The off-season is a long and tiresome trudge, so how can we best get through it? By looking ahead to next year, of course. So, in the spirit of forward thinking, we present a team-by-team look at Iowa's 2011 football opponents (with looks at Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Illinois thrown in for good measure so our Big Televen brethren don't feel ignored). First up: the Golden Eagles of Tennessee Tech.
GAME 1: Tennessee Tech @ Iowa (Kinnick Stadium; Iowa City, IA; 9/3/11)
Who are they? The (Fightin'!) Golden Eagles hail from Cookeville, TN, where they've carved out a proud legacy as... well, a slightly below-average football program. They have an all-time record of 389-460-31 and their history isn't exactly dotted with moments of glory. Their high point was undoubtedly a run in the '70s when they won 8 or more games in five out of seven years (including a high-water mark of 10-2 in 1972). Unfortunately, since the days of Don Wade, the Golden Eagles have endured mostly mediocrity, spotted with some outright disasters (like the run from 1984-1986 when they went 1-31). More recently, Tennessee Tech has hovered around .500: 5-6 last year and 6-5 the year before. Suffice to say, they are not a I-AA powerhouse on par with the Montana team Iowa played a few years back or even UNI, a frequent I-AA dance partner for Iowa and Iowa State.
They don't exactly have any big-conference scalps hanging from their walls, either. All but 12 of Tennessee Tech's wins over FBS competition have come against Sun Belt competition -- and most of those wins came when the Sun Belt teams in question competed at the FCS level. (Which is also true of many of the non-Sun Belt foes Tennessee Tech has bested from BCS leagues.) They've never lost to a Big Ten team... but that's almost certainly because until they make the trek to Iowa City this September, they've never played a Big Ten team. Their recent efforts against BCS foes have gone... poorly:
2010: L, Arkansas, 44-3
2010: L, TCU, 62-7
2009: L, Kansas State, 49-7
2009: L, Georgia, 38-0
2008: L, Louisville, 51-10
2008: L, Western Michigan, 41-7
2007: L, Auburn, 35-3
... and so on. They take their paychecks -- and their beatings -- with little fuss.
What did they do last year? Won some, lost some, hovered around .500. After enduring back-to-back bitchmakings at the hands of Arkansas (44-3) and TCU (62-7), they rebounded with a big win (43-0) over Lane College. After that they lost a few, won a few, lost a few more, and won their season finale against Jacksonville State (35-24). Iowa and Tennessee Tech did have one common opponent last year: Eastern Illinois. The Golden Eagles defeated the (Formerly) Fightin' Jake Christensens 34-20.
Who's coming back this year? According to the chipper spring game preview on the Tennessee Tech website, quite a bit: 25 seniors and 24 juniors. That includes their starting QB from a year ago, their top three rushers, and their top receiver. It also includes four of their top-six returning tacklers, as well as the team leaders in TFL, interceptions, and sacks.
Who are five players you should know on the Golden Eagles?
Tre Lamb: It's always good to know a returning starter at quarterback, right? According to his TT website bio, Lamb is "an extremely intelligent player who knows the game well," as well as "an exciting runner but also owns a strong arm and can make all the throws." PLUS! He's "calm under fire" and "can move the offense in variety of ways." This cool, versatile young leader of men saw action in eight games last year, going 72/136 for 974 yards and an 11/4 TD/INT ratio. He also added 100 yards and a score on the ground. Last year, Lamb went 6/13 for 99 yards against Arkansas and 7/12 for 50 yards (1 TD/1 INT) against TCU.
Tim Benford: Benford was the Golden Eagles' passing game in 2010 and for once that's not really hyperbole. He had 50 catches; no one else had more than 18. He had 812 receiving yards; no one else had more than 230 yards. He caught ten touchdowns; no one else caught more than two (and, in fact, as a team TTU had 14 passing touchdowns, so Benford had over 2/3 of them). Benford was named 4th-team I-AA All-America by Phil Steele last year and he's already generating 2012 NFL Draft buzz, so he's a legit talent. Shaun Prater should get an early test of his skills from Mr. Benford; on the other hand, if Iowa can manage to shut down Benford, there's little indication that they can get much of a passing game from the rest of the squad.
Zack Ziegler: Ziegler was a triple-threat (of sorts) for the Golden Eagles last year, catching 16 passes for 174 yards and 2 TD, running for 94 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, and throwing one pass (incomplete). But mostly I care about him because his name makes me think of Dirk Diggler, which makes me think of oversized plastic penises and tight pants and "The Touch." Yep.
Dwight Evans: Evans isn't the Golden Eagles' most prolific returning defender (that would probably be FS Marty Jones, who is the team's leading returning tackler (87) and the team leader in interceptions (4) and fumbles recovered (2)), but he was the team leader in tackles for loss (10.5) and at ILB, he's likely going to be the guy trying to slow down the Coked-Up Werewolf as he tries to get to the next level on his runs. If he's able to slow down Coker, it could force the Iowa offense to be more creative than they likely want to be against Tennessee Tech. Or maybe he'll just get planted on his ass like that Missouri defender at the Insight Bowl.
Clint Brewster: Why list a backup QB who, in his first two years at Tennessee Tech, failed to see a single snap of action? Well, partially because it's hard to come up with five credible players from a middling I-AA school. But mostly because he's a Brewster, of the GO FIGHT TRY
WIN Brewster clan. Yes, Clint was spawned from the loins of our favorite former Gopher coach; he was a reasonably highly-touted prep QB recruit and the source of an intense recruiting battle between Illinois and Minnesota, so I'm not altogether certain (a) why/how he wound up at Tennessee Tech or (b) why he hasn't seen any actual game action with the Golden Eagles. Unless he's just not that good and his prep resume was puffed-up. Not that a Brewster would ever be involved with something like that. Anyway, we're excited to have a little LEAVE CAPITULATE OBFUSCATE back in our lives; we're still a little bitter that Minnesota pulled the plug on the Brewster Era before Iowa came to town last year.
What's going to happen to them in 2011? Probably more of the same; they'll hover around .500 and possibly win a few more games to get up to 7-8 wins if all of that upperclassmen experience manages to pay dividends for them. Or not -- I'm not going to sit here and pretend to be an expert on the intricacies of Ohio Valley Conference football.
Prediction? Iowa wins. Big. Yes, we still remember the Iowa-UNI game in 2009 and the two miraculous blocked field goals it took to secure victory that day. And, yes, we know Tennessee Tech is returning a team with a lot of experience while Iowa will be seeking to fill holes at multiple positions. It won't matter. The history of Iowa against I-AA teams is pretty clear ('09 UNI aside): they thrash them.
2005: Iowa 45, UNI 21*
2006: Iowa 41, Montana 7
2008: Iowa 46, Maine 3
2009: Iowa 17, UNI 16
2010: Iowa 37, Eastern Illinois 7
* The game wasn't even really as close as the 24-point margin of victory; Iowa was up 38-7 after three quarters.
The offensive line will open up holes, Coker will smash some fools, and Vandenberg will get off a few nice play-action passes to Keenan and McNutt. The Polish Hat will either make a breathtaking catch or utterly pulverize someone on a block of special teams tackle. Or both. James Morris will make a lot of tackles. The pass rush will struggle at times and the secondary will give up a big play or two; we will still be concerned about the state of our defensive line and secondary. And probably the kicking game, too, just because. It will be a game, and for the players an opportunity to go live against someone other than each other in a scrimmage situation, which is a positive. For us it will be an excuse to get drunk before noon and cheer on Iowa. It probably won't tell us all that much about what to expect from the 2011 Iowa football team. So it goes. Iowa 38, Tenn. Tech 10
Anything else of note? They have a pretty sweet logo:
According to Wiki, their "famous alumni" includes not one but two players on the Rockford Thunder, a member of the National Pro Fastpitch Softball League. So... yeah. Oh, and Jimmy Bedford, who was the sixth "master distiller" at Jack Daniel's. That earns them a few cool points.
BONUS! Great minds think alike, as blog-buddy Fight For Iowa also posted a preview of Tennessee Tech today. It's got a few more stats and facts than this one, so go ahead and read that one, too. You'll be far more well-versed on the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles than you ever imagined.