IOWA CITY — The math gets goofy somehow.
The last time the Hawkeyes went into a season ranked in the top 10 was 1988. That time, they finished 6-4-3. In 2005, Iowa came off a co-Big Ten championship and had quarterback Drew Tate. The Hawkeyes started No. 11 and finished unranked. In ’06, the Hawkeyes started No. 16. Again, they finished unranked.
So, it’s 2010.
Iowa has quarterback Ricky Stanzi, a charismatic leader and budding playmaker. There’s defensive end Adrian Clayborn, a devastating force. Wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos is poised to become Iowa’s No. 1 in receptions and receiving yards.
Offensive tackle Riley Reiff is in the chute that Coach Kirk Ferentz has built from Iowa O-line to the NFL. Safety Tyler Sash comes with an interception magnet, with 11 in two seasons as a starter.
Last weekend, the Associated Press installed Iowa as the No. 9 team in the nation.
Uh oh, goofy math.
“I think Iowa has the ingredients to make a run to win a championship,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “One thing I would say, a little bit of an asterisk that concerns me, in the past, when I’ve come into Chicago and we’re all excited about Iowa and all of the sudden they finish the year unranked.
“Why is this year going to be different? Are they going to be able to handle prosperity? Are they going to be able to handle expectations?”
The difference between 1988, 2005 and ’06 could come down to players.
The list is subjective, but a few are above reproach. Ferentz goes into 2010 with as many seniors and stars as any of his teams have had.
That’s why Iowa could be different.
Two years ago, Stanzi engaged in one of the more position battles in the Ferentz era. After a loss at Pittsburgh, Ferentz and offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe turned away from Jake Christensen and slid the keys across the table to a gangly sophomore.
Two years later, Stanzi has gone from gangly — he didn’t weigh much more than 200 as a sophomore — to a 6-foot-4, 230-pound winner. He enters 2010 with an 18-4 record.
DE Adrian Clayborn
During his first two seasons, you could see Clayborn had the outline for the Hawkeyes’ next great DE.
You saw it against Michigan State in 2007. In desperation time, the Spartans mounted a comeback. Clayborn came up with a huge sack late in the fourth quarter. In ’08, Clayborn helped set the tone with a sack and a fumble that fueled Iowa’s surge and eventual upset victory over Penn State.
Last season, it all came together. He finished with 11.5 sacks and an MVP performance in the Orange Bowl. Clayborn goes into 2010 as everybody’s All-American.
WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos
Boiling it down to numbers, DJK has done a lot at Iowa.
The 6-1, 200-pounder has 127 receptions for 1,871 yards and seven touchdowns, needing 31 receptions to pass Kevin Kasper as receptions leader and 401 yards to pass Tim Dwight’s yardage record of 2,271. He’s led the Hawkeyes in receiving for the last three seasons, just the third player in Iowa history to do that.
SS Tyler Sash
During Orange Bowl practices last season, linebacker A.J. Edds was asked about Sash’s success.
“Sash does a good job of catching tipped balls that land right in his hands,” Edds joked. “I’m kidding, kidding.”
There’s a reason for that, by the way.
“Guys give him a hard time about having these balls that fall in his hands, but if he’s not in the right place at the right time, those balls aren’t coming to him,” Edds said.
OT Riley Reiff
Reiff, a 6-6, 300-pounder, never had a chance to be nervous. Bryan Bulaga went down with a thyroid condition last September, and Reiff had about three days to think about his first start — at Iowa State.
He made two more starts at left tackle, broke into a permanent job a few weeks later at guard and, in the Orange Bowl, played right tackle and found himself opposite NFL first-rounder Derrick Morgan.