The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 26 Iowa.
Previewing Iowa’s Offense for 2014:
Unlike this time last season, there is reason to be optimistic about the Iowa offense. Six starters return, including quarterback Jake Rudock, leading rusher Mark Weisman, leading receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and potential All-America left tackle Brandon Scherff.
Rudock passed for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, helping Iowa double its win total from the disastrous 2012 season with an 8–5 record. Hardly a dual-threat quarterback, Rudock showed surprising mobility before being hobbled by a knee injury down the stretch. His biggest flaw was the tendency to force passes into coverage, which resulted in 13 interceptions.
Iowa is loaded at running back, and Scherff is among three starters returning on the offensive line, which is traditionally a strength for the Hawkeyes under veteran coach Kirk Ferentz. The 236-pound Weisman led the team with 975 rushing yards last season, using a bruising style that fits nicely in Iowa’s power running scheme. Junior Jordan Canzeri and senior Damon Bullock rushed for 481 and 467 yards, respectively, last season. Both are more elusive than Weisman, while Bullock is also a threat as a receiver. LeShun Daniels, a 6'0", 230-pound sophomore, is also an intriguing option.
There is a void at tight end with C.J. Fiedorowicz having moved on. But much like the offensive line, tight end is traditionally a stable position for the Hawkeyes, and that’s the expectation for this season. Senior Ray Hamilton and junior Jake Duzey are among four tight ends with extensive game experience.
Previewing Iowa’s Defense for 2014:
Six starters have to be replaced, including all three linebackers and an All-Big Ten cornerback. It’ll be a daunting task, made easier by the presence of two standout tackles. Senior Carl Davis was one of the most improved players on the team last season, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors after being a reserve in 2012. Fellow senior tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat also progressed throughout last season, his first as a full-time starter.
However, he and Davis won’t have the luxury of playing with three senior standout linebackers, as was the case last season. Senior Quinton Alston has waited three seasons to replace James Morris at middle linebacker and now finally has that opportunity. Alston made an impact on special teams last season, in addition to being a key part to a new rush package that was installed in 2013.
Replacing All-Big Ten cornerback B.J. Lowery is a priority, but the Hawkeyes also might have a star in the making at that position in sophomore Desmond King. He started every game last season and finished sixth on the team with 69 tackles to go along with eight pass break-ups. Senior strong safety John Lowdermilk also returns after starting all 13 games last season.
Previewing Iowa’s Specialists for 2014:
Martin-Manley is a reliable punt returner, and there plenty of candidates to return kicks. The kicking game, however, is a concern. Mike Meyer has moved on after handling the placekicking duties the past four seasons. Walk-on Marshall Koehn was listed as the starter throughout spring practice, but incoming freshman Mick Ellis will be given a chance to win the job. Junior punter Connor Kornbrath is back, but he struggled with consistency, so the staff signed junior college prospect Dillon Kidd to compete with him.
Many of the pieces are in place for Iowa to continue this latest resurgence under Ferentz, especially on offense. Combine that with a schedule that doesn’t include Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State, and has Iowa State, Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Kinnick Stadium, and there is reason to believe Iowa can be a legitimate contender in the new Big Ten West Division.