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What Year is it? Comparing Iowa Football to the 2003 Hawks

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Sometimes we need to look at the past to see the future.

WHAT YEAR IS IT?

Kickoff is but four days away. The BHGP staff has made predictions for this highly anticipated football season and many of you have voiced your opinions as well. After careful consideration, a question I have been pondering this week has been ‘What year is it?’

Strange quiverings of déjà vu have had me scouring the intertoobs for stats related to a specific season of Hawkeye yesteryear. But which one? Let’s step back fourteen years.

To 2003 we go.

Why? Let me explain by position and schedule.

(Before I get started, I’d like to point out that halfway through this write up I discovered that Jon Miller over at HawkeyeNation found similar parallels to this year’s team and the 2003 squad here back in May. I feel like that puts me in good company).

Quarterback

2003: Nathan Chandler

Vs.

2017: Nathan Stanley

Like 2003, this year we see a first-year quarterback take the reins. Both Nathans also have the dubious distinction of following up all-time greats in Brad Banks and CJ Beathard. While not the monster Chandler was at 6-7 and 250 lb, Stanley isn’t far behind at a sturdy 6-5 and 235 lb. The roles for both men will also be similar, as the expectations for each is to simply stand tall in the pocket, sell play action and threaten the deep toss. It will also be noted that these teams both included a hyped, freshman QB out of the state of Texas; Drew Tate in ’03 and Peyton Mansell in ’17.

Advantage: 2003

While both young men would be entering their first years as Week One starters, the edge should go to the senior. Chandler also had the massive size that was not lost on his standout TE brother, Scott. Let’s hope Stanley proves me wrong.

Running Back

2003: Fred Russell

Vs.

2017: Akrum Wadley and James Butler

Comparing Wadley to Russell isn’t all that difficult. While I will give the playmaking edge to Akrum by a healthy margin, both are (were) ankle-breakers. Listed at a questionable height of 5’8”, much of Fred’s game was in disappearing behind the mammoths of the line and popping out of unexpected places. This team also had Jermelle Lewis sitting in the backup role; a back who would end up having a fair amount of highlights himself.

Advantage: 2017

That being said, the combined talent of Wadley and Butler should prove, on its own, too much for lesser teams to handle and more than enough for the elites on the schedule. I’m done waiting… UNLEASH BUTWAD.

Wide Receiver

2003: Mo Brown, Ramon Ochoa, Ed Hinkel and Calvin Davis

Vs.

2017: Matt VandeBerg, Nick Easley, Devonte Young, Brandon Smith

The big comparison here is between Ochoa and VandeBerg. As sure-handed route runners, they played the same role. They also each had previous seasons cut short by broken bones. A young Ed Hinkel was just beginning his Hawkeye legacy as a sophomore while similarly-sized Nick Easley begins his own legacy as a transferring junior. Calvin Davis played a significant role as a freshman that will hopefully be mirrored by someone like Brandon Smith or Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

Advantage: Hard to say

Ed Hinkel would ultimately become a Hawkeye great with a career highlight reel featuring several amazing one-handed grabs, but overall this group was fairly vanilla. Mo Brown had talent but was banged up much of this year along with Hinkel, pushing extra emphasis to Ochoa. Unknowns abound, I look forward to seeing faces emerge from the large group of newcomers this year.

Tight End

2003: Erik Jensen

Vs.

2017: Noah Fant, Peter Pekar, among others

Jensen’s contributions in the pass game were very minimal in ’03, totaling only 16 catches for 182 yards. For comparison, fullback Edgar Cervantes had 137 yards receiving out of the backfield the same season. Jensen provided great blocking help, however, at 6’2” and 254#. Fortunately for the 2017 squad, TE depth feels like the Mariana Trench. In the blocking department, you have Pekar, Vejvoda, Wieting and Beyer available. As for the big men with the hands, the depth is no less shallow with Fant, Wisnieski and Hockenson. The unproven WR cupboard should be supplemented by the neighboring TE bin bursting at the seams.

Advantage: 2017 all the way

Offensive Line

2003: Robert Gallery, David Walker, Peter McMahon, Eric Rothwell, Kory Borchers

Vs.

2017: James Daniels, Sean Welsh, Boone Meyers, Ike Boettger, Keegan Render

Both of these lines were built to pound the rock. And pound they did. The glowing name on this list is obviously Robert Gallery. Considered the ‘linemen of our generation’ entering the NFL Draft the following spring, he is the gold standard along with the likes of Marshall Yanda and Eric Steinbach when comparing Iowa lineman greats. He owned the left side. The rest of that line? They didn’t have a ton of experience entering that season. This 2017 squad returns four starters from the previous Joe Moore Award-winning squad and also has some young talent waiting behind them. Feel free to call me out but when factoring in the brutal, gladiatorial marathon in the trenches that is Big Ten football, I’m giving the edge to the present.

Advantage: 2017

Defensive Line

2003: Matt Roth, Jonathan Babineaux, Jared Clauss, Howard Hodges

Vs.

2017: Anthony/Matt Nelson, Nathan Bazata, Cedric Lattimore, Parker Hesse, AJ Epenesa

Paper or plastic? Pick your sack. Both of these fearsome lines have pass rush gusto. Some of my favorite Hawkeye memories involve three words: Matt. Roth. Specifically his recognition of the opportunity to blow up Purdue’s kicker after a blocked field goal. Jonathan Babineaux is somehow STILL in the NFL, albeit now as a free agent. Jared Clauss and Howard Hodges brought the college juice as well. Much like the offensive line, however, this race is closer to me than it should appear, due to depth. One of my key concerns entering this season was a skinny list of true defensive tackles, but the talk of sliding Matt Nelson inside and letting AJE run wild 15-20 snaps per game on the edge excites me. I think we may also be pleasantly surprised by the emergence of Jake Hulett and/or Brady Reiff. When it comes to making comparisons, Matt Roth was a highly recruited multi-sport athlete out of Illinois much like AJ. I look forward to a similar level of havoc being wrought in the future.

Advantage: 2003

Linebackers

2003: Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge and Grant Steen

Vs.

2017: Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann, and Bo Bower

This ‘03 team had some real stars, didn’t it? Greenway and Hodge were only sophomores this season. While Greenway’s legacy, both college and pro, is undeniable, did you know that Abdul entered college his freshman year benching over four bills? That doesn’t seem fair. Grant Steen, another highly regarded Hawkeye backer, is overshadowed by two of the greats, but his presence should not be discounted. The Outlaw and Co. boast a decade of experience between them and will no doubt be the strength of this defense.

Advantage: 2003

Defensive Backs

2003: Jovon Johnson, Bob Sanders, Sean Considine, Antwan Allen

Vs.

2017: Joshua Jackson, Miles Taylor, Jake Gervase, Manny Rugamba

2003 left some clown shoes to fill for the current group in this comparison. While I feel confident in this year’s group to develop and hold their own with guidance from Phil Parker, the ’03 group is about as good as it gets. Bob Sanders needs no introduction or explanation. Considine was a fourth-round pick. Jovon Johnson was a four year starter and is still playing football in Canada, winning the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Award. There are few comparisons to make here, especially with so much youth, so let’s hope for the best!

Advantage: 2003 all the way

Special Teams

2003: Nate Kaeding and David Bradley

Vs.

Why even waste keystrokes, Nate Kaeding is the GOAT.

As far as the schedule is concerned, parallels exist there as well. In week one, the Hawkeyes face a big-armed QB on everyone’s NFL Draft radar from an obscure school. Wait, which year am I talking about? Both. In ’03 the opening opponent was Miami of not Florida led by Big Ben. He passed us the ball a lot and we won with relative ease. Our ride this year may begin a bit bumpier than that.

Where the former Hawks faltered was on the road. All three losses occurred in enemy territory; at Michigan State, at #8 Ohio State and at #16 Purdue. All three games were lost within two scores. Luckily, our road schedule this year is fairly forgiving with both Ohio State and Penn State staying local. Trips to Evanston, Camp Randall and Lincoln will no doubt be challenging, however.

While promising youth and first-year starters litter the current field with question marks prior to the September 2nd kickoff, the key positions are anchored by players that fill the defining roles of Iowa football: dominate possession behind a mauling, meticulous offensive line and force opposing offenses into desperation with smart, disciplined defensive players and schemes. And with that same formula, guess what the old boys did on New Year’s Day of 2004? They won a bowl. Wouldn’t that be swell?

Are you as excited as I am?