I podcasted with the CBSSports.com bros earlier this week. Listen and enjoy!
So... yeah. Tied for second in the West (technically) at the end of the day, and that seems good, but I didn't really have good things to say about Iowa, did I? No, no I didn't. But really -- that defensive line is a major question mark, isn't it? It's a guy who wrested away a starting spot mid-season last year, then practically stopped producing after that (Mike Daniels), the guy he (indirectly) took the starting spot from (Broderick Binns) [via Christian Ballard versatility], then two as-yet undetermined guys who could barely get on the field last year even when the starters crapped out in the fourth quarters. You see how that's a problem, right?
That said, I've still got them at 9-3 (5-3) this season, but the losses are going to be just unbearable: at Penn State, against Northwestern (oh, you know it's coming), and at Nebraska. Three fan bases we will never hear the end of it from until the 2012 season. The only way it could be worse is if Iowa lost to ISU, and uh... that game's in Ames. Oh, who are we kidding, Iowa's going to win that one by three TDs*.
But nine wins is still nine wins, right? Technically, yes, but...
...but the 2008, 2009, and 2010 teams could probably get 10+ wins out of this schedule. It's mighty nice. This is Iowa's weakest team since 2007, and will probably be the first since then to lose by more than one possession.
Pitt is the only challenge in the non-conference, and they're in the first year of learning a spread-and-shred offense with Tino goddamn Sunseri under center. Do you have any idea how badly Norm Parker is going to slap Todd Graham around? This has Iowa-Northwestern 2000 written all over it, except Iowa's good.
Past that, half of Iowa's in-conference road games are wasted on Minnesota and OUR MOST HATED RIVAL Purdue, neither of whom are any good this year. They're not particularly well-suited to exploiting Iowa's weaknesses, either; Minnesota's lines may both be the worst in the conference, and Purdue's not about to "run all over" Iowa, as I put it in the podcast. In fact, Iowa's new emphasis on LB speed over size seems tailor-made to counteract an offense like Purdue's, which makes sense (since we hate them).
But the three losses, though, I don't see Iowa getting out of. The Hawkeyes can't keep winning at Happy Valley forever, Northwestern's legit good this year, and a win over Nebraska is really not happening this year. I know, I hate that. This'll be the most unbearable offseason ever--way worse than this one, and if you disagree, realize how few Minnesota fans have been here bragging about last November's game. Won't be the same once Nebraska and Northwestern get their Ws, will it?
Back to the original point: There are some real weak points on this Iowa team -- mainly depth-related -- and they'd be negatives even if Iowa didn't choke so often in 2010. I trust James Vandenberg, for the record, but the rest of the new starters not so much. If it weren't for the staff's track record -- like, give these guys Illinois' or Purdue's coaching staffs -- we'd be talking about a six-win ballclub, probably. That they're still worth nine wins in my projections (which will be available on CBSSports.com on Friday!) is a testament more to Kirk Ferentz and the schedule he was handed than the talent evident on the team. Hey, I'm not complaining. Any way you can get nine wins, you take it, right?
So go ahead, feel free to call me a Northwestern-loving fair-weather fan in the comments below. I probably deserve it.
*Anyone familiar with the track record of BHGP's editorial hubris knows that the Cyclones are now about to fucking destroy Iowa. Whatever, the Cyclones suck a butt this year.