Last season, Iowa finished No. 7 in the nation with an 11-2 record and a solid win over Georgia Tech for Iowa's first BCS win in over 50 years. The year prior, Iowa finished 9-4 and ranked 20th. Logic would dictate, then, that the 2009 Iowa team was objectively better than their 2008 counterpart. Is that the case, though? Which team reigns supreme? Let's look at the two teams unit by unit.
2008: Jake Christensen finished his implosion just in time for Ricky Stanzi to step in and assume leadership of the team. In 2008, Stanzi became a winner, but struggled with turnovers on the road, definitely costing Iowa multiple games.
2009: Stanzi still struggled with turnovers, but none definitely cost Iowa any games.
Big Advantage: 2008
2009: Tony Moeaki doesn't struggle as much with injuries, and Allan Reisner turns in a good performance in Moeaki's absence. Moeaki parlays his all-conference season into a
4th 3rd round draft pick.
Slight Advantage: 2009
2009: While not finding the end zone very often, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos leads the team in receptions and receiving yards. This time, however, DJK is complemented by the big-play ability of Marvin McNutt. Trey Stross and Colin Sandeman fade in and out of the picture.
2008: Bryan Bulaga is absolutely mighty, and clearly is the best LT in the conference. Kyle Calloway is solid at the other bookend, and Iowa is buoyed in the middle by the all-conference play of Rob Bruggeman and Seth Olsen. Julian Vandervelde plays his way into the starting lineup.
2009: Bryan Bulaga struggles mightily, and clearly is not the best LT on his own team. Kyle Calloway is solid at the other bookend, but Iowa is hampered in the middle by the inconsistent play of Rafael Eubanks and Julian Vandervelde. Riley Reiff plays his way into the starting lineup.
Big Advantage: 2008
2008: Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard are solid, if not spectacular, and their statistics reflect as such: 90 combined tackles, 11.5 combined tackles for loss, 3.5 combined sacks. They are the 10th and 11th top tacklers on the team. Meanwhile, Broderick Binns is a nice change of pace, though 22 tackles and 2 sacks are unimpressive.
2009: Adrian Clayborn is an absolute nightmare, with 79 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks. He also blocks a punt and returns it for a touchdown, and shuts down an entire half of the field for Georgia Tech's rushing offense. This is not an exaggeration. Meanwhile, Broderick Binns is a nice complement, and his 63 tackles, 6 sacks, and forced safety against Penn State are impressive.
Big Advantage: 2009
2008: Matt Kroul and Mitch King (a.k.a. Kroul and Unusual Punishment) go out on a high note, completely taking away the inside rushing game for every opposing running back but Maine's. They combine for 22 tackles for loss and are the unquestioned leaders of the defense.
2009: The duo of a blocker-eater and a smaller havoc-wreaker is recreated with a heavier Christian Ballard and Karl Klug, and their results are still positive. While the inside rushing game was more prevalent for opponents, they combine for 22 tackles for loss and are the unquestioned surprise of the defense.
Slight Advantage: 2008
2008: Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds show surprising athleticism and productivity in both run support and pass protection, while Jeremiha Hunter ekes out a starting spot in fall camp and hangs onto it for the balance of the season. One linebacker grabs five picks, and the other two in the trio grab one apiece.
2009: Ditto, except Angerer registers considerably more tackles.
Slight Advantage: 2009
2008: Amari Spievey comes out busting receivers, and Bradley Fletcher turns in a productive season that nets himself an early third-round pick in the NFL draft. Jordan Bernstine is hampered by off-season injuries.
2009: Amari Spievey comes out busting receivers and nets him an early third-round pick in the NFL draft. Shaun Prater turns in a productive season. Jordan Bernstine is hampered by off-season injuries.
Slight Advantage: 2008, but only because Prater missed starts
2009: Tyler Sash comes out of nowhere for multiple game-turning plays, while Brett Greenwood is no longer the weak link of the defense.
2009: DJK takes a kick to the house, and Adrian Clayborn makes arguably the biggest blocked punt of the Kirk Ferentz era. The kicking game struggles at times, but 19/26 isn't bad.
2008: Facing I-A teams that combined to go 76-64 in other games*, Iowa averaged over 30 points a game and 13 points a game allowed. Iowa goes 3-3 on the road against teams that went a combined 30-28 in other games.
2009: Facing I-A teams that combined for 89 other wins, Iowa averaged over 23 points a game and over 15 points a game allowed. Iowa goes 5-1 on the road against teams that went a combined 44-16 in other games.
* * *
- Slight Advantages: Push, 2-2
- Advantages: 2009, 3-1
- Big Advantages: 2008, 2-1
It's pretty even, isn't it? Especially considering the fact that Iowa was teetering on the edge of missing a bowl for the second straight year when they found themselves down by 9 against PSU in 2008. And if they'd lost, they probably wouldn't have been a very good football team, in retrospect. Instead, they won their last four games, the last two in convincing fashion, and carried that momentum into a (comparatively much more) successful 2009.
And yet, instead of being able to look at the win totals and declare a better team, we see the two as, on paper, veritable equals. So we're left to wonder if 2008 Bulaga could have contained 2009 Adrian Clayborn (sort of), if 2008 Clayborn vs. 2009 Bulaga would have been a noteworthy matchup (not really), if 2009 Marvin McNutt could have victimized 2008 Brett Greenwood (yes), and most importantly, if the 2009 front seven could have contained 2008 Shonn Greene. (ummm... you guys answer that one).
Also, give your prediction for a final score. Do as we say.
*Games that weren't against Iowa, that is to say.