The 2013 Iowa football season is in the books, and after doubling its win total from the year prior, expectations are even higher for the 2014 campaign. Here we’ll take an extremely premature look at the schedule, projected starting lineup, position changes we’d like to see, and a few other goodies.
By Ben Ross
With Rutgers and Maryland joining the Big Ten, for some reason, Iowa’s schedule softens up quite a bit. Instead of getting Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan, it gets Maryland, Indiana, and Illinois on its 2014 slate. So, yeah. Things get quite a bit easier for Iowa next year. The 2014 schedule is as follows:
8/30 — Northern Iowa
9/6 — Ball State
9/13 — Iowa State
9/20 — @ Pitt
9/27 — @ Purdue
10/11 — Indiana
10/18 — @ Maryland
11/1 — Northwestern
11/8 — @ Minnesota
11/15 — @ Illinois
11/22 — Wisconsin
11/28 — Nebraska
Iowa went 5-1 this year against opponents it sees again in 2014. And it seems like the Hawkeyes are on the upswing while everyone else is in a rebuilding year. All its toughest games come at home next year, and the combined record of its 2014 opponents in 2013 is 75-74, so there’s nothing too special there. (Those numbers are boosted heavily by Ball State’s 10 wins last year, but Purdue went 1-11, so it sort of balances itself out).
Looking at this slate, it shouldn’t be too lofty to expect Iowa to be undefeated when Wisconsin comes to town in late November. Indiana provides a trap game after the Hoosiers put up 38 points a contest last year, and traveling to Pittsburgh and Maryland in the middle of the season provide challenges in themselves, but Iowa really is significantly better than all those teams on paper.
Wisconsin loses key playmakers in James White, Chris Borland, and Jared Abbrederis, and who knows what Nebraska will look like, so really, Iowa ending the regular season ranked and perhaps even playing in its first Big Ten Championship game isn’t out of the question. The Black and Gold always seem to lose a game or two it shouldn’t, though. Take that into account.
Iowa doesn’t take too many hits due to graduation on the offensive side of the ball. The only starters it loses are Brett Van Sloten, Conor Boffeli, and C.J. Fiedorowicz. Van Sloten will be the hardest to replace since he was a stalwart at right tackle. Fiedorowicz was a beast in the red zone, but Iowa has a plethora of more-than capable tight ends in Jake Duzey, Ray Hamilton, and Henry Krieger-Coble to replace CJF.
Boffeli wasn’t anything special at guard, and Andrew Donnal will likely just replace him full time there. Iowa also loses its best backup offensive lineman in Nolan MacMillan, but again, Iowa pumps out O-lineman like an assembly line. Don Shumpert and Jordan Cotton leave, too, for anyone who was wondering.
The defensive side of the ball is where things get a little bit stickier. The Hawkeyes graduate its biggest playmakers with all three starting linebackers leaving in James Morris, Anthony Hitchens, and Christian Kirksey, as well as B.J. Lowery at corner, Dom Alvis at defensive end, and Tanner Miller at free safety.
With the emergence of Desmond King, Lowery seems to be replaceable. Alvis missed half the season and Mike Hardy filled in quite well for him, and Miller wasn’t anything special. The three linebackers, on the other hand, were something magnificent all on their own. It will be tough to replace a unit that had such continuity and game experience.
Mike Meyer, Iowa’s kicker for the better part of the past four years, is gone. But his play tapered off his senior year, following a magnificent junior year. Marshall Koehn is listed as his backup.
Casey Kreiter snapped the ball to Meyer for the past four years, two. He was a good one — you can tell if a long snapper is good if they never call his name on TV — and will be tougher to replace. I have no idea who will fill-in there. Jordan Cotton wasn’t anything special on kick returns his last year, and it would be smart to have Damond Powell fill in for Cotton there.
Projected 2014 Starting Lineup
QB — Jake Rudock
RB — Mark Weisman
FB — Adam Cox
TE — Jake Duzey/Ray Hamilton
WR — Kevonte Martin-Manley
WR — Jacob Hillyer/Damond Powell/Tevaun Smith
LT — Brandon Scherff
LG — Andrew Donnal
C — Austin Blythe
RG — Jordan Walsh
RT — Ryan Ward
LE — Drew Ott
DT — Carl Davis
DT — Louis Trinca-Pasat
RE — Mike Hardy
OLB — Travis Perry
MLB — Quinton Alston
OLB — Reggie Spearman
LC — Desmond King
RC — Sean Draper/Jordan Lomax
SS — John Lowdermilk/Jordan Lomax
FS — Nico Law/Jordan Lomax
Position Changes/Lineups We’d Rather See, But Won’t
Even though Jake Rudock did a lot of really good things this year, I think we’ve already seen the ceiling for the sophomore quarterback. He doesn’t have the best size, has a tendency to make some poor decisions in the fourth quarter, and has slightly below-average arm strength. Granted, he usually makes smart choices with the ball in hand, throws really well while under pressure, and is usually money in the red zone, but I still believe C.J. Beathard has a higher upside and gives Iowa a better chance to win with his arm strength and ability to scramble.
After Iowa’s loss in the Outback Bowl, Beathard said he was led to believe that this offseason will feature an open quarterback competition, and hopefully that’s the case. Kirk Ferentz is usually known to stick with the incumbent quarterback, regardless of play (see: James Vandenberg) so let’s hope Kirk has an open mind when it comes to who’s going to be taking the most reps under center during spring ball. I really doubt he does, though.
Iowa has an incredibly crowded backfield next year with everyone returning. With that in mind, some changes have to be made in order to utilize that position group’s full potential. Mark Weisman should spend a lot of time at fullback, giving Iowa the option to either hand it off to him, or have the former fullback plow the way for Jordan Canzeri, LeShun Daniels, or anyone else Iowa can put back there. Akrum Wadley, who was redshirted in 2013, has apparently been popping eyes in practice, and there’s still Michael Malloy and Barkley Hill.
I didn’t mention Damon Bullock because he’s no better than anyone listed above. He should take the offseason to hone his receiving and route-running skills and become a full-time slot receiver. That’s the best way for him to see the field next year.
I put Jordan Lomax on the defensive depth chart at three different positions because I really don’t know what’s in store for him. He started the first game of the season but got hurt in 2013. Desmond King filled in for him, and never looked back. Lomax very well could take the opposite corner of King, but defensive coordinator Phil Parker said during bowl week that Lomax had been taking some reps at safety, and liked what he was seeing from him. John Lowdermilk wasn’t anything special, and Nico Law had his chance to start last year but blew it, which leads me to believe Lomax could be appearing at a new position in the defensive backfield in 2014.
Last, and perhaps most important, is to get Damond Powell the ball. Powell hardly ever saw the field in 2013, which just boggles the mind. I understand he came in late and had to learn the playbook, but still. He’s far and away Iowa’s most explosive player, and there’s little excuse for not getting him more involved in the offense next year. Him at punt or kick returner would be a breath of fresh air for Iowa’s maligned special teams, and has the talent to earn national recognition if Iowa gets the rock in his hands.
Iowa always has a couple of guys transfer in the offseason. Always. Last year it was Kevin Buford, Cameron Wilson, and Greg Garmon. The year before that it was Marcus Coker and Mika’il McCall, and the year before that it was Brandon Wegher and Jewel Hampton. I may have skipped a year and missed a few guys, but you get the idea.
It’s hard, albeit somewhat sinister, to predict someone to transfer, but at this point it’s called for. This year, my front-runners to leave the Iowa football program for less Black-and-Gold pastures are any of the young running backs mentioned above, and possibly Nic Shimonek.
The backfield is simply just too full for all those guys to stay on board. Counting Weisman, Iowa has nine running backs on its roster. Of those nine, six are freshmen or sophomores. So, yeah. Iowa also has at least three running backs coming into its next recruiting class. If you’re a running back looking for playing time, Iowa is not the place to go.
I only say Shimonek because he’ll be the fourth rung on the ladder two years in a row. And after Cody Sokol graduates in a year, he’ll still be third fiddle. I really, really liked the arm strength and size Shimonek showed in the spring game, but Iowa is supposed to bring in one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Tyler Wiegers next year. Even if Wiegers redshirts, Shimonek is seeing tops one season of playing time between him, Rudock, and Beathard.