As a seemingly perpetual bully of the Big Ten, the Iowa Hawkeyes have been one of the best and most consistent teams in the NCAA of late. Through the past 3 years, Iowa boasts an impressive record of 28-11. Under the current Kirk Ferentz regime, Iowa has been to 9 bowl games, emerging victorious in 6.
The season of 2010 saw Iowa take a slight step back from its 11-2 season of 2009, as the Hawkeyes finished the season at 8-5. Iowa, though, was able to finish with a strong performance en route to an Insight bowl victory over the Missouri Tigers. The senior class of 2010 graduated as one of the best classes in Iowa history.
Fortunately for Panther fans, Iowa now appears to be on the mend, as the Hawkeyes fell victim to somewhat of a talent exodus via the NFL draft and graduation. Gone from the team are All-Big Ten QB Ricky Stanzi, RB Adam Robinson, All-Big Ten WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, All-Big Ten P Ryan Donahue, All-American DE Adrian Clayborn, All-Big Ten defensive linemen Karl Klug and Christian Ballard, and All-Big Ten safeties Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood. Needless to say, this massive overhaul will leave the 2011 Hawkeyes depleted and lacking in the experience department.
In the last meeting of these two teams, Pitt was able to defeat Iowa by a score of 21-20 in the Panther's friendly confines of Heinz Field. The 2008 game was a very hard-fought match-up that featured two of the NCAA's best RBs in Iowa's Shonn Greene and Pitt's LeSean McCoy. While Greene was able to get the better of McCoy on the stat sheet, racking up 147 yards and 1 TD, McCoy was able to break off a 27 yard TD run that capped the Panthers early fourth quarter comeback. McCoy finished that game with 78 yards and 1 TD. Pitt also received touchdown runs of 17 yards and 6 yards from Greg Cross and Bill Stull, respectively.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Riley Reiff, OT-Reiff is an absolute mauler at the offensive tackle position who also sets the edge surprisingly well. The 6'6, 300 pound redshirt-junior is a pre-season All-American selection. He is a two-year starter for the Hawkeyes and is being projected as a top-15 pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Iowa will look to run behind Reiff throughout the game and should have great success in doing so.
Shaun Prater, CB-Prater is as close to a lockdown CB that there is in college football. Touted as the best CB in the Big Ten, Prater finished the season with four interceptions and a First Team All-Big Ten selection. The senior from Omaha, Nebraska stands at 5'11, 180 pounds, nearly ideal for a CB, and is one of the most athletic players on the Hawkeye roster. Prater will try to shut down the Pitt WRs and will probably not give up many completions. Marvin McNutt, WR-Marvin McNutt is a 6'4, 215 pound red-shirt senior with a knack for the big play. It is almost an unworldly talent, as the All-Big Ten player seems to possess a certain flare for the dramatic. His career has been marked by one-handed grabs and game winning catches that always seem to drive opposing coaches and fans crazy. McNutt is a very big, physical football player that also has deceptive speed. Pitt will have to keep a keen eye on him, or else he will more than likely burn them for a long play or touchdown.
Marcus Coker, RB-Coker is a physical, 6'1, 230 pound true sophomore running back. While only starting 4 games last season, Coker was still able to produce 622 yards with 3 touchdowns. Coker had one of the best games of the 2010 bowl season, as he erupted for 219 yards in the Insight Bowl over 12th-ranked Missouri. Coker is being dubbed a breakout player for the 2011 season and will run behind one of the better offensive lines in the Country.
Pitt QB Tino Sunseri vs. Iowa CBs Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde-Iowa's duo of Prater and Hyde are arguably the best cornerback tandem in the NCAA. Both players are fast, physical, and have incredible ball skills. Add that in with the fact that they both are a threat with the ball in their hands, and Sunseri would do well to avoid throwing on either of these ball hawks. Sunseri should attack the young safeties and linebackers that Iowa fields and should do so on just about every passing down. Throwing to RB Ray Graham should be something that is a key proponent in Pitt's game plan. If Sunseri decides to test these All-Big Ten corners, it may not be a good day for him or the Panthers.
Pitt RB Ray Graham vs. The Iowa defense-Pitt should focus its efforts on the running game against Iowa, and they do, the Panthers have a good chance of winning this game. Iowa lost 3 of their top 4 defensive linemen and also 2 of their top 3 linebackers. Graham should be able to find some holes against the very inexperienced defense of Iowa and could potentially have a big game. As per the entire 2011 season, look for Graham to be the focal point for Pitt's offense.
Iowa QB James Vandenberg vs. The Pitt secondary-Vandenberg is going into his first year as a starter and attempted only 8 passes in 2010, completing 5 of them. Vandenberg's third career start will come against an experienced secondary that features CBs K'Waun Williams and Antwuan Reed, as well as safeties Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks. Pitt should be able to rattle Vandenberg early with some pressure, most likely forcing him into some errors. If the secondary is able to take advantage of the young QB, it could spell big trouble for the Hawkeyes.
While this Iowa team should once again be very strong in 2011, Pitt will have the experience advantage over the young Hawkeyes. Considering the fact that the September 17th game won't allow Iowa much time to gain important game experience prior to its meeting with Pitt, the Panthers should be able to come out of this game with a narrow victory.
In the ESPN/ESPN2 Nationally televised match-up, expect for a very hard fought and even game at Kinnick Stadium. Kickoff is set for 12:00 PM, Eastern Time.