Read between the lines with Iowa football

Chuck Long, Phil Steele agree: Hawkeyes have two good lines

Published: July 15 2014 | 10:48 am in Football, Sports, Sports Rotator, The Hlog by Mike Hlas, University of Iowa,

My rule on college football preseason watchlists for awards is this: They aren’t worth watching.

The season will be played, and players will perform in games. Then, voters will vote on all the awards.

Jameis Winston of Florida State was on no such watchlists last summer, and won the Heisman Trophy. He quarterbacked the quarterbacking the natonal-championship team. The end.

When I heard Monday that the Rotary Lombardi Award put out its watchlist and it contained 123 players, I was intrigued. What did it take to not be included on the list?

Well, there are guidelines. You must be a down lineman, end-to-end, either on offense or defense, who set up no farther than 10 yards to the left or right of the ball, or a linebacker who sets up no more than five yards deep from the line of scrimmage. The candidates earned a place on the preliminary watch list by earning All-American honors, being named to their respective all-conference teams or receiving 2014 preseason honors.

How much ground does that cover? Well, four players from Louisiana-Lafayette and three from Florida Atlantic are on the list. None will win the award. But we are supposed to watch them all the same, one presumes.

The Big Ten has 11 of the 123 players. Lo and behold, Iowa is the only conference team with three. They are center Austin Blythe, defensive tackle Carl Davis, and offensive tackle Brandon Scherff. Ohio State has two players on the list, and six Big Ten teams have one.

Does this mean anything? Well, maybe. Last Monday at the Zach Johnson Foundation Classic, Chuck Long (of Hawkeyes fame, and now the Big Ten Network) said he sees the Nebraska-Iowa game on Nov. 28 as the decider of the Big Ten West title. For those who have seen Long on the BTN, he isn’t a Hawkeye honk when it comes to giving serious, objective opinions.

Many are saying Iowa could be good, but few are giving the Hawkeyes the nod in the West. Long, however, told the crowd around the 18th green that Iowa will have strong offensive and defensive lines, and that’s when the Hawkeyes are at their best.

He also said what many have noted, which is that Iowa’s league schedule is not as difficult as it could have been.

Obvious, that, but still true. By the way, Wisconsin’s Big Ten slate is very similar to Iowa’s.

The business about the schedule can be overblown. Good teams play through tough schedules. If you’re so-so, a so-so schedule can still be more than you can handle. Some of Iowa’s best teams have had difficult schedules, and some of its lesser squads had slates that didn’t seem overly imposing in July.

But the thing about the lines play is a tried-and-true staple of football at all levels. Phil Steele’s preseason magazine says Iowa has the 21st-best offensive line and No. 25 defensive line in the country. That’s a good combo.

Steele says Wisconsin has the third-best O-line, but doesn’t list the Badgers among the top 45 D-lines. He has Nebraska with the No. 7 D-line, but doesn’t list its O-line among the nation’s top 45. Which has to be a first.

But about that schedule: Steele says the Big Ten’s four best QBs are in the East. They are Ohio State’s Brandon Miller, Michigan State’s Connor Cook, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and Michigan’s Devin Gardner. Iowa plays none of them.

If you’re the Hawkeyes with a sturdy defensive line and no apparent all-league quarterback as an opponent, that should make you feel even better about the season ahead.


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