Hayden Fry often repeats a belief about the difference between the Hawkeyes and national powers, including those in the Big Ten. Sometimes I think Iowa fans should listen to their legendary former coach on this point.
The Hawkeyes can match up starter-for-starter with these opponents. It's with the second - and third-team players, top to bottom, where its hard to compete year in and year out.
That leads me to an analysis that's been written in the past. It's one that is important in these parts. Which players can the Hawkeyes least afford to lose in 2010, the most indispensable guys, if you will? What injuries most make you run for the Rolaids?
Keep in mind that when making a list like this one it's most important to project the depth chart. Adrian Clayborn might be the best NFL prospect on this year's squad. But is the drop-off behind him the biggest on the team?
It's opinion, to be sure. It's not meant to offend any player.
Here are my thoughts for a Top 10:
10. Tyler Nielsen, OLB - It might seem weird including a player that's seen very limited action in his first three years on campus, but he plays arguably the most important position on defense. He replaces the underappreciated A.J. Edds, who came about as close to mastering this spot as anyone could.
9. Shaun Prater, CB - With Amari Spievey off to the NFL, Prater becomes Iowa's No. 1 corner and only proven commodity at the position. I like the upside of Micah Hyde, but this is only his second fall on campus as he makes the jump from reserve to starter.
8. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, WR - I know I'll get killed by the Marvin McNutt crowd on this one, but if I'm picking the indispensable receiver this season it's DJK. He makes the crucial plays as a pass catcher and is the best kickoff return man on the team.
The Ohio product sits in a god position to break many of the key career receiving records at the school. That doesn't happen by accident. It's not something to take for granted.
7. Brett Greenwood, FS - Greenwood is one of the more underappreciated players on the roster who plays a critical position in the Iowa defense. Guys like Jack Swanson and Nick Nielsen are paying their dues as back-ups, but there would be a significant drop-off if either were called up on to replace the starter. That speaks more to the importance of the experienced No. 1 than to their abilities.
6. Ricky Stanzi, QB - This one will always will be up for debate in the land where the back-up quarterback might be able to challenge Coach Kirk Ferentz for the governorship of the state. Stanzi is another in a long line of targets for the arm-chair QBs.
Like him or leave him, the Ohio native is a huge key to Iowa's success this season. If he overcomes his high rate of turnovers from a year ago, the Hawkeyes could fly high. If not, yikes.
I like the potential of James Vandenberg, but I'd rather he have another developmental season before taking the reigns.
5. Adrian Clayborn, DE - I think there's some talent hidden behind Iowa's man-child. The coaches could bring in LeBron Daniel at end or move Christian Ballard outside and insert Mike Daniels inside. The Hawkeyes might be OK.
However, you can't minimize the loss of the team's best player. Clayborn is on his way to becoming the best defensive lineman in the Ferentz Era. That alone says a heck of a lot.
4. Tyler Sash, SS - Iowa's playmaker is on pace to break the school's all-time interceptions record. He's in that position because he's been on the field for almost every snap the last two years. As a result, there's no experience behind him.
Somebody could hop in if Sash goes down as he did replacing Harold Dalton in 2008. But it's probably best if we don't find out.
3. Ryan Donahue, P - A finalist for the Ray Guy Award last year and likely strong candidate to win it in ‘10, the Chicago native proves his worth time and time again. He's a weapon in Iowa's predominately conservative attack.
Junior walk-on Eric Guthrie is the back-up. Incoming freshman Jon Mullings is said to have a monster leg. If we see either one of them this season, it could be big trouble.
2. Allen Reisner, TE - The Marion (Iowa) product is the heir apparent to the very successful No. 1 TE position in the Iowa system. A solid season by him could mean a real nice look by the NFL.
But for the first time in recent memory, there doesn't appear to be a clear Robin to Reisner's Batman. Brad Herman might shake inconsistencies and be that guy. Maybe true freshman C.J. Fiedorowicz emerges.
Any way you slice it, the situation behind Reisner is murky. An injury would not be good at all.
1. Riley Reiff, LT - Ferentz said at the end of last season that Reiff played as well as any lineman on his team in 2009. That group included first-round NFL Draft Pick Bryan Bulaga and fellow draftee Kyle Calloway, not to mention first-team all-Big Ten performer Dace Richardson.
With that trio gone, Reiff becomes the anchor on a very inexperienced front. If he were to go down, especially early in the season, it could be a disaster.
Iowa boasts probably the deepest group of skill players under Ferentz. But it likely will be wasted if they're without their best blocker.