going to happen. People are gong to blow them up and act like the world just ended. But if they just deal with it, they'll be alright."

SAME TIME NEXT YEAR: If you listen closely to Ferentz, injured running back Jermelle Lewis likely won't see the field this season.

Lewis tore his ACL in the spring.

"My attitude right now is that he's not playing and he'll have to prove that he can," Ferentz said. "I think that's how we have to look at it. I don't want anybody on the team to think that he's going to come in riding on a white horse in October.

"More importantly, the one thing that we want to make sure that we don't do here is screw with his senior year. You never want to put any player at risk. We'll have to be 100 percent certain. That being said, it's not impossible. It could happen."

THE MOUNTAIN: The Iowa coaching staff has received a lot credit for moving Robert Gallery from tight end to offensive tackle three years ago. The senior has been tabbed by many to be the best player in the country at his position.

Ferentz chooses to share responsibility for the remarkable success story of the 6-7, 320-pound man nicknamed the Mountain.

"He's got everything that you want in an offensive tackle from a physical standpoint," Ferentz said. "But much more important is the attitude that he has towards the game. He's just got a tremendous work ethic, tremendous pride.

"If we could just get him to get a haircut, I'd say he's the perfect player. I don't think that's going to happen."

STAND BY YOUR MAN: The Washington Redskins were the lone NFL team interested in Banks after he went undrafted in April.

Ferentz believes that the acquisition could pay off in the Capitol City.

"There are a couple of things working against him," Ferentz said. "He's about 5-10 ½. We listed him at 6-1, which he is with spikes on. So, we were not wrong about that.

"I think they would probably like to see his accuracy be a little sharper. The positive is that he was only a first-year starter. He's got a lot of upside. He's got a real presence, charisma, and leadership qualities. He moves a team. His teammates believe in him."

Banks led the nation in passing efficiency last season. He threw for 26 touchdowns with just five interceptions.

"In the ideal situation, maybe he gets a chance to play in Europe next year and give him a chance to develop," Ferentz said. "In a year or two down the road, see where he's at."

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Senior Erik Jensen will get the first shot at replacing the dynamic Clark. An established blocker, Jensen needs to show that he can catch the ball like his predecessor.

"He's worked hard on the pass receiving end of it," Ferentz said. "That being said, he's not going to be Dallas. I don't mean that in a negative way.

"The Dallas Clarks don't come around too often. The Ronnie Harmons don't come around too often. There are certain players that are a little bit magical. Dallas has that ability."

Indianapolis drafted Clark in the first round of the NFL draft in April. The first-team All-American caught 43 passes for 742 yards and four touchdowns. Jensen had two receptions for 33 yards.

"He's worked hard in that area every since the Alamo Bowl (of '01)," Ferentz said. "That's been a focal point for him. We're very confident that he'll play at a real high level for us this year."

COUNT ME OUT: A lot of fans would like to see the Big Ten add a 12th team and subsequently have a conference title game like the Big 12 and SEC. Ferentz disagrees.

"You go to divisions and you can have a real argument that "these guys played a real soft schedule on the other side and these guys had a tough one,"" the coach said. "I've heard that being said. Teams that do play in those conferences are split like that."

Ferentz also isn't too worried about another conference stealing one of the Big Ten's members as some people believed happened when Miami and Virginia Tech left the Big East for the ACC this summer.

"I don't think that anybody's untouchable," he said. "That's very evident based the recent past. Anybody that has that attitude is probably naïve.

"That being said, I think most of the member (Big Ten) institutions think this is a pretty good deal. Hopefully we'll be able to hold steady."


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