Top 25 Team Previews
Top 25 Athlon Team Previews: Iowa Hawkeyes
2009 Record: 11-2 (6-2 in Big Ten)
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz
Ricky Stanzi :: AP
at Iowa State
at Penn State
at Michigan State
at Ohio State
Georgia Tech (Orange)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ricky Stanzi, QB: He ranks sixth on Iowa's all-time list with 4,373 passing yards.
Adrian Clayborn, DE: The All-America candidate was impossible to block at times last season.
Tyler Sash, SS: One of the nation's best safeties as a sophomore.
Bryan Bulaga, OT: It's never easy to replace the Big Ten's Offensive Lineman of the Year.
Pat Angerer, LB: His toughness, colorful personality and team-high 145 tackles will be missed.
Amari Spievey, CB: He had only two picks last year, but teams rarely threw to his side of the field.
203: Interception return yards strong safety Tyler Sash compiled last season, a school record.
Senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi has a bad habit of throwing costly interceptions, but a good habit of winning games. Iowa is 18-4 in games Stanzi has started over the past two seasons. The program was spinning its wheels until Stanzi replaced Jake Christensen as the starter early in the 2008 season. Stanzi threw 17 touchdown passes last season, including one to beat Michigan State as time expired. But he also threw 15 interceptions, four of which were returned for touchdowns.
Stanzi will have the luxury of handing off to experienced sophomore running backs Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton. Hampton was expected to start last season after backing up Shonn Greene in 2008, but injured his knee over the summer and missed the entire 2009 season. Robinson stepped in as freshman and rused for 834 yards.
The top two receivers from last year also return, including senior Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who is on course to become Iowa's all-time leading receiver.
The biggest concern is up front, where three starters must be replaced, including 2009 Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year Bryan Bulaga. He skipped his senior season to enter the NFL Draft.
Eight starters return on a defense that was dominant at times last season. Leading the unit is All-Big Ten end Adrian Clayborn, who turned down a chance to enter the draft to return for his senior season. Clayborn was a force last year, finishing with 20 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and a blocked punt that he returned for a touchdown. What makes Clayborn even better is his supporting cast. Four players (including Clayborn) started all 13 games up front last season, and all four return.
The biggest void on defense is at linebacker, where All-Big Ten players Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds must be replaced. Senior Jeremiha Hunter is the lone starter returning on that unit. Hunter finished second on the team last season with 89 tackles.
Junior strong safety Tyler Sash anchors a secondary that returns all but one starter. Sash led Iowa with six interceptions last season and was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award.
One key to Iowa's success under Kirk Ferentz has been outstanding play on special teams. With the starting punter and kicker from last season and another proven kicker all returning, that should continue. Senior punter Ryan Donahue has twice been a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award. Senior kicker Daniel Murray made 19-of-26 field goal attempts last season. But if he struggles, Iowa could turn to sophomore Trent Mossbrucker, who shared the kicking duties with Murray in 2008 before being redshirted last season. Johnson-Koulianos averaged 31.5 yards per kick return last season.
The pieces are in place for Iowa to make a serious run at its first Big Ten title since 2004, and a favorable schedule should help. After playing most of its toughest games on the road last year, Iowa now gets to face Iowa State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State at Kinnick Stadium, where the Hawkeyes have won 44 of their last 53 games.
Iowa is loaded at running back and receiver and on defense. If the Hawkeyes don't get hit by injuries, another season of double-digit victories seems within reach.