IOWA CITY, Iowa – If by chance I won a contest that allowed me to be in charge of the Iowa football program for one day during the calendar year, I’d pick the final day of spring practice.
Why not a notable day during the season you ask?
Because I would do less damage and bring less shame and embarrassment to the fans if my one day on the throne was restricted to the spring.
But also because the way in which Iowa concludes spring practice is severely lacking. It needs a spark, a reason to give fans more incentive to spend the afternoon at Kinnick Stadium.
Some fans, including life-long Hawkeye Tom Suter from Iowa City, are convinced they have the solution. And they’re probably right.
Suter said three key components are missing from Iowa’s spring-game experience, the first being an actual game, the second being tailgating and the third being the booze that so often accompanies tailgating.
Suter probably would crawl on his knees from his house on the east side of Iowa City to attend an Iowa football game during the regular season, because for him, it’s an event that he cherishes.
But this Saturday will mark the first time Suter has attended an Iowa spring game in years.
He figures he’ll give it a shot.
Mother Nature is expected to cooperate on Saturday after ruining the open practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines two weeks ago with unyielding wind gusts and temperatures in the low 40s.
The team is also coming off a 12-win season and returns 13 starters, including C.J. Beathard.
And unlike a real game in the fall, Beathard has a much lower risk of getting injured on Saturday because hitting Iowa’s star quarterback will be strictly prohibited, much like tailgating.
Iowa used to play a real spring game under former head coach Hayden Fry. Current head coach Kirk Ferentz kept that tradition for a while, but eventually changed it to an open practice with a scrimmage at the end.
Attendance for the spring game rarely surpasses 10,000 these days. Those who attend are seated on the west side of the stadium, leaving the rest of the stadium empty.
Music is blasted throughout practice, and there is a public address announcer who gives updates on what is happening on the field.
So it hardly is a bore fest.
But it could use a spark in the form of more entertainment.
And Suter is right, playing a real game and allowing fans to tailgate and consume alcohol would provide that spark.
The same rules that apply during the season would be in effect for the spring game. Drink responsibly or risk being arrested.
Suter estimated on Friday that attendance would increase to 40,000 if Iowa played an actual spring game and allowed tailgating. That might be slightly optimistic, but attendance certainly would rise under that setup.
Suter also thinks most fans would drink responsibly before the spring game because that’s what he sees during the regular season, himself included.
As for Saturday’s spring game, or whatever you want to call it, things to watch for would include defensive end where Iowa must carry on without Drew Ott, who recently lost his medical hardship appeal for a fifth season of eligibility.
Sophomore Parker Hesse returns at one defensive end spot after starting nine games last season, while the other spot is currently held by 6-foot-8, 275-pound sophomore Matt Nelson.
Hesse and Nelson must show they can pressure the quarterback, while also containing the edge. And it starts in spring practice.
Quarterback is always worth watching, but in this case, not necessarily because of Beathard because we already know what to expect from him. It’ll be interesting to see how well he moves around after having sports hernia surgery in January.
But the intrigue is with the three backup quarterbacks starting with sophomore Tyler Wiegers, who has been No. 2 on the depth chart since the start of last season. Wiegers made noticeable strides from last spring to this past fall.
So, will we see more of his upswing on Saturday?
True freshmen quarterbacks Ryan Boyle and Drew Cook also will be on display Saturday. Both are considered equal right now with regard to the depth chart, although, Boyle might find the field sooner rather than later on special teams.
Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Wednesday that the 6-foot-1, 208-pound Boyle was practicing some on special teams this spring in an attempt to get the best athletes on the field.
Receiver is another point of interest. Senior Matt VandeBerg is sort of like Beathard in that we know what to expect from him. It’s the same with senior walk-on receiver Riley McCarron, who emerged last season.
It’s the other receivers who you should watch closely, particularly Jerminic Smith, Jay Scheel and Jonathan Parker. Scheel has been singled out for praise this spring and should be in the mix for playing time.
Shifting back to defense, filling the void at free safety where Jordan Lomax started the previous two seasons is another priority this spring. Sophomore Brandon Snyder is the new starter at free safety, so fans will get their first glimpse of him in that role.
And let’s not forget special teams, where Iowa has to replace both its kicker and punter.
It’d be cool if on Saturday Iowa played a real game that came down to a field goal in the closing seconds because that would be a good test for any inexperienced kicker.
Especially if there were 40,000 fans watching after having tailgated before the game.
2016 Iowa Spring game quick facts
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Kinnick Stadium; Gates A and G open at Noon.
Admission, parking: Free; all surface lots surrounding the stadium will be open. Fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items to donate for the Johnson County Crisis Center. Collection bins will be located in Lot 43 and the Krause Family Plaza.
Autographs: An autograph session with Hawkeye players will begin at 12:35 p.m. in front of the west and south stands.
Forecast: Sunny with a high temperature of 71 degrees; 10-15 mph winds.
Television: BTN2GO (subscription) will live-stream the practice.
Radio: From 1-2 p.m., Gary Dolphin and Rob Brooks will discuss Iowa football on many stations on the Hawkeye network, including WHO-AM (1040) in Des Moines and KXIC-AM (800) in Iowa City. The broadcast will also air on satellite radio (Sirius Ch. 93, XM Ch. 196).