Top Story Lines Week 1: Eastern Illinois

Each week we'll start off by taking a look at some of the top talking points for Iowa's upcoming game. For the season-opener, we look at which true freshmen we might see, the Wegher saga, who we might see behind A-Rob and if last year's UNI game should concern us.

As part of our lead-up football games this season, I will compile the top story lines each week. They will include my thoughts and analysis and I welcome your input on these topics as well. I'll try to roll these out on Monday's so we have discussion time. As usually happens, these things can change during the week but the beauty of the internet is that we can just add them into our discussion thread.

Let's kick it off and have some fun (these are not in any particular order):

-Will Brandon Wegher be inspired to return to the team?

This could be one that makes this list for the rest of the season. Let's hope not.

As I continue to say, it's a fluid situation. None of us can get into the head of the true sophomore running back to know well enough if he has a date in mind or at where is his head.

When he left the team in early August, I felt that he'd work things out and come back relatively quickly. It was complete speculation based on my thought - How could he not want to be a part of this exciting Hawkeye program after his experience last season?

I became a little more worried at Kids Day but still had hope he'd return before the end of camp. As we now know, that went out the window. I've moved to the side that feels he will red shirt this year and his future at Iowa beyond that is murky at best.

As I said, I can't imagine not wanting to be on the field if I had this kid's ability. The fact that football isn't pulling him back as a release from his personal problems is worrisome. It makes me think he's pretty confused and clarity could be a ways off.

Again, I'm speculating. I could be totally off and maybe he returns this week. I don't see it.

-Will Iowa come out of the gates strong or struggle with an opponent a Big Ten title contender should handle fairly easily?

You're going to hear a lot of UNI 2009 talk this week from the Iowa players and coaches. We all remember the nail biting, 17-16 win against the Panthers in Kinnick Stadium to start last season. It took two blocked field goals in the final minute to secure victory.

The memory of that game faded as Iowa rolled to an 11-2 finish culminating in a win against Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Those close victories against Michigan State, Indiana and Michigan have also seemed to lose the drama they caused Hawkeye fans. Some of the faithful already have chalked those rematches up as triumphs in ‘10.

While the Eastern Illinois game this week won't dictate the rest of the season, win or lose, it could let us know what we're in for the next few months. A close game could mean another edge-of-the-seat ride.

I don't think this Eastern Illinois team, also with the Panther mascot, is the caliber of last year's Northern Iowa squad. They also don't come in with the same little-brother edge enjoyed by UNI.

The best Iowa can hope for in this game (in addition to a win) is to have the starters challenged for at least a half and then get the back-ups reps through at least a quarter. New starters on the offensive line, tight end, linebacker and corner would benefit from knocking heads in front of 70,000 people.

I'd really, really like to see backup quarterbacks James Vandenberg and John Wienke receive playing time on Saturday. I'd settle for one of them seeing the field.

-Who will be the running back behind starter Adam Robinson in Week 1?

What in the heck are we going to do with three top-flight running backs all in the same class, we asked last fall and spring. That's kind of worked itself out, no?

The aforementioned Wegher is not with the team and Jewell Hampton is serving a one-game suspension for an arrest. That leaves true freshmen, walk-ons (former and current) and fullbacks.

There's a chance we could see first-year player DeAndre Johnson run the rock for the Hawkeyes this week. However, I think the Iowa coaches go with a combination of Robinson, Paki O'Meara and, perhaps, Jason White at tailback. I also could see fullbacks Brett Morse and Brad Rogers getting into the action as ball carriers.

Penn State ran up 285 yards on the Panthers in a 52-3 route at Happy Valley a year ago. That was the only competition that was comparable to Iowa that Eastern faced in ‘09.

Marcus Coker might have gotten a shot in this spot had he not hurt himself in camp. Kirk Ferentz indicated as much during Kids Day on Aug. 14.

And maybe that should be seen as a sign that he or Johnson might get the red shirt pulled. With Wegher's future uncertain, the coaches might want to get someone prepared early in the season in case an injury befalls Robinson or Hampton.

-What true freshmen will we see on Saturday?

Ferentz hasn't been afraid to throw new guys into the fire. Three true freshmen played in ‘09, while seven got onto the field the year before.

I'm going to stick with my thoughts that the running backs red shirt. From there, I'll look at some hot spots where help might be needed.

I think James Morris from Solon is a lock. We're long in the tooth at linebacker and he can contribute right away on special teams.

I also see C.J. Fiedorowicz cracking the tight end rotation. The starter, Allen Reisner, is a senior and his likely back-up, Brad Herman, is a junior.

Tanner Miller is putting himself in good position to play right away with his camp. Much like linebacker, the Iowa safeties are upperclassmen and the coaches need to get some young guys work. Miller is a tremendous athlete who reminds me a lot of Tyler Sash.

I think Carl Davis gets his feet wet at defensive tackle. Donavan Johnson also could get a look at as an end-tackle combo. The front is another position littered with juniors and seniors.

Unless there are more injuries, that might be it. B.J. Lowery, Jim Poggi and Christian Kirksey could get in the discussion, however.

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