The two-deeps used in these mid-conference audits are taken directly from The Gazette's Marc Morehouse, whose fine On Iowa blog is a fixture on our RSS readers.
WR — DJK, Stross
Well, this is a good place to start. DJK's 2008 has been pretty meh, actually, and while it seems pretty obvious that Stross' legendary speed is gone and never coming back, he's turned into one hell of a possession receiver; his hands are probably the best on the team. DJK is physically capable of making plays that nobody else in the WR corps can make, but he hasn't put it all together for a dominant game since, like, Northwestern 2007. If there was an unsafe starting job on the offense at this point (Kuempel aside), this is it.
LT — Bulaga, Kuempel
Good jesus, Bryan Bulaga. The word on him in summer camp even as a true freshman was that he was a mean, nasty blocker. But nobody could have anticipated the total domination he has put on opposing defensive lines. He regularly plants defenders 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, and it is simply no exaggeration to say he deserves All-American consideration.
LG — Vandervelde/Eubanks, Gettis
What should have been the weak link of this line (I mean, did you see Vandervelde last year??) has been rock solid. Think--if the left guard position was getting abused even half as regularly as with last season, then it wouldn't matter one bit how good Bulaga is, running to the left would be an exercise in futility. But Vandervelde has improved substantially in his second season on the line, and the rotation with Eubanks is perfect for both players, as there's always a fresh pair of arms to throw at opposing DTs. I would not have guessed before the season that this setup would work--at all--but damned if it's not solid.
C — Bruggeman, Koeppel
I often wonder if losing Bruggeman with that ACL last season didn't hurt Iowa worse than anyone could have predicted. Remember, he was right in the mix for a starting spot before he blew that knee out, and by the time NIU rolled around in 2007, Travis Meade was starting. No disrespect to Travis, but, you know, he's not even on this two-deep even with a starting guard injured. Bruggeman has been solid, even if he's on that Beanie Baby tip and he fixes computers and stuff. Clearly no need to make a change here, especially since Josh Koeppel is the long snapper and Eubanks is audibly clearing his throat.
RG — Kuempel, Doering
Seth Olsen was ostensibly Iowa's best lineman coming into this season, even if nobody thinks so at this point. Still, he was hardly a weak link, ever, and you'd think his departure would hurt the line, but Andy Kuempel absolutely dominated in his absence against Wisconsin. Watch this video of Shonn Greene again, but this time, watch Kuempel's blocking at the RG spot.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but you'll notice all four touchdowns went Kuempel's way. He's very good at executing blocks at both the first and second levels, and if Olsen is unable to go, expect to see Kuempel making Brit Miller's life hell this Saturday. Olsen deserves this job when he's healthy, but the lack of dropoff is very encouraging.
RT — Calloway, Aeschliman
Speaking of improvements from Year 1 to Year 2, how about Kyle Calloway? Greene's last TD came on Calloway reach-blocking a corner all the way to the sideline before Greene even came into play. We get the notion that he's a lot happier not being the blindside blocker for the QB in this offense, unlike with the left-handed Christensen. Now he's usually got TE help (and Moeaki and Myers are both very capable blockers) and he's the point man on rollouts to the right, where Stanzi's most effective. Calloway's vast improvement has kept Aeschliman off the field, which is both A) very good (it means there's good blocking) and B) horrible (Aeschliman, at 6'8", 315, is comedically large and fun to watch).
TE — Myers, Reisner
Man, it sucks so much to not see "Moeaki" on this 2-deep. He's worked way too hard to be relegated to rehab for so much of his career at Iowa, and we hope he can make anything of his football career, either here or at some next level. Lord knows he's physically capable when he's healthy; hell, he's Iowa's most athletic tight end since Dallas Clark. Or Scott Slutzker. Or Fritz Fequiere. Luckily, Myers has been quite able, if unspectacular, in his replacement of Moeaki, both last year and this. Allen Reisner plays enough snaps to be a part of the offense, and you could legitimately make the case that Reisner is a better receiver than Myers. Both are among the top 5 TEs in the last 10 years for Iowa, though, and that bodes very well for the offense as a whole.
QB — Stanzi, Christensen
This, I think, is safe. The Stanziballs are abating, but we'll need to see if for a sustained amount of time, especially with 4 games left, all of which (yes, even Purdue) can be won or lost by Iowa. Seriously, everything from 5-7 to 9-3 is in play. Anyway, you know how Iowa's offense runs, and it's the run setting up the pass. It was disastrous in 2006 and 2007, but it's happening now, and it's working. Stanzi's probably somewhere around the fourth best QB in the conference right now, depending on how you look at Juice Williams and Adam Weber, but he has certainly earned his starting spot. It's too bad for Christensen, because he suffered through an absolute sieve of an offensive line last year while his receiving corps collapsed in front of him. If Stanzi had to suffer through the 2007 offense while Christensen sat on the bench, then Christensen would be rocking this year while Stanzi sat on the bench with a nervous tic. Timing is everything.
WR — Brodell, Sandeman
Brodell has emerged as the real #1 of this offense, as he's been both a solid possession guy (especially on first down and off play action) and a good deep threat (most of Stanzi's shots downfield). Sandeman is much improved over last year, probably because of the 20 pounds of muscle he has put on, but he's not quite at a Big Ten level quite yet.
RB — Greene, Hampton
I think it's safe to say we're okay with this situation. VOTE GREENE PARTY 2008!
FB — Morse, Leppert
Look, it would be extremely stupid to blame the three straight losses on the fullback, but the fact of the matter is that the offense scored points with a lot more ease when Morse wasn't injured than when Leppert was filling in. Again, looking at Shonn Greene's rushing numbers, there's barely a difference in production--he kicks ass either way--but he seems to kick just a little more ass with Morse in there, who's even a more capable receiving target than Leppert. There's no sense in assigning bogeymen to Iowa's losses on the year, of course, but a healthy Brett Morse puts Iowa a whole lot closer to 8-4 or 9-3 on the season, and that's a realistic goal for a team like this.