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College Football Preview 2014-2015: 24. Iowa Hawkeyes

Jake Rudock
24. Iowa Hawkeyes 

Coach: Kirk Ferentz (16th year)
2013-2014 Record: 8-5 (5-3 Big Ten)
August 30th vs. Northern Iowa
September 6th vs. Ball State
September 13th vs. Iowa State
September 20th @ Pittsburgh
September 27th @ Purdue
October 11th vs. Indiana
October 18th @ Maryland
November 1st vs. Northwestern
November 8th @ Minnesota
November 15th @ Illinois
November 22nd vs. Wisconsin
November 28th vs. Nebraska

Entering the 2013 season the pressure was on for Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa was coming off a rough 2012 in which they went 4-8 and things didn't look much brighter, losing a number of key contributors from that team for 2013. Yet, lead by powerful junior back Mark Weisman and sophomore first-year starter Jake Rudock, the Hawkeyes were a pleasant surprise, winning 8 games and going 5-3. Weisman is back along with the bulk of these Hawkeyes as they hope to make a run in the Big Ten.

Backfield: After earning the starting QB job over the more experienced Cody Sokol, Rudock would go on to throw for 18 touchdowns with 13 interceptions, compiling 2,383 yards along the way. He has a mind for the game but he was pretty tentative last year and rarely looked for the big play. He should feel more comfortable as starter now and he has the playmakers surrounding him to really see improvement throughout multiple parts of his game this year. Iowa won't chuck the ball around the field too often, but they would love to see him make seem great, deep throws. An Air Force transfer, senior Mark Weisman resembles a fullback but is as gifted as a running back. He definitely fits the mold of your stereotypical Iowa football player; a guy that will pin his ears back and run you over. He ran for 975 yards last year with eight touchdowns. He is an extremely powerful back but he has pretty good speed in the open field and has great vision. Ferentz and the Iowa offense should also lean on junior Jordan Canzeri, a 5'9" explosive athlete, who is the lightning to Weisman's thunder. He ran for 481 yards last season, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Senior Damon Bullock is a proven playmaker who is another option for Iowa on the rush attack.
Kevonte Martin-Manley

Receivers: Even though he saw regression in receptions and yards from the 2012 to 2013 season, senior receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley will be Rudock's top option in the passing game. Martin-Manley had 388 yards last year, while reeling in five touchdowns. He has explosiveness and soft hands but he still is improving as a route runner. Sophomore Matt VandeBerg only had eight receptions last season, accounting for just 59 yards. With the losses in this unit, the Hawkeyes are expecting a much bigger year for him. He isn't a very big receiver but he also has good hands and he should be able to make the most of his opportunities. Junior Jacob Hillyer will also need to step up to help Rudock and the Hawkeyes. Hillyer was a little more productive in 2013-2014, recording 11 catches for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has good size, standing at 6'4" and he is a very good open field playmaker. At the tight end spot, the Hawkeyes will look for senior Ray Hamilton to make occasional plays. Hamilton will be leaned on more heavily as a blocker for Weisman and the ground attack, but he can catch pretty well and he could pose as a big receiving threat in the red zone. Weisman and the rest of the Iowa backfield will also have to help out Rudock coming out of the backfield, making plays in the passing game. Rudock will certainly miss tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who is now in the NFL and had six touchdowns last year for the Hawkeyes.

Offensive Line: Quietly, Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff has developed into one of the best linemen in the Big Ten and most likely a first-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. The 6'5" senior has the versatility to move along the line, but his most natural slot is definitely left tackle, where he will go along way in helping protect Rudock. He obviously has great size, with a high motor and he loves to battle in the trenches. If there is one obvious weakness in his game is that he moves very poorly (worse than a lot of 300+ pounders) and he will miss assignments. He still should be on the hunt for numerous trophies, as he said this offseason. On the other side of the line, the Hawkeyes should lean on the ability of another senior, right tackle Andrew Donnal. Donnal is also massive and is an important piece to the puzzle of Iowa's zone-blocking scheme. Also on the right side of the line, junior Jordan Walsh should also play a big role in leading the way for the Hawkeyes' backs, he is an excellent run-blocker. Overall, Iowa's O-Line is very deep and experienced and should do what they normally do; help these backs push forward and punch the ball right at the opposing defense.

Defensive Line: The Hawkeyes will present opposing offenses this season with a 4-3 look on the defensive front and will hope that their line can play a big role in stopping the run. Senior defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat will have to be a major contributor up the middle this year for the Hawkeyes. Trinca-Pasat was fantastic in 2012, recording 40 tackles but injuries and the talent ahead of him meant he saw very little to none of the field in 2013. Joining Trinca-Pasat up the middle will be another senior, Carl Davis, another fierce linemen. Davis is more of a pass rusher than Trinca-Pasat, he had 1.5 sacks last season, while also racking up 42 tackles. Both have incredible instincts and their size enables them to bully smaller blockers. The exterior of the defensive line is not as strong but is still in capable, experienced hands. Mike Hardy should be the main force at defensive end, a 6'5" senior with a quick first step and a nose for the football. The Wisconsin native had 34 tackles last year and 1.5 sacks but could be up for bigger numbers, especially in sacks, this season. Junior Riley McMinn should also compete for playing time, possibly starting at the other defensive end position. McMinn is 6'7" with a long wingspan and should disrupt quarterbacks by using his big frame to get in their passing lanes.

Linebackers: This is the glaring weakness for this Iowa team as the Hawkeyes must replace three starting linebackers. James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey all graduated this past season and their experience will be greatly missed, they were really the heart and soul of this defense as well. Although they will be missed, Ferentz and staff are not to down, as they have some intriguing players ready to fill in. Senior Quinton Alston will most likely be the starter at middle linebacker, after seeing little opportunities behind Morris and others in his time in Iowa City. Alston has just 23 tackles over three years with Iowa, but you can see the potential he has; he moves incredibly quick with speed and he does have the athletic tools to be a pretty good coverage linebacker. Perhaps the player who could break out the most on this defense (especially the linebacker corps) is sophomore Reggie Spearman, who will see time at outside linebacker. Spearman is an incredibly gifted athlete, blessed with fantastic instincts, great speed off the edge and he is a tenacious tackler. In order to supplement their losses, Iowa brought in a number of linebackers in this year's recruiting class, including three-star Jameer Outsey, a small but hard-working outside linebacker three-star Aaron Mends, a product from Kansas City, who should spend more of his time as an inside 'backer.

Secondary: Even though this unit is also relatively inexperienced, defensive coordinator Phil Parker should still expect it to be strong because it is Iowa, and they always have guys ready to jump in and contribute. Likely starting at the cornerback spots will be two sophomores, Maurice Fleming and Desmond King. King put together a strong 2013, recording 69 tackles and two fumble recoveries. He has an extremely high motor and even just being a sophomore, already has developed coverage skills. The safety positions are in good hands with two experienced playmakers likely starting there. Senior John Lowdermilk is a hard-hitter with a high football IQ; the 6'2" safety had a break out 2013 season as well and ended up 78 tackles and 1 interception. Starting alongside of him will be junior Jordan Lomax, who has looked strong when healthy and given the playing time. Lomax is smaller than Lowdermilk but nobody questions his toughness; he has great range and is gifted with the athleticism to make big plays. Depth should not be much of an issue here as the Hawkeyes also will bring senior safety Nico Law and junior cornerback Sean Draper.

Special Teams: Martin-Manley will not only look to make plays in the passing game, he will also hope to make plays fielding punts. The junior, Canzeri will also look to make an impact on special teams; he will most likely field kicks for Ferentz and staff. At the kicker slot, Ferentz will have to rely on former walk-on Marshall Koehn, a local product entering his junior season. Koehn has made just one extra point in his career with Iowa to this point, and will have to prove he can beat out tiny senior Alden Haffar for the job.

Ferentz had a surprising 2013 but now has to prove he can continue that success with the same core group of players. The offense should be much improved with the returns of Rudock, Weisman and Martin-Manley but the defense must show it can stop opponents without their three most important players, Morris, Kirksey and Hitchens. Though, it is the schedule that shows the most promise as the Hawkeyes will avoid Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, a major reason why Iowa should certainly be in the hunt for a Rose Bowl berth.

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