Chuck Hartlieb: I do. Anytime you have a senior quarterback like we have with an offensive and defensive line as strong as it looks on paper, that combined with the schedule that we have in place, I think they should be one of the top two or three teams in the Big Ten and one of the top 10 or 15 teams in the country going into the season. Teams ranked between 10-15 have seasons of 9-3 or 10-2, and that is a record that seems attainable, and perhaps even stronger if some things go our way. If they don't, we could be looking at 8-4 or 7-5 as well. You have to have things go your way.
Q: Put yourself in Drew Tate's shoes and survey the offense he has at his command this year.
Hartlieb: First of all, I think one of Drew's greatest strengths is his mental toughness, and part of that is his overall confidence. I am sure he has a great connection with the offense, and he is coming with a lot of confidence and high comfort level with those that are around him. He understands that the passing game success hinges on the strength of the running game. The bread and butter of Iowa football is grinding it out. However, there is going to be situations where we are 2nd or 3rd and long and need to win the game through the air and not on the ground. I think that all of the ingredients are there for a great passing attack. However, looking back at last year, if there is one area of concern, I would think that the expectations of the coaching staff is at least one if not several of those wide receivers need to take their game to another level. If you look back at last year, I think you saw an abnormal about of drops, but also an abnormal quantity of big plays. There were not enough times where the wide receivers bailed us out, made a difficult catch, broke open because of great route running. This year, for us to have a top 10 type of season, we have to find a couple of wide receivers to make it easier on Drew. What I saw last year was that Drew did the best he could to raise the level of wide receiver play, but that has to be a two-way street. The receivers need to elevate their play, which will take Drew to a higher level.
Q: With redshirt freshman Rafael Eubanks starting at center, does that temper any excitement regarding the offensive line?
Hartlieb: It would if we didn't have one of the best offensive line minds in the nation in Coach Ferentz. Reese Morgan is strong in that area, too. With that leadership, they will make sure that any center that is starting is on top of the game. For them to name him number one at this time, means they have great confidence in him especially when Elgin is there to rely on. I thought that was a great sign for all Hawkeye fans. Here is a guy that stepped up enough early on to earn the respect of both Coach Morgan and Coach Ferentz. I don't think twice about it. If he can step in and make an impact, we will be better off because of it.
Q: Tate is going into senior year, and you told me early in his career that he could be one of the best ever at Iowa. Summarize his career a bit and where do you think he stands now?
Hartlieb: I have been disappointed for the sake of Drew, and I know that he is a true team player and doesn't really give much thought to it. But I do think that he has been a special, special quarterback for Iowa already. When you think of the Big Ten quarterbacks out there and pair Chad Henne with the Steve Breaston's and Jason Avant's, and Troy Smith at Ohio State with Tedd Ginn and Santonio Holmes…heck, even John Stocco at Wisconsin last year had a wide receiver and two tight ends drafted by the NFL. Then you compare that to what Drew has had as his entourage. A great group of players, but he has had to do more with less in his first two years, and maybe facing that again this year. So for this Big Ten media group to look at stats and get excited about Smith, it gets frustrating to me. I think that Drew Tate and Drew Stanton are tied on line number one going into the Big Ten this year. If you gave either of those guys Steve Breaston or a Tedd Ginn right now, it would be a different story. I think that Drew is headed for a great year and I hope Coach O'Keefe can entrust more confidence into him this fall. I hope he gives him more command of the offense, lets him make more decisions on third down. The one thing that Drew has pulled back on is that he is not running with the ball in some situations where he could get 5 to 10 yards. He might have to do that this year. If we want to go 12-0, we have to give Drew the ball in the pocket 5 to 10 more times than we have. We typically boot and do play action; I think he is a great pocket passer. Hopefully he gets 5 to 10 more snaps in that area as well to get that type of playmaking ability out of him.
Q: Some magazines are saying that Iowa has the best defensive line in the Big Ten. They came on strong last year; do you think they are the best in the league?
Hartlieb: I am a little surprised by that. I was impressed with how they developed each week, and everyone has the Wisconsin game in mind. I will have more confidence in that defensive line after the Iowa State and Ohio State games. It's a strong and athletic group, but even in the bowl game, I felt like we needed to get more pressure on the quarterback from the front four. I thin there is room for improvement. Did Coach Doyle tackle that in the off-season? Did everyone raise their level of mental awareness and physical capabilities there? Probably. I guess I temper it a little bit, a wait and see mode, but all of the ingredients are there for one of the best lines in the Big Ten.
Q: Put the quarterback hat on again, and go under center as if you are going to be playing against Iowa's defense this year. Two new cornerbacks and two new linebackers. What do you see?
Hartlieb: If Iowa had a risk taking, aggressive style of defense, I would be more concerned. But Coach Parker's style of base defenses, insuring that we are not giving up the big play, making an offense earn it to score three or seven, puts those young guys in a better position. I believe that we just graduated the two best linebackers that have ever played together at Iowa, and to think that we could equal their play this year is not realistic. It's good to hear the coaches confidence in these guys, but they have a lot of responsibilities in this defense. The first few games will be interesting. At cornerback, I felt that Allen and Johnson were solid, but there were times when their play, early in their careers and even last year, was not at a level that warranted playing for a team that is going for championships. I am excited about the change at corner in a way, just to see if there is a different style of corner play this year. Shada sure seems like he could be a playmaker. I would expect that out of Godfrey, too. The green aspect of it all, only time will tell in the first two or three games as to how well they play as a unit.
Q: Kirk has talked about more emphasis on September this year. How do you do that?
Hartlieb: I think it's easy. I was excited to hear him say that. I know that over the last several years, you and I have talked about the obvious; injury avoidance, turnover battles, winning the close ones. But we have also talked about a couple things that I really believe in. One is having playmakers, but also establishing momentum. Once you establish that, the type of season you want is more attainable. We have been sluggish in September recently, and to have a big year you have to have great momentum early. How do you do it? Simple. In the past, our unique offensive and defensive schemes, when we wanted to adjust or manipulate what we did as a unit, it came at the start of the Big Ten season or the first biggest challenge in the Big Ten. Thus, we kept our schemes, based on what I have seen, more on the vanilla side for the non conference games. That has been an excellent strategy because of our success in the Big Ten over the last four years. It makes perfect sense. Now, when you are hoping to go 10-2 to 12-0, and you want to make sure that those first games establish great momentum and lay the table for the Big Ten, you incorporate more offensive formations earlier. You bring a deeper play set to the first three games. On defense, you might have a few blitz packages you didn't use until the Big Ten season. From an x's and o's standpoint, if there is one person that understands that, it's Coach McCarney right now. Dan has mixed it up a lot in the last few years where he knew what he was going to get out of Iowa's offense and defense. In that coaching corner in Ames, they are trying to figure out what will be done differently, because I do think we will mix it up more in the preseason this year than we have in the past.
Q: Where do you think this team ends up? I said 11-1 and maybe I am crazy.
Hartlieb: People say it hinges on the Iowa State game. I think it all hinges at 7pm on September 30th. If we can get the home crowd excitement, and have some guys ready to make some big plays and if we can win that game, I think anything is possible at that point. I would lend credence to those folks that want to think that this is a possible 11-1 or 12-0 season. However, everything has to fall into place. We have to avoid the injury, we have to have an additional playmaker or two and win the close ones that we did not last year. I am going to go more 9-3 or 10-2, I think that would be a great season. But I think that 12-0 is possible.