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31 freshmen saw action last year? Really?

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Forgive me if I talk through a bit of cognitive dissonance and make an article about it [really? 8 months of that crap and now you get around to apologies?--ed.], but something from the UI propaganda official website caught ol' Oopsie's eye.

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Last season the University of Iowa had 31 first-year student-athletes see game action. The most recent spring depth chart lists the names of 28 redshirt freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep roster.

[snip]

"The biggest gains we saw this year -- you know we had 31 freshmen play for us (in 2007)," Doyle said. "Those are young guys. At this stage in their career they should be gaining strength at a very fast rate and they are. It's exciting to be around a group like that because that's 30 percent of our team. That's one out of three guys with three years of eligibility left."

31? Really? Because according to the UI's own records, that number's a bit higher. Not that I'm complaining about the high amount of freshmen they used last season, mind you, but how can there be such wildly divergent information coming from spring practice and the UI's own sports information department.

One might think that of the 38 that saw time last season, only 31 are left, and that's certainly possible. But at latest count, I could only find five guys on the list who aren't with the program anymore: Nelson, Satterfield, Everson, Pugh, and Smith. Sure, they can say "we've got 31 guys who played in their first year last year."  But they're not saying that. It's "31 guys played as freshmen last year," and if they're only be counting scholarship players, um, why? Isn't the number more impressive the larger it gets? And doesn't Iowa use walk-ons pretty liberally, particularly at the White Safety position? I don't get the 31 number.

But let's set that aside. The news that Iowa's got 28 redshirt freshmen or sophomores in the two-deeps indicates that there is quite a bit of improvement forthcoming in 2008. The difference between two months in a top-notch collegiate S&C program and 14 months is--well, I would have said immeasurable, but considering such measurements are Chris Doyle's job, that's a poor choice of words. It's certainly substantial. It's the difference between Iowa in 1999 and 2000, and Iowa in 2001 and 2002.

The good news is that Iowa's already solidly ahead of where they were in the dark ages of 1999 and 2000. There's, as Kirk would say, no question in that regard. In spite of the doomery and gloomery from certain folks (namely everyone at this board, myself included), Iowa did still go .500 in the BXI, and they'll probably do that again in 2008. Indiana is toothless, Illinois must replace a hulking piece of awesome, and the rest of the tough games are at Kinnick. If the returning offensive linemen improve just a bit and the receivers stay healthy (both conditions that occur for about 70-80% of college football teams on a yearly basis, mind you--hardly steep qualifiers, these), Iowa stands to make a pronounced jump in the BXI standings. Yes, they miss Ohio State and Michigan, but look at what the hell's going on in Ann Arbor and tell me there's a Wolverine squad from the last 30 goddamn years that's nearly as beatable as this one. They're giving that '84 team (whom we destroyed 26-0, Iowa's largest victory in series history [I'm sure you'll be mentioning 1970 for the sake of contrast.--ed.] [nope!--O.P.] [sigh.--ed.]) a run for their money.

Anyhoo, the best part to take from all of this is that though there's lots of youth on the team, there's more experience than you'd expect. Everyone's back on the offensive two-deeps except for the backfield (the site of some jarring underperformance), and they just. can't. possibly perform as badly as they did last season. Experience and conditioning are critical in the development of college players, particularly when it comes to the precision of the timing and routes involved in the passing game. Barring the unforeseeable, production will and must improve.

I mentioned them before, and it's worth mentioning again--there's a strong similarity to the 2001 team. That squad was not particularly senior-heavy, and had it not been for 9/11 NEVER FORGET, they would have been much better than their eventual 7-5 record. There was a cold precision to their dispatches of their first two opponents, and had Iowa State faced them on 9/15 per the schedule, there's no chance Seneca and the Clowns would have won. Instead, Iowa spent 20 days between games, and they looked rusty and unfocused the rest of the way, going just 5-5 after the layoff. Nonetheless, the building blocks were largely present for a fantastic season in 2002. That's about what to expect for 2008. Not the terrorist attack, because the Republicans only warn us about those happening after we elect a Democrat in November, and by then the regular season's nearly over anyway, but a team putting a winning foundation back in place, winning well but not dominating. Yet.