IOWA CITY, Iowa – More of the same is how I see the 2015 season unfolding for the Iowa football team.
And by that, I mean a repeat of last season when Iowa flirted with being good before sinking to average with a 7-6 record.
Iowa has been the epitome of average over the past three seasons under veteran coach Kirk Ferentz, finishing with a combined record of 19-19, including 11-13 in Big Ten games during that span.
What has to happen in order to avoid being average again?
Here are 10 answers to that question.
1. C.J. Beathard must avoid injury: This is meant as no disrespect to the other three quarterbacks who will be on scholarship, but they’re not ready for the Big Ten stage yet. Redshirt freshman Tyler Wiegers hasn’t appeared in a game, while Drew Cook and Ryan Boyle will be true freshmen this season.
You should hope that one of the three backups would separate himself from the other two and develop into an acceptable option should Beathard go down. Ferentz would prefer to redshirt Cook and Boyle, but what happens if one of them is clearly the best backup? The last thing we need is another bizarre and maddening season like 2012 when only one Iowa quarterback took all the snaps.
2. The rushing attack has to average at least 200 yards per game: That might sound like a ton of yards, but it would’ve only ranked seventh in the Big Ten last season. Iowa finished seventh in the conference in rushing last season, but well below the 200-yard plateau at 163.1 yards per game. It’s time for Iowa to live up to its reputation for having a power rushing attack that consistently moves the chains.
3. Beathard has to throw for at least 2,500 yards, 15 touchdowns and fewer than 10 interceptions: This would be enough to give Iowa balance, assuming the rushing attack does its part. It also would show that the tight ends were involved because it’s hard to see Beathard accumulating that many passing yards by throwing to only his receivers and running backs.
4. Iowa’s opponents have to average fewer than 150 rushing yards per game, while also surrendering at least 30 sacks: These numbers would show that Iowa has controlled the line of scrimmage more times than not. They wouldn’t signify dominance, but rather a solid front seven.
It also wouldn’t be too far off from last season when Iowa finished sixth in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing 168.3 yards per game, and ninth in sacks with 27.
5. Two of the five linebackers competing for playing time – Bo Bower, Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann, Cole Fisher and Travis Perry – have to perform at least at an honorable mention all-Big Ten level. No disrespect to these guys, but as a group they were a weakness last season. They struggled to contain the run and weren’t much better against the pass.
Being a year older and a year wiser should help because now they know what to expect.
6. First-year starting offensive tackles Boone Myers and Ike Boettger at worst have to be serviceable: It’s naïve to think that either one would be anywhere close to where last season’s starters left off. That’s especially true in Myers’ case at left tackle where he replaces 2014 Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff.
Myers and Boettger will undoubtedly suffer through growing pains because it’s part of being a first-year starter in the Big Ten. Even Scherff needed time to adjust to the college game.
They just have to keep the pain in moderation and perform at a level in which neither is a liability in the trenches.
7. Whoever wins the punting job between Dillon Kidd, Marshall Koehn and Colten Rastetter has to average at least 42 yards per attempt: Winning the battle for field position is important for any team, but especially a team like Iowa that rarely has a huge edge in talent or depth.
8. Marshall Koehn has to convert on at least 80 percent of his field-goal attempts, while making all of his point-after kicks. He was close to doing that last season, so it’s not unrealistic to think that he will improve as a fifth-year senior.
A reliable kicker probably isn’t enough to make Iowa a Big Ten contender, but an unreliable kicker almost certainly would make Iowa a pretender.
9. Iowa has to be ranked among the top seven teams in the conference in both red zone offense and red zone defense: The Hawkeyes finished 13th and 10th in the Big Ten in those statistics, respectively, last season. It’s reasonable to assume Iowa will be in its share of close games this season because that’s life under Ferentz. Winning close games comes down to being opportunistic. Nothing against Marshall Koehn, but he’s not who fans should want trotting on to the field inside the opponent’s 20-yard line on a regular basis.
Settling for three points is better than nothing, but too much of it can prove costly.
10. Senior receiver Tevaun Smith has to have at least 45 catches for no fewer than 700 yards and five touchdowns: He has teased us with his athleticism, making spectacular plays every now and then. The next step is to become more consistent and more of a downfield threat.
The hope is that with Beathard’s strong arm and his willingness to take chances down field that Smith will become a star this season.