IOWA CITY, Iowa – Most teams end up showing strengths and weaknesses at some point during a season. You get enough of the former and a limited amount of the latter, you’re successful.
Is that an oversimplification? Perhaps. Sports can be crazy and make no sense at times, but the art of predicting outcomes, however flawed, plays a large role in following them. Passion and expectations are closely tied together and feed off of each other.
There are times when a specific unit or two can carry a team (see Drew Tate and the D-Line in ’04). More often, it comes down to how all phases mesh together in determining the overall success of the squad.
With that in mind, how might we be able to handicap Iowa’s upcoming campaign? Why, by ranking the strength of eight key units heading into 2015:
8. Special Teams: Oye. What in the name of Paki O’Meara is going on here? Iowa is missing those special, special teams names of years gone by like Paki, Jayme "Irish Car Bomb" Murphy and Zach Gabelmann. Through the Kirk Ferentz Era the Hawkeye production here has gone from a positive to neutral to a liability. The punting situation is about as stable as a sandcastle.
7. Linebackers: If they can somehow push themselves into the Top 4 on this list, Iowa could be celebrating Ferentz and his legacy again by season’s end. I don’t doubt a bright future for guys like Bo Bower, Josey Jewell and Ben Niemann. I think there’s potential to reach the heights of Christian Kirksey, James Morris and Anthony Hitchens. But we could be a year or two away from that happening.
6. Quarterback: No, I’m not a Jake Rudock refugee. I thought he did a fine job as a two-year starter but also see why the coaches went with Beathard. They have to make hay in the next two years. Committing to the guy who could lead them for that duration makes sense. I’m a Beathard fan just like I was a Rudock fan. I believe they share a lot of the same traits.
5. Running Backs: There’s potential here. We’ve seen it in spurts from Jordan Canzeri, LeShun Daniels, Akrum Wadley, Adam Cox and Macon Plewa. We need to see it consistently. Derrick Mitchell is a name to remember and incoming freshman Eric Graham will attempt to push his way into the picture. I’m not sure what we have in C.J. Hilliard and Marcel Joly and we may not know for a fews years while they develop.
4. Offensive Line: Sometimes you go with the side on which your bread is buttered. Even in bad times, Iowa’s O-Line produces NFL players and rarely is a liability. Senior center Austin Blythe, a member of the Outland Trophy watch list, anchors a strong interior that includes Jordan Walsh, Sean Welsh, Eric Simmons and Mitch Keppy. Boone Myers (LT) and Ike Boettger (RT) hold the key to success as redshirt sophomore, first-time starters.
3. Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: Outside of Tevaun Smith and Jake Duzey, this group doesn’t offer a huge amount of upside. But it’s an area with a decent amount of experience and depth. Matt Vandeberg is a capable possession receiver and tight end cousins Henry Krieger Coble and George Kittle have been awaiting their chance.
2. Defensive Backs: This ranking results from my strong feelings about the play of Jordan Lomax, a natural leader. Iowa’s starting free safety understands the game and incorporates the physical ability to influence others. Desmond King and Greg Mabin return to their starting cornerback spots with Maurice Fleming and Sean Draper proving the unit with experience behind them. Miles Taylor and Brandon Snyder are inexperienced strong safeties with high motors and upperclassmen Anthony Gair adds depth at both safety spots.
1. Defensive Line: Call me crazy, but I think this units leads the way for Iowa despite where it stood just three years ago. Reese Morgan has gotten the most out of players at this position. Drew Ott is a potential pro. Nate Meier is a great underdog story. Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekaktitie are blue chippers inside and Nathan Bazata and Kyle Terlouw are blue-collar underachievers at tackle. If guys like Matt Nelson and Parker Hesse can provide productive depth on the outside, this could a really good group.