IOWA CITY — The Iowa Hawkeyes will report to camp this weekend and be greeted stark reality.
There are no expectations. In a recent poll of 26 Big Ten football beat writers, the Hawkeyes were a near-unanimous pick for fifth place in the Legends Division, just ahead of Minnesota and way behind Northwestern. Phil Steele’s “College football Preview” also slots Iowa fifth in the Legends, but it also has Iowa No. 15 on its list of most-improved teams in ’13.
Let’s just call this what it is. It’s the mark of the 4-8.
That’s where Iowa thudded last season, 4-8 and 2-6 in the Big Ten. People who pick teams need to see something. The larger question there is when people who buy season tickets need to see something.
The Iowa Hawkeyes will report for August camp this weekend with the “mark of the 4-8.” Can they wash it off?
1. Staff turnover and translating the offense — Iowa is in the second year of a major staff overhaul. When the Hawkeyes meet BCS-buster Northern Illinois on Aug. 31, coach Kirk Ferentz will have hired six new assistants, including offensive and defensive coordinators, in the last 13 months.
That’s significant change, especially if you consider the stability of Ferentz’s first 13 years in Iowa City.
The transition to Greg Davis as offensive coordinator came with lumps last season. The general thought is Iowa’s offense has to improve this year because it can’t get any worse (just seven TD passes in 2012).
“There was a lot of learning and teaching going on. That was traumatic for everyone, coaches included,” Ferentz said.
Wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy, who worked with Davis for seven years at Texas, should help with translation. But even Ferentz said during Big Ten media days in Chicago the wide receiver group is wobbly.
If Iowa’s passing game goes sideways again this season, the offense won’t be fun to watch. Let’s just leave it at that for now.
2. Who’s the QB? — Let’s forget for a minute the “who” of the competition between junior Cody Sokol, sophomore Jake Rudock and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard. Someone will win the QB job, probably sooner rather than later in camp, as Ferentz has indicated.
Let’s focus on the possibility that this could be a two- or three-year decision.
Sokol, the junior-college transfer, is athletic and a potential playmaker. Rudock knows the offense and translates it at a higher level than the others. Beathard will be in his first season of not being on the scout team.
Whomever locks down the job — if they do indeed lock it down — takes it for a minimum of two seasons. It would be human nature for the second- and third-place finishers to “explore their options” as far as playing time goes. And then that worrying begins.
First things first, who’s the QB?
3. Defining pass rush — Iowa needs a pass rush. Sure, sacks are the ultimate goal. They are as close to a TD as a defense can have without actually scoring a TD.
What Iowa needs is disruption. You see passing games. Three steps and the ball is out of the QB’s hands in less than three seconds. If a defense logs sacks on a regular basis against this type of tempo, it has Iron Man as a defense end or an incredible D-line that can win a one-on-one at any give spot.
At the very least, a defense needs to “flash color,” throw a QB out of rhythm and turn a play into scramble mode. That’s what Iowa’s D-line needs to do to help the Hawkeyes find their way back to defensive dominance.
Can defensive coordinator Phil Parker find some “hybrids” to keep pace?
4. How about those running backs? — Again with the offense, forget about the who.
Ferentz did say in Chicago that he could see junior Mark Weisman get 20 carries a game. If that happens, Iowa will have fallen in default mode, with a big back rushing for 1,200 to 1,500 yards and 10 or 15 TDs. That’s the easy assumption. It was the default last season when the passing game just . . . didn’t . . . work.
Is there a palate for creativity here? Junior Damon Bullock can do a lot of things. His strength might be as a receiver. Sophomore Jordan Canzeri is hard to handle in space and, at 5-9, 189, is one of those backs that’s simply hard to find. Redshirt freshman Michael Malloy might be the most intriguing prospect on offense and he is No. 4 going into this weekend.
5. Parker’s secondary expertise — The chicken-egg argument with Iowa’s defense last season was the pass rush vs. coverage. How long can you cover a receiver if there’s no pass rush? It’s the blame game, certainly, and the answer, on any given play, was everyone.
Parker has admitted Iowa allowed too many easy, uncovered plays happen in the secondary last season. Safety play, which has been an “A” position at Iowa during Parker’s 13 seasons as defensive backs coach, took a dip.
Parker is still coordinator and now he’s back to the secondary, taking over for Darrell Wilson, who departed for a job with Rutgers.
This alone should stem big plays against Iowa by five or maybe 10. The players have to keep up their end of the deal, though.