It's become a pretty common belief that the Iowa defense will be required to carry the Hawkeyes at least during the early part of the season.
The team opens its 2004 campaign on Saturday against Kent State with eight new starters on offense, while the defense welcomes back that many first teamers.
"They've been saying that for three or four years now," Iowa running back Jermelle Lewis said. "We hear that every year. They're always talking about the O-line is going to be inexperienced. We're going to have a quarterback controversy. We always come together.
"Coach (Kirk) Ferentz always gets the O-line right. We always have a quarterback that steps up to the plate. It's getting to the point where we don't listen to what the media says anymore. A lot of people that make predictions never played football. So, that's pretty much going in one ear and out the other."
Lewis is expected to be one of the focal points of the Iowa offense. But he will sit out the season opener as part of the punishment handed down by Ferentz as a result of the senior violating a team rule.
While the ideal scenario would have Lewis running for a quarter or so before handing off the ball carrying duties to his backups, junior Marcus Schnoor and redshirt freshman Albert Young will get thrown into action right away on Saturday.
Ferentz said that the two backs would probably split the work load. Schnoor has seen limited duty in his college career, and this will be Young's first crack at the D-I level.
Lewis likely will learn his lesson by having to sit on the sidelines during a game where he probably would have posted some gaudy statistics. And he'll certainly remember it if he comes up short of postseason honors.
But the senior from Connecticut knows that he alone caused this to happen. He now desires to move on and make up for his mistake.
"I'm just trying to be in the best shape that I can," Lewis said. "I just want to be the best back that I can be and go out there and have a lot of fun. That's really my primary goal. If I'm out there having fun with my teammates winning the game, everything else will fall into place."
Lewis feels fortunate that he has capable backups. He really likes the skills of Young, who is expected to be his heir apparent as the team's starting running back.
"Albert is a very talented young man," Lewis said. "We're different, though. We have two distinct styles of running the ball.
"I see him being more of a Ladainian Tomlinson type running back. He has great vision, and he's real good at catching the ball. That's one of the things that he does better than I do. He's going to be fun to watch. He might be one of the top running backs that you could put out at the slot."
So, if Young brings to mind Tomlinson, what NFL back would Lewis say that his game most resembles?
"I don't know," said Lewis, who said his 40 time is in the 4.43 range. "It's a mixture. You'd have to create a player.
"My brother says that I remind him of Terrell Davis. I have heard Eddie George. I'm too short to be Eddie George. I really mostly hear Terrell Davis."
Lewis hopes to someday follow Davis, George and Tomlinson into the NFL. But other things occupy his mind currently.
"Really, right now, I'm using that as a goal but that's about as far as I'm taking it," Lewis said. "This season is what I'm focused on. We're trying to play in January again."
To reach another New Year's Day Bowl or better, Iowa likely will require strong performances from a group of inexperienced quarterbacks. True sophomore Drew Tate won the race to be the starter. He'll be backed up by second-year player Eric McCollom for at least the first three games until backup Jason Manson, a redshirt sophomore, is recovered from a broken foot.
Lewis has a close connection with fellow Connecticut native Manson, but he trusts the coaches to put the guy out there that gives the team the best opportunity for victory.
"I'm always rooting for Jason," he said. "That's like my little brother. But it's also a mutual respect because we're in the Big Ten. We want to win games. We have to have the best guy out there. So, if (Manson is) making mistakes I'm going to let him know that we're not going to be able to play together."
Lewis missed most of last season with an ACL injury. While many observers realized the loss at running back, some may have forgotten his electric skills on kickoff returns.
He hopes he gets the chance to refresh everyone's memories this season.
"That's my pride and joy," Lewis said. "I love doing that. I really hope that I go back on kicks again. But if I don't, I'll just run the ball on offense."
While the new quarterbacks settle into the offense, Lewis appears poised to carry the load if needed.
"Honestly, I never carried the ball more than 25 times in a game," he said. "But I'd carry the ball every play. It really doesn't matter."