1. Being the last game of the regular season, which player has been the biggest surprise this year?
Rob: There's not question in my mind that it's Shonn Greene. As Kirk said the other day, I expected him to be a good running back based on what I saw a few years ago. I did not think he would be in the discussion as one of the greatest to play the position in the program's history. I'll give honorable mentions to Rick Stanzi, who we didn't even know what see the field much let alone win the starting job, and Pat Angerer.
Jon: While I didn't expect Shonn Greene to be 103 yards away from the single season rushing record with one to play, I felt he could get to 1,300 yards. I thought Bradley Fletcher would play well, but not this well. For me, it comes down to Amari Spievey or Pat Angerer. And this is not easy; I don't know that I expected either player to perform the way they have, and they have been performing at All Big Ten levels, in my opinion. I will go with Pat Angerer, a player that overcame injuries to get to where he is.
Brian: I'd have to go with either Pat Angerer or Shonn Greene. I think Shonn Greene gets it because of his consistency and durability. Think about it. When was the last time an Iowa back made it from game 1 to 12 (or 11) without missing significant time? Albert Young didn't do it in 2007. Didn't do it in 2006. AY did it in 2005. Fred Russell didn't do it. Shonn's been amazingly consistent and durable, which is a huge testament, the new posterboy, for Chris Doyle. For Doyle to take an (allegedly) 270 pound Kirkwood student and get him to the point where he can average over 25 carries a game through a Big Ten season? That's incredible.
2. Minnesota's offense is built to throw these short, underneath routes that Iowa's defense tends to be susceptible to. Will we see defensive adjustments to take some of that away?
Rob: I think there might be some tweaks, but Iowa will basically dance with who brought them. If Minnesota wants to throw the underneath routes all game, the Hawkeyes will do their best to limit success, look for takeaways and tighten up in the red zone. It''s been a pretty good formula.
Jon: Iowa may do some nickel and dime stuff from time to time, they may bring some blitzes they haven't shown on tape, but for the most part, I think the Hawks go out there doing what they normally do, and adjust from there. If it doesn't work, you tweak it. If it works, why fix something that ain't broke.
Brian: I agree with Rob and Jon on this one. You might see Iowa give up more yards than you'd like in the first half, but second half tweaks will take away Gopher tendencies and lock down the defense.
3. The Minnesota defense has forced 30 turnovers this season, the most in the nation. How much of a concern should this be for Iowa?
Jon: I think it's a mild concern, but mostly one where Iowa just needs to focus on what it needs to do. I have watched every Minnesota game this year save one, just don't ask me why. A lot of their turnovers have been of the 'right place, right time' variety. But, I must say that they are more physical this year, and they fly to the ball. So they are creating a lot of their own 'luck' with increased hustle, as Kirk Ferentz said earlier this week. If Iowa is even in turnovers in this game, at worst, they win by double digits. The Hawks have been even in turnovers in each of their last three games, and are 2-1. They were on the good side in turnovers against Wisconsin and Indiana, and won. They were minus against Northwestern & Michigan State and lost. None of those numbers are coincidences. By the way, Iowa has forced 24 turnovers this year, and is tied for 2nd in the nation with 18 passes intercepted. They will face a lot of passes this week.
Rob: I think it's a concern because Iowa ranks 75th in the country in taking care of the football with 21 turnovers this season. The Hawkeyes have been able to overcome them the last two weeks, but it's a dangerous way to live. Iowa is tied for 21st in the country in takeaways at 24. I just don't like a team being able to overcome these things on the road as much as at home. Take away the turnovers and Iowa likely wins at Michigan State and Illinois. If Iowa takes care of the football this week, it wins. If not, it might be leaving Floyd in Minneapolis.
Brian: I think it's a concern, but no more of a concern than it is against any other team. To win consistently, you need to eliminate turnovers. The Gophers forced three turnovers against Wisconsin, turning only one of them into points. None of those turnovers came in the second half.
4. How many Iowa fans will be at this game, more than 10,000 or less than 10,000?
Jon: I am going to take the over, but every so slightly. Per usual, Iowa fans are going to represent. Minnesota is encouraging their fans to wear gold to this game, so perhaps Iowa fans should wear black. We know Iowa fans are going to bring their lungs and vocal chords, and they will be heard. I had a friend tell me that Iowa fans yell more at games in the Dome, as so to stand out. I know a lot of friends that are going up to this game. The Dome will be Kinnick North one last time.
Rob: I think that 10,000 is a pretty good over/under bet. And when I used to gamble a bit back in college, I would always take the over. So, I'll take the over here. But it won't be by much. And really, all we'll have are educated guesses as to how many there. You watch, in 10 years, a half a million people will brag that they attended the '08 Penn State game.
Brian: I think over, we'll see about 15,000. If it were cruddy weather, I would think we'd see much fewer, but considering there isn't any precipitation anicipated for the drive up the avenue of the saints, I think we should be fine.
5. Do you think the players realize that possible Outback Bowl bid is on the line in this game, and does that matter?
Jon: Yes, and yes. They might not say that before the game, but they know what is on the line. Will that mean an extra hop in their step? You'd like to think that just suiting up to play college football one more time is big enough stakes. But getting to a New Year's Day bowl game is a pretty big deal, especially for the seniors on this team. They were true freshmen when Drew Tate hit Warren Holloway, with many of them redshirting that year. They were redshirt freshmen in 2005 when the Hawks made it to the Outback Bowl after a 7-5 season, and the redshirt juniors on the team right now were true freshmen that year. They know that it's been a long and hard climb back, and I expect the upper classmen will get that mesage across in practice this week.
Rob: Yes and yes. I know Kirk asked us not to ask the players about the bowl possibilities until after Saturday, and that was because there are different possibilities. And that could very well hinge on Saturday's outcome at Minnesota. These guys don't live in a cave (well, the coaches might). The players are well aware of the ramifications. Plus, you don't want to end the regular season with a loss to a rival, watching the Gophers come over and take Floyd.
Brian: Yes, yes. I'm sure the seniors are reminding each and every player in that locker room exactly how it felt to leave Kinnick Stadium last November knowing it would be their last time on the field. Although the stakes aren't as high this year, the Hawks will be ready to go. Tampa is a part of that motivation. The Hawks want to be kickin' it in Channelside come new years, not back home in Iowa City where it'll be about 4.7 degrees.
6. Who is your pick to click?
Jon: I felt this one over the course of the weekend; Andy Brodell. Minnesota is going to do what everyone else has tried to do to Iowa; sellout to stop Shonn Greene. Greene will get his yards, but look for the counter to be effective, and also play action. I think that Rick Stanzi has a rebound game in a controlled weather environment, and he will be much sharper this week than he has in the wind in recent weeks. I believe the deep ball to Brodell will be in play this week, as it has been all year when the wind isn't howling in at 25mph. Brodell won't eclipse is 2006 Dome performance of 159 yards on seven receptions, but he will factor big into this one.
Rob: Shonn Greene. I've only picked him one other time this year. I think Iowa will ride him for what he's worth this week against a Minnesota rush defense that ranks 62nd in the nation at 140 yards a game. I'm interested to see what he can do on the fast track in a temperature controlled environment.
Brian: Shonn Greene. Sorry to steal your pick here, but on the fast track, I think he'll dominate. Shonn has lost his footing on several cutbacks this year, where he's had an open lane into the endzone. That's not going to happen this week, as Shonn will bust the game open for 175 and 3 scores, two of them over 25 yards.