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This week’s pick: Iowa 45-7

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Ball State coach Stan Parrish didn’t want to play Iowa to begin with. And he certainly didn’t want to play the Hawkeyes the week after they suffered their first loss, on the road, in semi-excruciating fashion.

All of that adds up to a tough day for the Cardinals on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Every week people ask for a predicted score. This week, we’ll say 45-7. It probably will be something like 31-0 at halftime and 45-0 in the fourth quarter before Ball State scores one of those meaningless consolation touchdowns.

I don’t think Ball State is the worst team in the Mid-American Conference – a home loss to Liberty University notwithstanding – but the Cardinals aren’t an upper-echelon MAC team either. Chances are, with the Hawkeyes looking to vent some frustrations, no MAC team would have much chance.

Things I think we’ll see:

– About 300 yard passing for Ricky Stanzi. With Adam Robinson now the only healthy, experienced running back, I don’t think we’ll see him carry the ball 25 times. The Hawkeyes will throw.

– Around 8 to 10 carries for freshman running back Marcus Coker, who doesn’t really know the playbook yet but who will get a chance to show what he can do in mop-up time.

– At least three Ball State turnovers, maybe more. Freshman quarterback Keith Wenning started at Purdue last week, but he’ll face an even more intimidating atmosphere this week.

– A little more extensive playing time for such players as C.J. Fiedorowicz, James Morris and Keenan Davis. We might even get to see them throw a pass in Fiedorowicz’s direction.

A look at the receivers/tight ends

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Projected starters – Wide receivers Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (6-1, 200, sr.) and Marvin McNutt (6-4, 215, jr.); tight end Allen Reisner (6-3, 248, sr.)

Top reserves – Colin Sandeman (6-1, 200, sr.), Keenan Davis (6-3, 215, so.), Brad Herman (6-5, 247, jr.), Paul Chaney (5-9, 170, sr.), Jordan Cotton (6-1, 185, fr.), Don Nordmann (6-6, 211, sr.)

Futures – C.J. Fiedorowicz (6-7, 250, fr.), Jonathan Gimm (6-3, 240, so.), Dakota Getz (6-4, 230, fr.), Zach Derby (6-3, 235, so.), Austin Vier (6-7, 228, fr.), Kevonte Martin-Manley (6-0, 190, fr.), Don Shumpert (6-3, 185, fr.), James Hurt (6-1, 200, so.), Steven Skaggs (6-3, 195, so.)

Iowa seldom has been as strong and as deep at the wide receiver positions as it is going into this season. Johnson-Koulianos, though listed as a co-starter with Sandeman on the preseason depth chart, is in position to break the school records for receptions and yards in a career. He has had 38, 44 and 45 catches in the first three years of his college career and needs only 31 more to become the all-time record-holder. McNutt probably has an even brighter future. In his first year as a receiver after making the switch from quarterback, he caught 34 passes for 674 yards and eight touchdowns and produced some of the biggest plays of the Hawkeyes’ season. DJK and McNutt combined for 1,424 yards receiving last season and have an excellent shot at topping the best mark ever by a pair of Hawkeye wideouts – 1,649 yards, by Clint Solomon and Ed Hinkel in 2004.

Sandeman is a solid third receiver and excellent punt returner, and Davis may be ready to fulfill his vast promise after a disappointing freshman season. Behind them are Chaney, who is coming off knee surgery, and Cotton, who caught the eye of the coaches with his energy and hustle in spring drills. And don’t be shocked if another receiver makes his presence felt. Martin-Manley appears to have the sort of game-breaking speed that the Hawkeyes have seldom had through the years.

Reisner isn’t the best tight end in Iowa history, but he’ll be a decent replacement for the departed Tony Moeaki. He has caught 25 passes in a reserve role the past two years and is a serviceable blocker. There are several players behind him with possibilities, but perhaps none more so than Fiedorowicz, who arrives rated by some as the top tight end prospect in the country. He has the size and skills to make an immediate impact.

Depth for fall may be better than ever

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Iowa may or may not have one of its best football teams ever next fall.

One thing that does seem certain: It will be one of the deepest teams it has had.

The Hawkeyes will be pretty well insulated against injuries at almost every position except pos-sibly the offensive line and safety. Everywhere else, there are pretty good players waiting in the wings in case the starter goes down.

A look at the Hawkeyes by position following spring drills:

Quarterback: Ricky Stanzi is going into his third season as the starter and should be less turn-over-prone. That was a major point of emphasis in the spring. James Vandenberg showed last sea-son that he can be a capable backup and you get the feeling southpaw John Wienke gained ground on Vandenberg in the spring. The coaches said he made a major step up and you could see it in the spring scrimmage. Wienke looked crisper and more accurate than Vandenberg that day.

Running back: If Jewel Hampton, Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher all are healthy, this is going to be very interesting. Robinson may have a slight edge in some of the little things like pick-ing up the blitz, but the other two probably are more elusive and have a bigger upside. It’s almost guaranteed that one of them will get hurt anyway. If more than one gets hurt, I still think there is a chance freshman Marcus Coker could be a factor right away.

Fullback: Senior Brett Morse is solid and there’s not a ton of drop-off to junior Wade Leppert. This isn’t an every-down position anyway.

Wide receiver: Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos have a chance to be the Hawk-eyes’ best receiver tandem since … well, maybe ever. Colin Sandeman and Paul Chaney are pretty good, too. If Keenan Davis improves as much as the coaches hope and Jordan Cotton continues to progress and 6-foot-6 Don Nordmann is as good as he looked in the spring scrimmage, they’re loaded.

Tight end: Don’t be surprised if Allen Reisner duplicates the statistical numbers Tony Moeaki provided last year although he’s probably not going to be as good a blocker. Brad Herman and Jonathan Gimm apparently made strides as the backups this spring but they still might have trou-ble holding off high school All-American C.J. Fiedorowicz, who should be game-ready when he arrives.

Offensive line: There is good depth at center, where James Ferentz and Josh Koeppel are bat-tling for the starting job, but this is one place the depth is a bit thin. There are a lot of big bodies behind Riley Reiff, Julian Vandervelde, Markus Zusevics and Adam Gettis but apparently no one who is ready to play with any sort of consistency. Coach Kirk Ferentz said converted defensive lineman Cody Hundertmark is the closest to being ready. If no one steps forward in the fall, there may be an opportunity for Ohio high school star Andrew Donnal to see playing time as a true freshman.

Defensive line: The Hawkeyes may be deeper than ever here. All four starters – Adrian Clay-born, Karl Klug, Christian Ballard and Broderick Binns – return intact with Clayborn and appar-ently Klug primed for starring roles. And some of us have felt for some time that Ballard ranks among the most underrated players on this team. Backup tackle Mike Daniels is good enough to start for half the teams in the Big Ten and young ends LeBron Daniel and Dominic Alvis have emerged as potential stars of the future. Pencil in Daniels and Daniel as certain starters for 2011.

Linebacker
: This is another area where the competition has been fierce. Jeremiha Hunter is a third-year starter and Jeff Tarpinian and Tyler Nielsen have emerged as the starters at the other two spots, but Bruce Davis and Troy Johnson are still pushing. Even long-time walk-on Ross Peter-sen looked good in the spring scrimmage. You’ll still see some true freshman play here in the fall, though, as the Hawkeyes brace for the future. Hunter, Tarpinian, Johnson and Petersen are seniors and Davis and Nielsen are juniors.

Cornerback: Shaun Prater is solidly entrenched on one side and sophomore Micah Hyde may be a future star on the other side. Jordan Bernstine, projected to start ahead of Prater last fall before breaking his ankle, may have a hard time finding playing time but he, Greg Castillo and William Lowe provide quality depth.

Safety: Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood – known to some of us as Sashwood – are one of the best tandems in the country but it’s hard to even guess at who the backups are at this point. Walk-ons Kyle Steinbrecher and Tom Donatell ran with the No. 1 unit in the spring scrimmage, apparently moving ahead of two scholarship players, Jack Swanson and Nick Nielsen, in the final week of drills. All those players have good size and Nielsen had two interceptions last Saturday. The depth isn’t necessarily bad, just unproven.

Kicker: Daniel Murray is the returning starter, but Ferentz has made it clear he wasn’t com-pletely satisfied with the job he did. Trent Mossbrucker, who redshirted last season after being the kicker for much of 2008, has at least an shot at winning the job.

Punter: Another place where the depth isn’t great behind four-year regular Ryan Donahue. But how often does your punter get hurt anyway?

Recruiting reflections

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Random thoughts in the wake of Wednesday’s national signing day:

— Once upon a time, when a high school football player made a verbal commitment to sign with a school, you could take it to the bank. The recruiting was over. The kid was going to that school.

Not any more.

“Decommits” — players who change their mind after committing to a school — are now very common and seemingly increasing with each passing year.

Iowa only had one player decommit this year — Matt Hoch of Harlan, Iowa, changed his mind in December and decided to join his brother at Missouri — but the Hawkeyes picked up three players who once were pledged to other schools: C.J. Fiedorowicz (Illinois), Kevonte Martin-Manley (Bowling Green) and Tanner Miller (Northern Iowa).

— After signing Marcus Coker and D’Andre Johnson on Wednesday, Iowa now has eight running backs on scholarship and all but one of them will be either a freshman or a sophomore next season. And the one who will be a senior (Paki O’Meara) may be the least of the eight.

Even if Brad Rogers and Jeff Brinson end up at some other position (or some other school), it’s still hard to figure out how the Hawkeyes can find enough playing time for Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher and Jewell Hampton, especially if Coker is the second coming of Shonn Greene, as some believe.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t concerned.

“You know, I hope it becomes a problem,” he said. “I’m trying to think of the last time it was … I can’t remember us having too many good players at any one position. I certainly can’t remember us having too many running backs. My memory is a little bit recent right now. I was just happy this past year to have two in one game.”

— Obviously, big things are expected of Fiedorowicz, Coker, A.J. Derby and Andrew Donnal, the four-star players in Iowa’s recruiting class.

But some of us won’t be shocked if Solon linebacker James Morris ends up being the best player out of this class. And you have to believe there are some other great “sleeper” prospects in this bunch. Carl Davis is a 300-pound defensive tackle who regularly dunks in his high school basket-ball games in Detroit. I can’t wait to see what that guy looks like.

— From my experience, recruits who also have played sports such as basketball and tennis generally have very good footwork that translates well to the football field.

If that’s the case, this is a really good group. I counted 14 players among the 21 in Iowa’s class who play or have played for their high school basketball teams. Fiedorowicz already is his school’s career scoring leader. Brandon Scherff and Austin Vier are among the top rebounders in the state of Iowa right now. B.J. Lowery and Martin-Manley are going to be four-year lettermen at the var-sity level. Tanner Miller and Jim Poggi are in their third varsity season. Derby, who is sitting out this basketball season, helped Iowa City win a Class 4A state title as a sophomore.

Scherff, who is listed at 310 pounds, also lettered in tennis as a freshman in high school.

Recruiting class gets even better

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Iowa already was having a very good recruiting year, but things got a lot better this week when C.J. Fiedorowicz, regarded by some as the top tight end prospect in the country, announced that he would renege on an earlier commitment to Illinois and sign with the Hawkeyes.

Fiedorowicz, a 6-foot-7, 240-pounder from Johnsburg, Ill., had been rumored to be reconsidering for several weeks and he told the Chicago Sun-Times he feels much more at ease with the Hawkeyes than he ever was with the Illini.

“I wasn’t happy with what is going on at Illinois,’’ he told the Sun-Times. “I like all the coaches at Iowa. They will be staying around for a long time. I went to the Iowa-Minnesota game last weekend and the atmosphere was so much better than at Illinois. Now I feel good about my decision.’’

While Iowa often features the tight end in its offense, Fiedorowicz said it seemed as though the Illini threw to theirs “maybe 10 times all year.’’

Fiedorowicz, who also had football offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame and LSU and basketball offers from Indiana and Wisconsin, is considered to be a superb receiver who needs some work on his blocking skills.

“He has an NFL body,’’ recruiting expert Tom Lemming said. “If he listens to his college coaches, he’ll be a first-round draft choice.’’

Fiedorowicz is the 20th player to commit to the Hawkeyes, who weren’t expected to sign quite that many. Included are three four-star recruits and 16 three-star recruits, according to Rivals.com. Three of those players were named Iowa’s high school player of the year in their respective classes last week – A.J. Derby of Iowa City (4A), Matt Hoch of Harlan (3A) and James Morris of Solon (2A).