The University of Iowa is a week away from kickoff of the 2008 college football season. One of the many banners is now up and ready for next Saturday's kickoff.
Iowa in '07 finished .500, with 4-4 in the Big Ten and 6-6 overall. Though the Hawkeyes were bowl eligible, they stayed home for the first time, since 2000.
Injuries were a problem for a young team in '07. It appears as many as three starters will be sidelined for the season opener, vs. the Maine Black Bears. TE Tony Moeaki, WR Troy Stross and G Dan Doering will likely be out. Moeaki missed a significant amount of time in '07, after going down in the Big Ten opener, at Wisconsin, in '07, and missing the rest of the season.
Iowa's defense, especially the front 7, appears to be the strength of the Hawkeye team entering 2008. The Hawkeye defense finished #12 in points allowed nationally, in '07. Another strength is sophomore punter Ryan Donahue, who set an Iowa record with 86 punts last year.
The real question in 2008 is how much the offense improves, including the offensive line. Iowa ranked #110 in offensive scoring, #92 in rushing, #94 in passing and #109 in total offense, all nationally, in '07. The offensive line allowed 46 sacks, sixth highest in the nation and first year starting QB Jake Christensen took a lot of abuse, both by opponents and by Hawkeye fans, who questioned why the 2nd string QB didn't see more snaps in '07.
Five things to like about Iowa entering 2008:
- Four year starters in DTs Matt Kroul and Mitch King anchor the Iowa front 7.
- Iowa's linebacker corp is loaded with non-seniors and is lead by #2 tackler junior A.J. Edds. The future is bright and Edds may be Iowa's next great linebacker.
- Iowa returns #1 WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, a sophomore from Ohio, and fellow WR senior Andy Brodell returns from injury, after missing almost the entire Big Ten season in '07.
- Iowa has a veteran coaching staff, but welcomes a new WR/TE coach from Michigan, in Erik Campbell, who spent the past 13 seasons as the Wolverines receiver coach. This is Kirk Ferentz's tenth season as Iowa's head football coach and 19th overall (OL coach from '81 to '89 under coach J Hayden Fry).
- Iowa played 11 true freshmen and 31 total freshmen in '07. Still a young team in many ways, experience will be a boost in '08 with 50 letterwinners returning for the Hawkeyes (Starters returning: 7 offense, 5 defense, 2 special teams).
Five questions that Iowa must answer in '08, if they are going to improve:
- Iowa returns all five starters in the O-Line and everyone in the two deep, but can they stay healthy and build team chemistry to open up running lanes and protect the Iowa QB?
- Who steps in at Running Back? Iowa's top 3 ball carriers from '07 and #1 fullback have departed. Iowa does receive a boost from junior RB #23 Shonn Greene, returning after a season at a JC to concentrate on academics. Greene is a two year letterwinner though.
- QB Jake Christensen was the league's lowest-rated passer based on passing efficiency and second string QB Ricky Stanzi was 0-4 with 1 int in '07. Will Iowa get production from the Top 2 or will a newcomer emerge during the course of the season? As coach Ferentz has pointed out a number of times, junior Christensen's progression as a starting QB at Iowa, may draw similar comparisons to former Iowa QB Matt Rodgers in '89. Like Christensen as a sophomore, Rodgers had a rough first year as a starter, but was successful in his final two seasons as an upper classmen... can Christensen repeat history for Iowa?
- How will injuries and depth impact Iowa in '08?
- Iowa must replace two departed CBs, like in '02. Like '02, Iowa returns a part-time starter at CB (senior Bradley Fletcher) and will depend on youth. Will the secondary develop in '08 feeding off the strength of Iowa's front 7?
Projection for Iowa in '08: 5-3 in Big Ten, and depending on Iowa State and Pitt games, Iowa's overall record will rebound from 6-6 in '07 to 8-4 or 9-3 in '08.
You can catch the Iowa opener, August 30th, with an 11 am kickoff on the Big Ten Network, from Kinnick Stadium. Iowa has finished in the Big Ten top division six out the past seven years... will 2008 make it 7 out of 8?