Expectations for 2003 seem to be unreasonably low. I can understand this from some of the media…pundits who don't know and understand Iowa football…but Iowa fans? Okay, let me make both arguments then present you with the reasons why I think this will be another GREAT Football season in Iowa City.
The media pundits all seem to point to couple factors when predicting little or nothing for the 2003 Iowa Hawkeyes:
- High offensive graduations, especially along the offensive line.
- The graduation or departure of offensive stars, like Brad Banks, Eric Steinbach, Bruce Nelson and Dallas Clark
- The lack of "recent tradition" in Iowa City.
For the record, I see that the Hawks have been predicted to finish 5th in the BT, by Lindy's and 7th by Athlon, to cite just a couple examples. At Chris Stassen's pre-season prediction aggregator, you can read that Iowa rates in a tie for 5th place with Penn State after averaging several of the better known pre-season rags: link to pre-season average rankings.
However, I see things a little differently than the media pundits and differently than a lot of Iowa fans. Below, I will make several independent arguments as to why this team will win at least nine games this year, barring major injury.
- Star power. How many teams in America return three players that are legitimate candidates for 1st team AA? Of course, I am referring to Bob Sanders, Nate Kaeding, and Robert Gallery. Iowa has returning all-conference honorees in Fred Russell, Maurice Brown, Howard Hodges, Jared Clauss, and Grant Steen. The raw materials in Iowa City are not-to-shabby!
- The old adage: Defense and special teams win games.
- Defense: Iowa returns eight starters from a defense that was amongst the best in the B10 at the end of the season. AT DE, we plug in a guy who was not a starter, yet led the BT in sacks (Roth) and at LB we are talented/deep enough that a solid starter (Worthy) gets pushed to second string. Having a guy of Worthy's talent on the bench will push the starters and provide a back-up with little of no drop off in talent.
- Special teams: Iowa returns both kickers, including the Lou Groza winner, an excellent punt return specialist (Hinkel), both special team's coaches and the guts of our coverage teams. Why would anyone think we would not be "special" again this year on Special teams?
- The Offense: Why are people thinking we will take such a large step back? We return five starters on offense (Okay, Brown was technically not a starter, but played more minutes than either Hinkel or Jones) and three of those starters, Brown, Russell and Gallery are in line for all B10 honors. Nathan Chandler is no Brad Banks and Erik Jensen is no Dallas Clark, but both are experienced guys who can make things happen on the field.
- The Offensive line: Okay, enough with the crying about the loss of four starters. Iowa has the best darn staff for developing offensive linemen in the country, in my humble and very biased opinion. We return a guy who has been called the #1 returning OL in the country and we will fill in with guys who are pretty damn good. Kory Borchers and Sam Aiello have started and played a lot of games at Iowa. David Walker was good enough to be #1 on the depth charts heading into spring a year ago at Auburn. Pete McMahon might be the next "Iowa-walk-on success story" and has developed nicely at Iowa. Blake Larsen, Chris Felder, Ben Cronin and Brian Ferentz were all fairly highly regarded HS OL and are all young and talented. This line will be all right!
- Defensive speed: Note the positions where we are gaining speed this year and you have to get a little excited. Babineaux replaces Cole. Roth replaces Babineaux. Greenway for Worthy. Hodge for Barr. Considine for Pagel. Jovon Johnson for DJ Johnson. Each one of these changes will upgrade our speed on defense. Look for this team to improve on the impressive sack total of 2002 and this defense will show an aggressiveness that we have not seen from a Norm Parker-led squad at Iowa.
- Defensive Sacks:: With perhaps the fastest DL in recent Iowa history, would it be safe to assume Iowa will have more sacks than the 40 recorded a year ago?
- Coverage skills: Again, the defense will be improved in a lot of ways and better coverage is one of them…both Hodge and Greenway bring better speed at the two LB spots. Sean Considine spent a lot of time last year practicing at the CB spot and Jovon Johnson played GREAT CB at the end of last year. Bob Sanders has improved his coverage skills every year in an Iowa uniform and was a solid cover-safety last year. We should expect an improved and more aggressive Antwan Allen this year. The only thing this defensive backfield lacks is SIZE.
- Coaching: I think we have one of the best coaching staff's in America and with one exception (Philbin), they all return. Throw in one of the best Strength and Conditioning programs in America, the 2002 Assistant Coach of the Year (Ron Aiken), National Head Coach of the Year (Kirk Ferentz) and I believe we will keep injuries to a minimum and wear down teams late in games.
2002 was a special year and it appear that the ‘breaks' almost all went in Iowa's favor, especially down the stretch. Iowa also survived the 2002 season with just a few major injuries. However, we cannot assume that we will be that lucky this year.
I don't think we will lose all the breaks, or suddenly become injury prone in 2003. I predict 9 or 10 wins this year and one "extra" game on New Years Day!