10. No Stretch of the Imagination. For the past five years Iowa has opened against a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team that is usually perceived to be of a cakey consistency as a way to, more or less, limber up for the arduous season ahead. But, any attempt by Iowa to perform some light stretching against a talented FBS team should evoke memories of two years ago when the Hawkeyes nearly lost to Northern Iowa. Tennessee Tech, this year's assumed walkover, is hardly pound cake. The Golden Eagles beat a celebrated Jacksonville State team less than a year ago; yep, the same Jacksonville State team that beat Mississippi in Oxford a few weeks earlier. Tennessee Tech returns all eleven starters from last year's offense and has the size to play defense against an Iowa running game. If the game gets tight this Saturday, and you just know that it will, expect the Hawks to pull a hammy while attempting to hurdle stretch their way to victory against the Tennessee Technological University Golden Eagles.
9. A Van Down By The River? Iowa is relying upon a quarterback whose greatest claim to promise is throwing multiple interceptions in an overtime game against Ohio State, including a game ender. Sure, James Vandenberg did some nice things on the road, in a hostile setting against a highly ranked team. But playing for a team loaded with All-American and All-Big Ten talent will make anyone look good. And, truthfully, had Derrell Johnson-Koulianos not returned a kickoff for an improbable and crucial fourth quarter touchdown, Iowa might have lost that game by three scores or more. Instead, Iowa was able to continue to run the ball, which allowed for Vandenberg to mount a key drive using play action passing. But, that was over a full season ago. In the meantime, Vandenberg's highlight reel includes a scramble for a first down in a blowout win against Eastern Illinois and then, well, I guess some creative use of an eraser while charting plays. Not exactly the basis for inspiring leadership. Expect Iowa to need a Matt Foley motivational speech in order to have any chance to win on Saturday.
8. 60 Minutes. Tennessee Tech describes their offense as "The Fastest 60 Minutes in Football." Meanwhile, the Iowa Hawkeyes defense over the past few years has been, too often, Dickensian in their efforts to defend against a no huddle offense, "It was the best of times" is usually followed by, "it was the worst of times." Take the Northwestern game last year as a model of what to expect on Saturday: 50 minutes of relentless defensive command and control followed by 10 minutes of chaos, exhaustion and fatigue all leading to the evaporation of a comfortable lead and, eventually, an unbearable loss. If any defense lends itself to the master scheme of the hurry-up using five-wides, it is Iowa's. On Saturday expect the Hawkeyes to look like Morley Safer after a three-day bender.
7. Silence by the Lamb. No, "Tre Lamb" is not a Michelin three-star rated restaurant north of Paris specializing in Gascony cuisine. Although, Tre Lamb absolutely will give you indigestion. Second year starting quarterback Tre Lamb will be serving up touchdowns passes for the Golden Eagles on Saturday and as the game unfolds if you have flashbacks to Dan Persa, you're forgiven. If he's not beating you with his legs (aka "leg of lamb") then he'll be beating you with his arm (aka "lamb shank"), and he's always beating you with his moxie. On Saturday expect Lamb to be the main course for the Iowa 2011 season's last meal.
6. Lost in Transition. Going from an All-Big Ten punting mainstay to a fifth-year senior walk-on punter who may not even be enrolled in classes after Saturday's game unless Iowa finds him a scholarship or he comes up with ten large for tuition by the start of classes, is not exactly a smooth segue. Eric Guthrie certainly paid his dues after patiently serving as Ryan Donohue's understudy for four years. However, while he's undoubtedly learned from the best, he's only seen the light of day once in an actual football game. Now his shot at final glory is muddied by his uncertain status as a student, and when you look behind the career back-up to see who could possibly be his back-up, you'll find even less certainty. Iowa's back-up punters are it's third team QB who many did not even know could punt, and a 20-something former Australian
Rules Football player rugby player with a potential visa issue (to the point that he may not even be in camp right now). None of any of this is supporting a culture of confidence. Given the entire Ferentz game plan typically revolves around solid and reliable special teams play and the kicking game in particular, you can expect short fields for the Golden Eagles and long odds for the Hawkeyes.
5. Sabotage. After what seemed like a decade of Tyler Sash at strong safety it's understandable that the Hawkeyes might be breaking in a newby, although one would expect the newby to have at least seen the field at some point in his career. After all, Sash has missed plenty of plays due to injury, providing opportunity for a host of underclassmen to showcase their talent. Well, apparently they all punked the interview because Iowa will be starting Collin Sleeper, a fourth-year walk-on whose official entry on the team website is three consecutive lines reading: "Not listed on depth chart...did not see any game action." If this doesn't reek of a plot to overthrow the Hawkeyes, then I'm a monkey's uncle. Think about it, when was the last time Kirk Ferentz elevated a player from complete and total obscurity to critically important starter? Expect to learn that Collin Sleeper is actually a failed country western singer and Tennessee Tech undercover agent who's been subjected to mind control techniques, drugs, torture, psychological conditioning, and even telepathic manipulation all under the evil oversight of Hank Williams, Jr. for the purpose of throwing the game in favor of Tennessee Tech. After T Tech's win on Saturday, expect Williams to serenade the Hawkeyes with a rousing rendition of "Your Cheatin' Heart."
4. Hip, Hyped, and Hopeless. Iowa has had its fair share of instate saviors over the years and too often they are highly rated, supremely coveted recruits who never even approach living up to the lofty expectations heaped upon them. The list is not worth listing but none have disappointed with less fanfare than Keenan Davis. Some would point to the ill fortune of playing behind two of Iowa's best receivers ever. Yet, both of those players did not even play wide receiver until they attended college, one not switching positions until his redshirt sophomore year. Meanwhile Davis has been groomed from birth to catch footballs and even sports a two-dimensional tattoo of Jerry Rice from Dancing with the Stars on the palms of his hands. While Davis looks great in a uniform he looks awful in a box score. Certainly Iowa fans are hoping Davis is finally ready for his close-up, but expect James Vandenberg on Saturday to wisely favor the triple covered Marvin McNutt over the ultra dicey proposition of a wide open Keenan Davis.
3. Gone Baby Gone. The lost city of Atlantis, Jimmy Hoffa, The Lindbergh Baby, and Amelia Earhart have nothing on Broderick Binns. No player has ever disappeared more unexpectedly or more dramatically than the fifth-year senior did last year. After starting every game of his sophomore year, Binns was jettisoned to the bench in 2010, only to be used as a one-down placeholder to allow his peers to catch their breath. Some believed Binns' arrest for drunk driving derailed the defensive lineman long enough for others to pass him by on the depth chart. Although, that seems like a stretch. The more likely reason is simpler. He's just not that good. Expect Tennessee Tech to pound the ball at Binns until he ceases to exist, once and for all.
2. Mr. Watson -- Come Here! In 2005 Tennessee Tech was a moribund football program heading into college football oblivion. Today, the Golden Eagles are universally considered a football program on the rise. Look no further than the 2006 hiring of Mack Brown's brother, Watson Brown, an offensive genius with over 40 years of experience (more than 25 as a head coach) for the reason why. Brown has implemented every conceivable style of offense over the years and it's his commitment to adaptation that makes him particularly dangerous. But his experience might not even be needed as the blueprint for beating Iowa was put into mass production last year and you can bet Watson has studies it and will answer the call on Saturday.
1. Matt Tobin. Need I say more?