Since there are only nine months until Iowa begins the 2004 football season, Hawkeyenation.com's Jon Miller figured it was ‘about time' to take a look at the prospectus for success for the 2004 Iowa Hawkeye football team.
We say that partly with tongue in cheek, but also knowing that you, the rabid Iowa Hawkeye fan, can never get enough speculation on your beloved black and gold. Since there are no hard news stories as we head into Turkey Day Eve, here is an early look at next season, position by position and around the Big Ten.
Iowa gets very young at this position for the first time since 1995, nearly a decade ago. Yes, Kyle McCann led Iowa in passing as a freshman in 1998, but the Hawks didn't have a quarterback that averaged 92.5 passing yards per game in Big Ten play, or at least a QB that played enough games to qualify for being listed among the Big Ten's leaders in that category for that year. In 1999 and 2000, Scott Mullen led the team in passing yards as a junior and senior. In 2001, then senior Kyle McCann led the way and one-year starters (but fifth-year seniors) Brad Banks and Nathan Chandler handling those duties in 2002 & 2003.
You have to go back to 1995 and Matt Sherman to find the last full season starter that was younger than a junior.
So during the course of the last seven years, eight different players have started at least one game at quarterback for Iowa.
One way or another next year, Iowa is going to start a young and inexperienced quarterback. Drew Tate will be a true sophomore, Jason Manson & Cy Phillips will be a redshirt sophomores and Eric McCollom will be a redshirt freshman. So that makes nine different starters in eight years.
How about some continuity? I know that is what the Iowa staff is looking for.
So little is known about each of these players aside from their high school accolades that this position is clearly a concern, or for the sake of sounding positive, a question mark for the 2004 season. Freshman and sophomore quarterbacks don't typically win Big Ten Championships. Manson and Phillips will be entering their second spring session in March while Tate and McCollom will be experiencing their first spring at Iowa.
Tate passed everyone on the depth chart this year and though he looks like he has some moxie in his game, very little is known of him to date. McCollom spent part of the year taking reps at receiver for Iowa.
Iowa's bowl preparation becomes very important for these younger players and Manson and Phillips have had this valuable extra session before.
Steel sharpens steel, and the competition for the starting job is up for grabs. That is a very good thing, as each of these quarterbacks will be working extremely hard this winter knowing that he has a chance to make a move for playing time come March and April.
Needless to say, quarterback is the single most important position on the field and in my opinion, it is where Iowa has the biggest question mark going into next year. I suspect that after next season is over and we review the year that was in 2004, that article might start out like a Charles Dickens novel: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.' Such is life with young quarterbacks.
One other important aspect to consider: Over the course of the last three seasons, Iowa has not had to replace its starting quarterback due to injury. Kyle McCann was 6-5, 215. Brad Banks was listed at 6-1, but more like 5-11, and 200-pounds. Very solid. As everyone knows, thanks to every TV announcer this year, Nathan Chandler is 6-7, 250-pounds and he has injured more would be tacklers this year than several league fullbacks.
Drew Tate is listed at 6-0, 170-pounds. He might be that soaking wet and standing on a Cedar Rapids phone book. Jason Manson is listed at 6-1, 185. Again, add water and some yellow pages. Eric McCollom is listed at 6-0, 175, which is believable.
The point being: These are not big guys and they are going to take some hits next year with Robert Gallery moving on to greener (as in ‘bling-bling') NFL pastures, so it would not surprise me to see more than one QB get significant reps next season. We saw that from 1998 through the 2000 season with a combination of McCann, Mullen, Randy Reiners and Jon Beutjer all taking turns getting hurt and filling in for one another behind some young and smallish offensive lines.
Jermelle Lewis is still on the road to full recovery from the ACL injury he suffered back in the spring. It still amazes me to think that he played at all this year, much less averaging 5.8 yards per carry on 34 rushing attempts against Ohio State, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, including at least three crucial carries in the final two games.
If he is 100% next fall, and there is no reason to believe that he will not be, the Hawkeyes have one of the best ball carriers in the Big Ten and the best running back that I have seen in my days of watching Iowa football. Some might disagree with me because Lewis has not had a chance to be the featured back yet in his career. But his career might end up like Tony Stewarts. Stewart lost a lot of time due to injury, yet he gained 2,562 yards during his Iowa career while leading the team in rushing just one year. He gained 1,036 yards as a sophomore in 1988. Stewart is the 5th all time leading rusher at Iowa, as Fred Russell just moved past him into 4th place.
To date, Lewis has 905 yards and is averaging 5.76 yards per carry on his career. Lewis has a great chance to top the 2,000-yard mark for his career and have a better than 5.0 yards per carry average. Lewis has as much skill as any back I have seen at Iowa, and I just happen to believe that he is the most skilled running back that I have seen wear the black and gold dating back to 1980, which is when I can begin to remember watching games.
Backing him up next year should be RS frosh Albert Young. Young was poised to get some back up carries this year before he broke a bone in his lower leg in August.
If Young can learn to pass block prior to the start of next year, and I do not know if he does or does not posses those skills right now, he and Lewis will be a formidable duo as each can catch balls out of the backfield. Teams will not be able to key on the run when rotate in and out of the game the way they do when Russell is in the backfield. Young's pass catching abilities were highly touted coming out of high school.
This year's Michigan game was a clear example of that. The Wolverines had a group of three defensive players on the sidelines and would run them in and out based on whether or not Russell was in the game. When Russell came out, they brought in extra pass defenders. When he was in the game, they stacked against the run. That is why I loved Ken O'Keefe's call on Iowa's final touchdown drive of that game on 3rd and 1 when Cervantes was the lone back and Michigan brought in their pass defenders. O'Keefe broke from tendency and gave the ball to Cervantes who gained enough yards for the first down and kept the drive alive. Chandler later connected on a 31-yard touchdown strike to Ramon Ochoa that put the Hawkeyes up by 10 points.
Also in the mix at running back will be juniors Marcus Schnoor and Marques Simmons. Simmons is a Davenport product that transferred from Nebraska to Iowa at the start of next year. Simmons will have two more years of eligibility.
Simmons story is a bit of irony. The Hawkeyes recruited him three years ago, but he chose the Huskers. One of the reasons he gave for leaving the state was that he lost a lot of games in high school and he wanted to go somewhere where he knew that he would win. At the time, Iowa was coming off three seasons where they won just seven ball games and lost 27.
Last year, the Huskers were 7-7 and the Hawkeyes were 11-2 and finished #8 in the nation.
Champ Davis and Aaron Mickens will fight for the fullback minutes. Davis showed some promise early in the year before injuring his ankle as both a runner and a receiving option. AJ Johnson might be in the mix here as well. Both Davis and Johnson will benefit from a winter with Coach Doyle.
With the injuries to Mo Brown and Ed Hinkel this year, several Hawkeyes got a chance to pick up some unexpected playing time.
Brown, Erik Jensen and Ramon Ochoa will not be around next year, but everyone else returns.
Calvin Davis flashed at times this season for the Hawkeyes and had a very solid freshman campaign (23 catches, 330 yards and one TD). Sophomore walk on Matt Melloy also made some key catches (10 for 155 and two TD's). True freshman James Townsend never got a chance to show us what he could do as he suffered a stress fracture in his foot late in the year. Scott Chandler did not play over the final few games and never caught a pass. Warren Holloway came up big against Penn State and he has another year of eligibility. Hinkel (seven catches in '03 regular season) will be back in the mix as well. Tyler Fanucchi redshirted.
But if the Hawkeyes have to go with what they already have on campus, they should be all right. Davis played just one year of varsity football and his play this year was a pleasant surprise. He will benefit from the bowl practices and the spring session immensely. One hopes that Townsend will come on after this off-season and fight for a number one spot next fall. You know what you are going to get with Hinkel.
Another player that could be in the mix is Clinton Solomon. Solomon played at Iowa Central this year after not making it academically at Iowa during his freshman year. We all remember his one handed grab as a rookie and he certainly oozed talent (14 catches for 159 yards and one TD as a freshman in '01). If he makes it back to Iowa, which he plans on doing, he will provide another dangerous weapon for the Hawkeyes. This is a pretty deep group.
Tony Jackson, Mike Follett, Ben Gates and Ryan Majerus return at tight end next season. Jackson can look great on one play and poor the next, and that includes both catching passes and blocking. Consistency has been his biggest issue at Iowa. Follett flashed at times as well this year, his first at the position since moving over from the defensive side last spring.
The next biggest question mark for next year will be if Iowa can plug in some untested players in at key positions on the offensive line. They will not have Robert Gallery to run behind when they get in a jam next year. Also gone is the inconsistent Sam Aiello.
Pete McMahon was the most consistent performer this year outside of Gallery and he will be a senior next year. David Walker looked good before injuring his knee and he is just now getting back to that form. Iowa had to start true freshman Mike Jones from the Ohio State game on and he and Walker split time at guard. Jones may move to left tackle next year if he makes his expected off-season strides. Brian Ferentz should be back at center next year after recovering from an MCL injury.
So there you have potentially four of your five starters. After that, we head into the Land of the Unknown.
Lee Gray was Iowa's version of the ‘Maytag Repair Man' this year, as he backed up Robert Gallery at left tackle and was not needed for any ‘important' snaps. Blake Larsen had ligament release surgery last summer on both knees, something that is done to free up the kneecaps, and he never saw any meaningful reps this season. CJ Barkema had back issues to start the year and you never know how the back will respond. Chris Felder had neck stinger issues this season but was listed in the two deeps. Ben Cronin will also be in the mix. We are not sure where freshman Clint Huntrods is in terms of his development and Greg Dollmeyer could be in the mix on the two deeps.
Is it likely that Larsen, Felder, Cronin and Barkema will all hit home runs next year? Probably not. And to put Felder in that mix might not be fair, as he will be a RS sophomore next season. But the other three will be RS juniors, meaning their time has come to make an impact.
This off season might be the most important for the development of an Iowa offensive line as we have seen in decent memory.
If seven of those guys can play at a winning level, that would be great. If eight of them can do that, you have to feel pretty good about next season as far as protecting a young QB and opening up holes for some talented RB's is concerned.
OK, now we move over to the defensive side of the ball where there are fewer concerns, at least from my point of view.
Matt Roth, Derreck Robinson, Jonathon Babineaux, Matt Neubauer and Tyler Luebke return, while Jared Clauss and Howard Hodges graduate. Those two will be hard to replace, but Iowa has some horses in the stable. Luebke's play over the last two games ranks among the most pleasant surprises of the season and gives Iowa fans more hope for next season.
True frosh Kenny Iwebema has been turning some heads in practice this year, prompting Norm Parker to single him out recently on a coaches call in show, something he does not normally do. Parker also had praise for frosh Bryan Mattison and Richard Kittrell.
If those three players can figure into the mix next year, Iowa will once again have a chance to be formidable against the run. Should the Hawkeyes add a recruit like Dwayne Hendricks to the mix, he might have a chance to earn some early playing time as well. But they might not need that. Frosh Alex Wilcox and George Esharaturi should be in the mix as well.
Perhaps the position where Iowa has the most talented depth is at linebacker. Abdul Hodge was named 1st team All Big Ten by the media this week and counterpart Chad Greenway was named 2nd team by the coaches and the media. Hodge was named 2nd team by the coaches.
You could argue that politics of age kept each Hawkeye from making both first team ballots, as they are only sophomores. In all games, Hodge and Greenway were 1-2 in the Big Ten in tackles and they finished 2nd and 4th in league games only, respectively.
It has been a long, long time since Iowa has had a duo like this at linebacker, if ever. Brad Quast and Melvin Foster were solid, but you might be seeing the most athletic pair of linebackers in Iowa history, and they have two more full seasons ahead of them.
Norm Parker recently said that they are going to find the three best linebackers next year and then assign them to positions. Hodge played the middle or ‘Mike' linebacker position this year while Greenway played the weakside or ‘Will' position.
George Lewis may have the edge at the strongside or ‘Leo' position next year. Grant Steen has done a great job there for the Hawkeyes over the past few years. Edmond Miles will also be in the mix and '04 commit Kyle Williams might be the heir apparent for 2005 to team up with Greenway and Hodge.
Iowa returns three of four starters, but the loss is a big one. Bob Sanders will not be back next season, as he will have used up his eligibility. That seems impossible and the thought of an Iowa defense without Sanders is hard to swallow from a pure enjoyment perspective. But life goes on.
Antwan Allen and Jovon Johnson will both do well after another off season at ‘Club Doyle', and each of them made strides this year. Johnson is one heckuvan athlete. (like the ‘n' on the end of heckuva?) Sean Considine was rock steady this year at FS. Miguel Merrick and Marcus Paschal will fight to replace Sanders, as will Chris Brevi. Paschal did get some work at cornerback this year, so stay tuned for a possible position change, as it's no secret that Iowa would like some taller corners.
Herb Grigsby might have a shot for some time as well. He is 6-0 and 157 pounds and red shirted this year. He was listed as a receiver this year, but with the depth at that position, he might make the move to defense if he can add a few pounds. Iowa is looking for some help at the position from the recruiting ranks and Juco CB Walner Belleus from Dodge City would be the cure for what ails them. The Hawkeyes would also love to land Cortney Grixby of Omaha and Tedd Ginn from Ohio, as they are the top two CB's in the nation from the high school ranks.
Ma'Quan Dawkins was #2 on the depth chart at one point this year before injuring his ACL. If he can come all the way back, he will be in the mix as well.
But on the whole, the Hawkeyes have some experience returning should they strike out on the recruiting trails and I feel this defense will be very good again in 2004.
Iowa loses Nate Kaeding. Enough said.
Kyle Schlicher has been his understudy for the past two seasons and lets hope that he learned the mental toughness side of the position from Nate the Great. Schlicher has a strong leg, but does he have a short memory like Kaeding exhibited during his career? We shall see. It's a long road from Milan to Minsk. (If you are not a Seinfeld junkie, you are not going to get that one.)
David Bradley is back and Iowa will look for him to be consistent in his final season, something he has battled the past three years. John Gallery will be waiting in the wings should Bradley falter. If not, he will have his chance in 2005.
Sanders will be a loss on special teams, too. But we saw enough of Miles, Merrick, Paschal, Greenway and Dawkins this year to know that Iowa is in good hands. I expect some great contributions from next year's redshirt freshmen as well.
It would not surprise anyone if Iowa lost an assistant coach or two. That is just what happens when you win consistently. Last year, Iowa lost OL coach Joe Philbin to the Green Bay Packers. The year before, Bret Bielema left for Kansas State.
You have to wonder if Lester Erb might not be coveted for the job he has done with Iowa's special teams. Eric Johnson is one of the best recruiting coordinators in the nation and there is not a better defensive line coach in America than Ron Aiken.
I do not know of any impending losses from the coaching ranks, but it's just a fact of football which is why I brought it up. Hopefully, they will all be back.
Iowa plays the flip of this year's Big Ten circuit, so that means home games against Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin. Not a bad value right there, season ticket holders, or those that are considering ordering season tickets.
Iowa will also host Iowa State and Kent State and they will have a tough road game in Tempe against Arizona State.
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You have to expect that Iowa State will be better after the great debacle of 2003. They cannot be much worse. The roadie at ASU will be tough and QB Andrew Walter has one more year of eligibility remaining.
Michigan and Ohio State should be a step off from where they were this year, but they still have plenty of talent waiting in the wings.
Michigan will have seven holes to fill on offense, including All Big Ten 1st teamer's John Navarre and Chris Perry, but their defense should be very good again in 2004.
Ohio State loses a ton off of its great defense; they lose three of four starters on the DL and two of three at LB. They return just 10 of 22 starters and also lose all Big Ten punter BJ Sander. Ohio State Two Deep
Purdue's defense will not look the same, as they lose NINE starters. The offense loses Standeford and Stubblefield and one offensive lineman, but returns everyone else. But their defense was a big factor behind their success this year, so I see them as being a step off. Purdue Two Deep
Wisconsin and Minnesota return a lot of starters, but each will break in new quarterbacks.
NCAA teams will play just 11 regular season games for each of the next two years, so seven wins in 2004 means more than it would have this year. I think an eight win season in 2004, at least at first blush and not knowing what is going to come together on the OL and at QB, would be another successful year.
But then again, I have sold the Hawkeyes short in each of the last two seasons, picking them 7-5 in 2002 and 8-4 in 2003, so what do I know?
Have a good Turkey Day weekend and be sure to give thanks for all that you have been blessed with.