Departures, in Order of Importance
1. Marcus Coker, HB: Name the last time a program kept its quarterback, lost the best wide receiver in its history, and still had a bigger loss on the offense. Coker provided 77% of Iowa's rushing yards, 62% of the carries, and 83% of rushing touchdowns. There is nothing behind him at halfback; this is the biggest transfer I can remember.
2. Riley Reiff, LT: When Iowa lost its last left tackle early to the NFL, it had a reserve who had played in almost every game the prior season at left tackle, right tackle, and left guard, a player who might well have been the best lineman on that team. That player was Riley Reiff. Now that he's gone, Iowa turns to...Andrew Donnal?
3. Marvin McNutt, WR: Teams figurd out late how to handle McNutt, namely by having a lockdown corner in man with safety help over the top. But Marvin leaves Iowa as almost unquestionably the best wide receiver in team history, and that's despite playing three seasons with DJK splitting receptions. His percentages aren't as ridiculous as Coker (43% of receiving yards, 34% of receptions, 48% of touchdowns), but there were multiple instances last year where McNutt was the only option, everyone on the field knew McNutt was the only option, and yet McNutt still delivered. He's as good a player as we have ever seen here.
4. Markus Zusevics, RT: A two-year starter at right tackle and probable NFL draft pick based on his technique and the Iowa track record, the Mad Russian was rarely dominant, rarely out of position, rarely mentioned. You could certainly expect worse from a right tackle. Much like with Reiff, his health means there isn't an experienced heir in position.
5. Adam Gettis, RG: Don't stop Gettis Gettis. Kinda wish we had thought of that joke while he was here. Gettis was a perpetual fixture in the two-deep for three seasons before finally breaking through as a senior, and had a good, solid campaign. Contrary to our initial concerns, he was not the issue on the line this season.
6. Woody Orne, RG/TE: Using a 295 lb. backup lineman widely considered one of the team's strongest guys as a tight end was the ultimate sign that Iowa really is obsessed with New England. If form holds, he'll be coaching linebackers like Mike Vrabel in a couple of years.
7. Jason White, HB: A walk-on who somehow was listed as the backup halfback every week, White was there fore depth. Probably wouldn't hurt for next season, but the writing is on the wall.
8. Brad Herman, TE: Started the season as the #1 tight end, usually a ticket to the NFL. Left it as the third-string tight end, clearly passed by Polish Hat (understandable) and Zach Derby (not so much). Herman's career would be a disappointment in most programs, but the fact he made it through four years means he's about 47th on the list of disappointments.
What's Left, Also in Order of Importance
1. James Vandenberg, QB: This year, he had McNutt, Davis, KMM, Fiedorowicz, and Derby to target and Coker in the backfield and was able to eek past 3000 yards passing. He gets everyone back but McNutt, and should have a better receiver in the backfield (not that that ever mattered at Iowa). He's going to have a brand new line in front of him, though, a less experienced halfback in blitz protect, and the weight of the entire offense on his shoulders. There probably hasn't been a more important Iowa quarterback since Drew Tate's sophomore season, and with a guy who managed to complete just 58% of his passes last season despite having the best set of skill poisition guys around him he'll ever see, that's a big concern.
2. Keenan Davis, WR: He finally inherits the top spot, but with the neverending drops (the Insight Bowl was a joke) and the health concerns, we're genuinely concerned that he might not be ready. Clearly has a ton of talent, but how he handles being the focal point of opposing secondaries will be the biggest concern.
3. James Ferentz, C: He's spent most of his career as a starter with old hands around him. That's gone this year, as the much-needed youth movement hits the offensive line. They're going to be bigger, but they're going to be inexperienced, and Ferentz is going to be responsible for calling blocking assignments, keeping Vandenberg upright, and clearing out linebackers in the run game. It's his biggest challenge at Iowa by far.
4. C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE: He's going to have to be the safety blanket now, and there's nobody really standing in his way. The blocking finally got there this year, and his talents as a receiver are undeniable. Prediction: Jim Harbaugh will pick him in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
5. Andrew Donnal, LT(?): Important by virtue of position, especially in a year where it looks like Iowa will have to rely on the passing game more than usual, Donnal is already bigger than Reiff (the line in general is about to get 20% larger) but has virtually no experience at this level. How he plays in August and September (when Iowa's schedule is as soft as we've ever seen) will be crucial. This all assumes, of course, that he's left tackle, which could actually go to...
6. Brandon Scherff, LT/LG: When Matt Tobin was fumbling his way through last season, Ferentz briefly turned to Scherff at left guard. He responded by morphing into a 310-lb. turnstile and letting everyone in with free admission. It was thought, at the time, that Scherff was on the Riley Reiff-Bryan Bulaga plan of playing guard and moving to tackle, but his game was not good enough, and his name not alliterative enough, to make that stick.
7. Brett Van Sloten, RT/RG: Another new face on the line, another body bigger than the one before it. Van Sloten looks like a young Kyle Calloway, and while young Calloway was a mess in 2007, we'll take it if he plays like senior-year Calloway eventually.
8. Jordan Canzeri, HB: We're not counting any recruits until they sign, so for the moment it looks like Canzeri will be the starting tailback. There is one thing for certain: Jordan Canzeri should not be your starting tailback, at least not in his current form. In his one shot at the job, ran 22 times for just 58 yards against an Oklahoma defense that wasn't necessarily known for its prowess against the run (135 ypg average). This is going to be a spot where we desperately need an upgrade.
9. Kevonte Martin-Manley, WR: Showed flashes of brilliance last season, especially against Pitt, and clearly has built a level of understanding with Vandenberg. He'll have to be the pressure valve if teams try to take Davis out of play.
10. Nolan MacMillan, RG/RT: He was a favorite of the coaches for that one week where he was healthy. If he can stay on the field, we fully expect him to be starting somewhere and, given the inexperience on the line, that might be a tackle spot despite his relatively average size. This spot could also go to Matt Tobin, which would be a fate worse than death.
11. Brad Rogers, FB: With Zach Derby still around, we'd normally look for a lot of 2TE formations, but we thought that last year and didn't get it. Rogers will be instrumental in pass protection, especially on third down, and showed an ability last year to take a young, confused halfback and show him the hole to hit. He's the most athletic halfback in a while, but Iowa doesn't really get its fullback carries or receptions anymore.
Three Signs of Hope
Size, Size, Everywhere There's Size. The line goes from one of the smallest in the conference to borderline gargantuan. It's expected they'll go 305, 310, 285, 290, 295 from left to right, and that's without another year of weightroom work factored in. Iowa's line in 2010 -- as in pretty much every other year -- was technically proficient last year, but had difficulty against size in the rushing game and speed on the pass rush. At least the running game shouldn't be an issue.
Vandenberg, Year Two. There was a time that we worried about second-year starting quarterbacks. Drew Tate showed no outward improvement as a junior, and Jake Christensen was a mess. Stanzi changed our opinion; he made quantifiable, sustained, year-over-year improvement, and so we'll hope for the same from Vandenberg. He's got the weapons; aside from McNutt's departure, everyone is back, and he's got some options as a third and fourth receiver should Iowa decide to use them. He's got enough of an arm that, if the read progressions move beyond "1. McNutt, 2. McNutt, 3. PANIC", he'll be fine.
Neccessity Is the Mother of Invention. It doesn't look like anyone is going to ride in as the white knight to save the running game, and with two or three receivers and a couple of experienced tight ends to choose from, Iowa might finally be forced to do something creative on the offensive side of the ball just to move it downfield. It's a small sign of hope, to be sure.
Three Reasons For Panic
It's Still Iowa. There are two returnees we haven't chronicled: Kirk Ferentz and Ken O'Keefe. Iowa finished 2010 at 27.5 points per game of offense, good for sixth in the conference. In conference play, though, that number dropped to 24.1, which placed the Hawkeyes seventh. It's now been nine years since an Iowa offense finished in the top four of the conference in either total offense or scoring offense. This middling performance was in spite of the fact that the Hawkeye offense featured the best wide receiver in program history, a workhorse tailback that racked up 1300 yards rushing, four-star talent at the opposite receiver position and tight end, and four experienced linemen. We say it every year, but this is no longer a statistical anomaly. There was a three-minute tryst with a no-huddle offense that was scrapped as soon as a pass was dropped (and which was inexplicably run from only one formation, so that the benefits of the no-huddle -- jumping a defense before it can adjust personnel -- were completely negated). We're not going to get into the melodrama of who among the head coach and coordinator is requiring this absurd offensive ineptitude. So long as these two are running the show, Iowa's offense will be mediocre bordering on awful.
Halfback? More Like No Back. As we already discussed, there's nothing left at halfback. The guys who are left behind in the wake of the departures of Coker and McCall weren't good enough to break through, even when McCall was nursing a broken ankle and Coker had been reduced to $240 of pudding. There are some verbal commits who could contribute, and Iowa's shown no qualms about using freshmen in the last couple of seasons, but the fact that we're going to rely on guys who not only aren't yet on campus but haven't even signed a letter of intent yet shows how serious the situation could be.
Offensive Line of Death. The last time Iowa did an underclassmen rebuild like this on the offensive front, the offense collapsed. The progression for top linemen at Iowa has been a year at guard followed by one or two at tackle. Iowa had some trouble at guard last year, to the point that Ferentz had to be considering open tryouts, and even with that trouble none of the guys in play for this year's line were able to break in. That's not a good sign, just as the fact that we're probably relying on a guy who can't walk and chew gum without tearing a pectoral muscle or the same walk-on at the other guard spot this year. Just opening holes and taking a drop longer than three steps on a passing play might be an adventure this year.
Three Things That Could Change Everything
Another Round of Immesurable Pain. Look, when we were losing guys with obvious legal problems and homesickness issues a few years ago, we got it. We didn't like it, but at least it made sense. When you chase talent at all costs, you're going to get a bad seed or two. But you're so clearly doing it wrong when, in the course of a month, you lose the All-American American and hometown hero A.J. Derby and a physics major who was quite literally named Gentleman of the Year in high school. These are not small problems, and there's no telling where they stop. If another potential starter or two hit the road, it's DEFCON 1.
We Hear Things. It's a little late in the game, but there's a chance we see some turnover in the offensive staff this winter. Not O'Keefe, obviously, because the man could quite literally set fire to James Vandenberg and keep his job, but the position level could see some moves both voluntary (Soup Campbell's being pursued for obvious reasons) and involuntary (Lester Erb's four-year graduation rate is now worse than that of Bob Huggins).
I'd like to say that Iowa will accept the circumstances, spend the offseason watching the 49ers, Badgers, and (especially) Stanford Cardinal, and prepare for the kind of bunch formation tight end-heavy offense that would take the conference by surprise and take full advantage of Iowa's recruiting tendencies and talent-on-hand. That would be silly, though. Despite losing McNutt, Vandenberg will have a slight uptick in both completion percentage and yardage, but it won't be nearly enough to make up for the lack of production in the backfield and yardage lost to sacks. Iowa's offense will try to maintain "balance" for its own sake, production will drop into the bottom half of the conference in every measurable category, and we will all kick and scream and curse at how awful it is. So, basically, par for the course.