Big Ten Roundup

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is widely considered one of college football's best head coaches. His 2006 edition of the Hawkeyes should do nothing to change that opinion. Iowa shapes up to be a serious contender for the Big 10 title and a BCS bowl berth.

Offensively things begin for Iowa with veteran quarterback Drew Tate. The senior will be starting for the third consecutive year. While his numbers weren't as impressive last year as they were the year before, everyone in the Iowa program will admit that Tate is the heart and soul of this team.

He hopes to improve on the 2,828 yards passing and 22 touchdowns he threw for last year. Highly touted redshirt freshman Jake Christensen should be the backup, and Ferentz and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe hope that an early season schedule that includes Montana and Syracuse might allow Christensen some good mop up time for experience.

Junior running back Albert Young was healthy for the first time last year and had a stellar season with 1,334 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. He will be a main cog in the Hawkeye offense. He will be backed up by junior Damian Sims, who showed breakaway ability in the spring. Fullback Tom Busch will be relied upon almost exclusively for blocking and catching an occasional pass out of the backfield.

Ferentz has to replace both of last years starting wide receivers, Ed Hinkle and Clinton Solomon. Senior Calvin Davis and junior Herb Grigsby emerged from spring practice as the starters. But they will both face stiff challenges for their jobs in the fall from the likes of Eric McCollom, Andy Brodell and redshirt freshman Trey Stross. Jason Manson is another player who could end up in the mix at receiver if he doesn't move back to his original spot as Tate's backup at quarterback.

Iowa's leading receiver last year was tight end Scott Chandler. Chandler has great size (6-feet-7, 257 pounds) and good speed and could have a nice future playing on Sundays. He will be backed up by sophomore Tony Moeaki, a heralded recruit from two years ago that many in the program are very excited about.

Ferentz is a former offensive line coach in the NFL so it comes as no surprise that Iowa is perennially strong on the offensive line. Three starters return from last year, guards Mike Jones and Mike Elgin and tackle Marshal Yanda. While Jones in particular is a candidate for post season honors, most observers feel the Hawkeyes most talented lineman is sophomore tackle Dace Richardson. He has the size and athleticism to be a star. He and redshirt freshman center Rafael Eubanks will both be first-time starters but leave no reason to believe they won't be solid if not excellent.

Defensively Iowa returns seven starters from last year. Unfortunately linebackers Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway aren't two of them. However, end Kenny Iwebema does return after garnering seven sacks and ten tackles for loss last year. He is going to be matched with junior Bryan Mattison at end. Mattison is the son of former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and succeeds more with his motor than with sheer talent. He is very reminiscent of former Iowa linemen Aaron Kampman and Matt Roth.

The tackle duo is set with sophomores Mitch King and Matt Kroul. King was a standout in spring practice and is poised for a big year. Neither is probably as talented as top backup Ryan Bain, but both overcome a relative lack of size with tremendous tenacity and desire. The defensive line is a definite strength for Iowa.

Linebacker is more unsettled. The losses of Hodge and Greenway leave two big holes for coordinator Norm Parker to fill. The spring ended with Mike Klinkenberg starting in the middle and Mike Humpal starting on the weakside. Humpal was especially impressive in the spring and has a lot of similarities to Greenway, while Klinkenberg is a big, fast run-stuffer. The starter on the strongside is returnee Edmond Miles. He is a little undersized but has some explosiveness and his experience as a starter is a big benefit.

The Hawkeyes return both starting safeties from last year but will have two new starters at cornerback. Strong safety Miguel Merrick is an aggressive hitter who had a fine season in 2005. He teams with free safety Marcus Paschal, who is the leader of the secondary. Paschal struggled at times last year recovering from a knee injury. However he looked much better in the spring so the hope is he will be back to his pre-injury form.

Cornerback is an area of concern. Juniors Charles Godfrey and Adam Shada came out of the spring as the starters. Both have excellent size and good athleticism. Godfrey in particular has the skills to develop into a top cover man, but both are relatively inexperienced and either could struggle all season if they start slow.

Kicker Kyle Schlicher returns for his third season. He led the conference in field goal percentage last year (81 percent), including hitting on 12-of-16 from 30 yards and further. Punter Andy Fenstermaker returns but needs to improve to become a real weapon.

Iowa is clearly a very good team with the necessary ingredients to win the Big Ten and garner a BCS invitation. It should surprise no one to see them rated in the top ten at the start, and with a veteran quarterback and highly respected coaching staff than can carry that ranking through the whole season.

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