We are introducing a new series to bring in the football season called “Big Ten Tour”. The purpose of BTT is to interview writers who are closely connected with their respective programs from around the conference. It’s always good to know your opponent and what people who cover them have to say.
The first stop is Iowa City, Iowa. Adam Jacobi, editor of SB Nation’s Black Heart Gold Pants, took some time to answer a few questions about the Hawkeyes and their upcoming season.
JH: Talk a little bit about the Iowa quarterback battle going on right now. The consensus says that Jake Rudock will be the eventual winner of the sweepstakes. Who do you believe is going to win and what are your expectations from the winner?
Jacobi: Rudock took all of the First Team snaps at the open scrimmage this weekend. If he remains healthy and is still not named the starting QB for Week 1, we’ll probably crawl into ovens. CJ Beathard is probably the more talented passer, but if having a strong arm is all that mattered for being a QB Ryan Leaf would have won Super Bowls. Our expectations are low, because they have to be for a 3-star prospect who hasn’t taken any college snaps and will be facing B1G defenses. If I had to project 12 games out of him I’d say 2,200 yards, 15 TDs and 10 picks. Think a Scott Tolzien in the making.
JH: Just how hot is the seat under Kirk Ferentz? Considering the team is coming off a down year at only four wins, can he afford another season like the last one and still be employed?
Jacobi: It’s not about what Ferentz can afford, it’s what the school can afford; Ferentz’s buyout remains at about $3 million a year for the next 6.5 years (it expires in early 2020). Numbers can always be talked up or down, of course, and Ferentz isn’t the type to keep coaching if he’s not happy doing it, but he’s not leaving before 2016 unless it’s on his terms.
JH: Everyone seems to talk about the “Angry Running Back Hating God” that has plagued Iowa’s running game as of late. Now that there seems to be a legitimate starter returning (barring anything unspeakable happening) in Mark Weisman, what does that mean for the program going forward?
Jacobi: Weisman is the putative starter, but he’s also a big body who instigates contact. That’s fine, but those types of runners who can’t go 20 carries a game without taking direct shots to their hips or knees usually don’t go 12 straight games without needing a rest. So what makes Iowa’s RB situation better this season is not only that everyone is healthy and eligible, but that it goes six deep with talent and experience. For now, anyway. The pianos could start falling from the sky on these guys’ heads any day now. At any rate, this is far from the best RB stable in the B1G, but it’s good enough that Ferentz can do what he want with the running game, and he’s got some versatility there with a few big bodies and a few guys who can split out wide if need be. For a program that likes ugly, grind-it-out ball, that’s a good thing.
JH: Talk about a little bit about the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Who are you expecting to come out and have big years?
Jacobi: DT Carl Davis is, by all accounts, making The Leap and he should contend for All-Big Ten honors if he stays healthy. Louis Trinca-Pasat is establishing himself at the other DT spot and the two should be able to keep the linebackers’ jerseys a little cleaner than last year. On the OL, Brandon Scherff is back after a nasty leg injury took him out for the last half of the season. He’s dominating camp and looks like the next in a long line of very highly paid Iowa LTs. This line is comparable to the ’08 front five that helped propel Shonn Greene to a Doak Walker Award, and while there’s little indication Iowa’s got a Greene waiting in the backfield this year, Iowa’s overall rushing production (~190 ypg in ’08) should be similar.
JH: Do you see any incoming freshman making a significant impact on this team day one?
Jacobi: Damond Powell is making a major splash at WR, but he’s a juco so he doesn’t count. There aren’t many freshmen pushing for PT, but one is RB LeShun Daniels, who came in at about 225 pounds—and he looks like an armadillo on the field. Low, round, and strong. If Weisman can’t go 12 games (he probably won’t), Daniels should be able to step right into the big back role and fuel Iowa’s power running game. Past that, if there are freshmen in the immediate plans, we haven’t heard much about them yet.
JH: Finally, what are your expectations for the Hawkeyes this season?
Jacobi: This team looks a lot better than last year. It’s better-drilled (from the coaches on down), and we’re starting to see the seeds of an offense that packages plays and forces mismatches. That’s not to say the Capital One Bowl will be calling at the end of the season, but this looks like a 6- or 7-win team. Luck can push that total as many as two games in either direction, but I’d put money on Iowa finishing at 6 or 7 wins.