IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Big Ten Network was inside the Kenyon Football Practice Facility on Tuesday and what the studio personalities saw was an improved Hawkeye team. Improved not only from the end of the 2012 season, but from the end of spring camp as well.
"It's a better group than it was last year and the team continues to get better," said Howard Griffith, BTN analyst. "They will be alright. The coaching staff does a great job teaching and getting kids prepared. Now it comes down to executing."
Griffith and his BTN cohorts Tom Dienhart and Dave Revsine were watching with interest the drills involving UI quarterbacks and wide receivers.
"You get a better sense for guys you have read about," Revsine said of the visit. "(UI wide receiver) Damond Powell and his 30 yards per catch in junior college for example; I want to get a look at this guy. More than anything, it gives us a chance to know the team."
Dienhart, who writes for BTN.com, says the Hawkeyes have more than one quality option behind center.
"I know it sounds like (Jake) Rudock is the guy, but C.J. Beathard may throw the ball as well as any quarterback they have," Dienhart said. "I think (Beathard) can be a little careless and doesn't know the system as well as Rudock, but skill-wise, he may be the best. Those two guys have stood out in my mind -- Rudock with his command of the offense and Beathard with his skills -- and of course with that (long) hair."
"As Iowa fans know, a lot of times, (head coach) Kirk Ferentz and company do their best work when the spotlight is not right on them. Does any Big Ten team have a bigger opening game than Iowa at home against Northern Illinois? You want to talk about a game that could set the tempo for the season; if they beat a very good Huskies team in Kinnick Stadium, maybe that gives them the momentum they need to move forward to having a successful year." Tom Dienhart, Writer, BTN.com said.
In what has become an annual tradition in August, the BTN loads up its RV (complete with a custom wrap featuring an image of one player from each Big Ten Conference team), reviews a practice in every Big Ten city and then airs its footage and interviews at a later date. The Hawkeyes will be featured Sunday, Aug. 25, at 7 p.m. (CT).
Iowa is coming off a 4-8 season, but Revsine is quick to remind that if a few of the close games tilt in favor of the Hawkeyes, 2012 is another winning season with another bowl trip.
"It's not like they are in dire straits right now," Revsine said. "It was a down year and nobody here is happy with it. Players talk about being embarrassed, but it is not a disastrous situation. The Titanic is not sinking. It may have taken on a little water last year, now you try to figure how to get it turned around."
The Hawkeyes open the season at home Aug. 31 against Northern Illinois, a 12-win team in 2012, which returns Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Jordan Lynch. The only regular-season loss for the Huskies last season was to Iowa, 18-17, in Chicago's Soldier Field.
"As Iowa fans know, a lot of times, (head coach) Kirk Ferentz and company do their best work when the spotlight is not right on them," Dienhart said. "Does any Big Ten team have a bigger opening game than Iowa at home against Northern Illinois? You want to talk about a game that could set the tempo for the season; if they beat a very good Huskies team in Kinnick Stadium, maybe that gives them the momentum they need to move forward to having a successful year."
All three BTN personalities agree that the Hawkeyes passed the "eyeball test" and across the board the team looks good physically. They noticed a "wiggle and shiftiness" from newcomer Powell, they liked seeing running backs Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock in the slot and getting into space, and they loved the linebacker trio, as well as the thought of putting one of their hands on the ground in pass-rushing situations.
Griffith likes the look of a healthy Carl Davis at defensive tackle. Revsine said that even though the Legends Division is the tougher of the two, he senses a better win-loss record for the Hawkeyes. But Dienhart summed it up best.
"Offensively, passing the football and getting production from receivers, and defensively getting a pass rush; if they can answer those three questions, Iowa could be a surprise team."