The Iowa Hawkeyes’ football team recovered from a disappointing 2012 campaign with eight wins in 2013 and a trip to a January bowl game. The 2014 Hawkeyes have the experience and talent to not only win more than eight games, but to also compete for the Big Ten title.
Strength of schedule: Iowa has a very favorable schedule that includes three teams from the Hoosier State (Ball State, Indiana and Purdue) and none of the top four teams in the Big Ten East division (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State). With this relatively light schedule, a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game is not out of the question.
On Offense: Balance is the key. Stocked with experience and versatility all around, Iowa will be able to pound the ground with a diverse and talented set of running backs and a massive offensive line that can plow gaping holes in defenses. A veteran quarterback and a trusty, experienced corps of wide receivers and tight ends will produce an efficient passing attack.
ON DEFENSE: Five starters return from a team that last year gave up the sixth fewest yards per game in the country. “Bend but don’t break” is the philosophy of the Iowa defense, and despite having a number of holes to fill—a lot of experience and talent graduated in May—the Hawkeyes will be bending a lot more than they break this season.
Bottom Line: To get to the Big Ten Championship Game, the Hawkeyes will need to play to their potential. In the past, Iowa has matched top-ranked opponents toe-to-toe, but then inexplicably stooped to the level of their mediocre competition, not only frustrating fans but also damaging the team’s conference title hopes and confidence. The Hawks need to bring their A-game this fall to earn a shot at winning the Big Ten crown.
Northern Iowa — Aug. 29 — WIN: 23-31
Ball State — Sept. 6, 2:30 p.m.
The Cardinals are not your usual sacrificial lamb from the MAC. Among the 10 teams Ball State beat last year was Northern Illinois, a team that beat Iowa. However, the Cardinals are a different team heaving lost their star quarterback and three top receivers. WIN.
Iowa State — Sept. 13, 2:30 p.m.
Despite a late game-scoring flurry from Iowa State, the Hawkeyes beat up the Cyclones last year. The same will hopefully happen again this season, with Iowa ramming the ball down the throat of the Iowa State defense like it did in 2013. WIN.
@ Pittsburgh — Sept. 20, Time TBD
Pitt head coach Paul Chryst was Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator from 2005–2011, so he’s familiar with the Hawkeyes and Big Ten football. Iowa can beat Pitt, but the Hawkeyes don’t have a stellar record in their last 10 true road openers (4-6) and always seem to lay an egg on the road at least once per season. LOSS.
@ Purdue — Sept. 27, 11 a.m.
The Boilermakers are not good. This is definitely a rebuilding era in West Lafayette. However, this is one of those games where, in the past, the Hawkeyes have failed to rise above their opponent’s weaknesses. If the Hawks do not pound the Boilermakers into the ground early and keep them buried, Purdue could hang around and gain some confidence. That is when a program-building upset could happen. WIN.
Indiana — Oct. 11, 11 a.m.
Indiana rounds out the Hoosier State triumvirate on Iowa’s schedule. The Hoosiers racked up a lot of yardage on offense last year (508.5 per game), but their defense could not stop a three-year-old on a tricycle (527.9 yards allowed per game). Indiana may put up a number of points on the scoreboard at Kinnick, but the Hawkeyes should score more to celebrate homecoming with a win. WIN.
@ Maryland — Oct. 18, 11 a.m.
The Terrapins and Hawkeyes will play each other for the first time ever. Although decimated by injuries last year, if Maryland can stay healthy, they could have an explosive offensive—for a bunch of turtles. This has the potential to be a close game, which is bad news for the Hawks. Since 2010, Iowa has been 4-10 in games decided by three points or less. LOSS.
Northwestern — Nov. 1, Time TBD
The Wildcats give the Hawkeyes fits when they have a mobile quarterback, which they don’t this year. Northwestern still has a solid running game and Trevor Siemian is an efficient passer. Seven starters return to a defense that was among the worst in the Big Ten last year, so chances are the Wildcats have improved. Iowa should be able to handle the Wildcats this year, but you never know … WIN.
@ Minnesota — Nov. 8, Time TBD
The Gophers are on the rise with a lot of experienced players returning, including a strong defense. One big change, though, is the quarterback: Mitch Leidner will replace Philip Nelson, who left the team. The Hawkeyes ran roughshod at TCF Bank Stadium last year, picking up 246 yards, so the Gophers will want redemption and Floyd of Rosedale. Minnesota’s defense may be a stiff test, but their offense is essentially one-dimensional. WIN.
@ Illinois — Nov. 15, Time TBD
Iowa plays the hated pumpkin heads of Illinois for the first time since 2008. In two years as head coach, Illinois’ Tim Beckman has only won a single conference game. Illinois may double or even triple Beckman’s Big Ten wins records this season, but one of those victories will probably not be against Iowa. WIN.
Wisconsin — Nov. 22, Time TBD
This game will likely decide who has the upper hand for the Big Ten West title. Wisconsin lost a lot of good players and will basically have new faces on defense. But four starters return to an offensive line that weighs nearly 1,600 pounds, and running back Melvin Gordon will look to improve on the 1,609 yards he rushed for last season. With home field advantage, though, the Hawkeyes should be able to reclaim the Heartland Trophy. WIN.
Nebraska — Nov. 28, Time TBD
The Cornhuskers have a lot of experienced players returning on offense, but there will be a lot of new faces on defense. Among the offensive players returning this season are leading passer Tommy Armstrong, Jr., the team’s three leading rushers and three of the top four receivers from 2013, including defensive end Randy Gregory, who lead the Big Ten last year with 10.5 sacks. Still, the Hawkeyes should be able to handle the Huskers. WIN.
2014 Hawks to watch
Jake “Speedy” Rudock
Hometown/Year: Weston, Fla./Junior
Superpowers: In 2013, Rudock completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,383 yards and 18 TDs. His game is agile, versatile and mobile which lends a much-needed factor of improvisation to keep opposing defenses on their toes.
Achilles Heel: Rudock will need to cut down his turnover contribution (he threw 13 interceptions last year) and protect his knees after injuries took him out of three games.
Mark “The Rumbler” Weisman
Position: Running Back
Hometown/Year: Buffalo Grove, Ill./Senior
Superpowers: Weighing in at 240 pounds, Weisman is a prototypical bruiser who has amassed 1,790 yards and 16 TDs over the last two seasons. He will power the ball between the tackles and keep local icemakers busy filling orders for opposing linebackers and safeties.
Achilles Heel: Weisman has received his fair share of bruises the last couple years, leaving games early due to foot, elbow and pectoral injuries. His body needs to be able to take the pounding Iowa needs from him.
Kevonte “KMart” Martin-Manley
Position: Wide Receiver, Punt Returner
Hometown/Year: Pontiac, Mich/Senior.
Superpowers: The sure-handed and dangerous Martin-Manley ranks second in the Big Ten and eighth in the nation for punts returns. Last year, he lead the team in punt return yardage (314) and famously returned two punts for touchdowns in less than one minute last year against Western Michigan.
Achilles Heel: Infallible.
Brandon “The Freak” Scherff
Position: Offensive Lineman (Left Guard)
Hometown/Year: Denison, Iowa/Senior.
Superpowers: The left side of the offensive line is anchored by tackle Scherff (6 feet 5 inches, 320 pounds), a potential NFL first-round pick who literally will have Rudock’s back protecting the blindside.
Achilles Heel: In 2012, Scherff missed the final five games of the season after suffering a broken right fibula and dislocated ankle, but he returned strong and started at left tackle in all 13 games in 2013.
Carl “The Mountain” Davis
Position: Defensive Tackle
Hometown/Year: Detroit, Mich./Senior
Superpowers: Three starters return to the defensive line, including Davis. A 315-pound run stopper who recorded 42 total tackles last season, Davis is a mountain that opposing offensive linemen will need to move.
Achilles Heel: Davis missed the final six games of the 2011 season after his right kneecap popped in and out of place, but has bounced back nicely after surgery in 2012.