It's day two of our look around the Big Ten and in the hot seat today are the Iowa Hawkeyes. Kirk Ferentz is the dean of coaches in the conference with the firing and eventual passing of Joe Paterno at Penn State. That title usually means stability in a program, but 2012 presents an anything but stable situation in Iowa City.
Wholesale changes occurred under Ferentz after one of the most up and down seasons for the Hawkeyes in years that ended in their 2nd straight appearance in the Insight Bowl. That means the 2012 Spring football camp and game have a lot more importance than in years past. Gone are both the long time offensive and defensive coordinators and Ferentz went outside the program for the OC hire of Greg Davis. Davis should be familiar to most college football fans as the man that guided the Texas offenses that featured Colt McCoy and Vince Young, so he'll bring in much more of a multiple set offense to the Hawkeyes while still keeping most of the pro-style principles already in place. Defensively they promoted Phil Parker to the coordinators role from his position of defensive backs coach.
It's been a bad last few off-seasons at Iowa and the trend continued a bit this off-season with transfers and injuries so a good spring game could help the rabid fanbase turn their attention to the positive things coming out of the Hawkeye program.
2011 Record: 7-6 (4-4, 4th Legends Division)
Postseason: Insight Bowl - L 14-31 vs. #19 Oklahoma
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (96-66, 13 years at Iowa, 108-87 overall)
Returning Starters: 12 (6 offense, 5 defense, 1 special teams)
Spring Game Info: April 14th, noon Central
Spring Outlook: As stated before it's a year of change for Iowa, especially on the offensive side of things, but it won't all be change as starting QB James Vandenberg is back for another year as the starter. He might have been the 2nd best passing QB in the Big Ten last year, his debut year as a stater, as he completed 58.7% of his passes for 3,022 yards. He also was very good with his decisions as he threw for 25TD's and just 7INT's. There's no doubt that he will be counted on to provide a lot of leadership as there isn't much experience at the skill positions around him.
I say that because top running back Marcus Coker isn't back and the guy that most thought would step in to his shoes with a good Spring, Jordan Canzeri, won't be playing at all because he tore his ACL just this past week. That leaves an already depleted spot completely bare of any experience whatsoever. It also means that there will be a huge opportunity for the incoming true freshman that will be around this fall. So, for the Spring it will be interesting to see what they do with the running game, or if they just start to concentrate more on the passing game and getting that all set.
Luckily Vandenberg will have a few talented wide receivers to throw the ball to and he mentioned that directly in his teleconference with the media from around the Big Ten today. Keenan Davis comes back after a 50 reception, 713 yards, and 4TD's performance last year. Also back is the guy that Vandenberg and Ferentz both have raved about in Kevonte Martin-Manley. Martin-Manley was the 3rd wide receiver last year and still caught 30 balls for 323 yards and 3TD's, not bad numbers in a pro-style offense. It will be important to bring those guys a long in the new offensive scheme under Greg Davis.
Speaking of that, Ferentz clearly is happy with his choice of Davis saying earlier today "I'm very impressed, he's been a great fit." He also revealed, along with Vandenberg, that the Tight Ends may be a source of production that will surprise some people.
Vandenberg mentioned Zach Derby and C.J. Fiedorowicz by name as guys to watch for to have break out seasons at Tight End, so keeping an eye on their performance in the Spring practice game will be important as well.
Up front Iowa must work on replacing three starters, but like our Badgers the Hawkeyes are more than capable of plugging in talented players along the line at any point. The issue may be getting in sync with inexperience running backs and that's something to look for in the Spring game and going forward into fall camp.
Defensively it was a case of promoting from within as Phil Parker, who spent the past 13 seasons as DB's coach, became the defensive coordinator. They will still be playing a 4-3 defense but they will be without three of the four starters along the defensive line. It won't be easy to replace names like Broderick Binns, Mike Daniels, and Tom Nardo to say the least. So making sure they find a rotation that works for them along the line is going to be a key, especially since their defense let them down so many times last year.
The good news is returning a lot of talent behind that defensive line in James Morris and Christian Kirksey at two of the linebacker spots. So that may help the defensive line get in order because they are good enough to cover up some early mistakes through Spring and can help see what needs to be worked on.
Darrell Wilson comes in to take over for Parker as the defensive backs coach and he'll need to replace one starter from a year ago, but will have two very good DB's in Micah Hyde and Tanner Miller who topped the team in INT's last year with three a piece. Hyde should be a lock at corner again this year after a terrible time experimenting with him at Safety. His opposite will be B.J. Lowery who became a solid player last year. There will be an open spot at Strong Safety and with a new position coach in place the battle is bound to be a little more wide open. Look for Nico Law, Collin Sleeper, and converted LB Tommy Donatell to battle for that spot through both Spring and Fall camp.
The only other spot to really look for is the positions behind Hyde and Lowery at corner. There are a lot of guys battling for those spots and a lot of incoming talent there as well, so watching who emerges in the Spring could tip you as to where things are heading in the fall.
Overall this will be a more interesting and eventful Spring game than last year because there are a lot more moving parts to this team than last year which featured really only a new QB and the ever present running back issues as big time storylines.