Friday, May 26, 2006

Maybe This Will Be the Year Iowa Isn't Out Of the National Football Championship Picture Before the Leaves Change Colors

Pete Fiutak of writes, "Someday, Iowa will have all the pieces put together on day one and then it'll really be time for the rest of the Big Ten to worry.

"Every year, some preseason publication declares that it's the year Kirk Ferentz's team will finally win an outright Big Ten title and become the type of superpower that causes other teams to tremble. Ohio State gets the blood boiling. The Michigan game always gets circled on the calendar. Penn State, even during the down days, was a big date that got everyone fired up. Iowa, even after four straight January bowl appearances, just barely gets the blood pressure up.

"And why is that?

"Maybe it's because the team is always out of the national title hunt before the the leaves change colors.

"It hasn't been just that Iowa always loses at least one early game to tumble out of the title race, it's that fans can cross off the Hawkeyes after crushing losses like the 23-3 gaffe to Iowa State last year and the 44-7 blasting by Arizona State in 2004. Worse yet, Iowa has lost its last three Big Ten openers. On the plus side, Ferentz and his staff has the team humming as the season goes on.

"While it's always important to get off to a hot start, it's more important to be good in November, and that's where Iowa has succeeded going 9-2 over the last four ears in the most crucial of months. This year's team has just enough holes to fill that it might continue to follow the pattern and have a few problems early on before rocking and rolling late.

"The offense will have few problems moving the ball with Drew Tate back to lead the attack for a third straight season and tailback Albert Young a burgeoning superstar running behind a talented, veteran line. The hole? The receiving corps. It's very fast and should be great by the end of the year, but it'll need time to develop.

"The defense has the same issues. The defensive line that was a concern last season will be one of the Big Ten's best this year, but the linebacking corps won't be nearly as good and will need a few games to get rolling. The safeties are excellent, but the corners are green. All the problems on both sides of the ball aren't that big a deal and will all be fine; it's just going to take a few games. By that time, Iowa could be out of the hunt yet again.

"So Iowa isn't going to win the national title. Would another January bowl game be so bad? With this schedule, it might be because ...

"The Schedule: It's almost all that any Big Ten team could reasonably ask for. It's light enough for Iowa to get that time to jell playing Montana, at Syracuse, Iowa State, and at Illinois before dealing with Ohio State in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes catch a huge break not having to play Penn State, and not facing Michigan State this season isn't a bad thing. If you believe that the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy at Minnesota will be like an Iowa home game, then the only road game on the slate to worry about is at Michigan. Win that, and get by the Buckeyes at home, and an unbeaten season is very likely.

"Best Offensive Player: Senior QB Drew Tate. One of the Big Ten's toughest quarterbacks, Tate is also starting to grow into one of the smartest with improved accuracy and decision-making abilities. He might not always be the prettiest quarterback, but he always seems to find a way to get the job done.

"Best Defensive Player: Junior DE Ken Iwebema. He turned into a flash of a pass rusher last year and should be even more dangerous this season with the rest of the front four good enough to take the heat off. Fine, so offenses will gameplan to stop Iwebema. That means Bryan Mattison will make plays at the other end, or quick tackles Matt Kroul and Mitch King will fly up the middle.

"Key player to a successful season: Senior WR Calvin Davis. Herb Grigsby should be a reliable target on one side, and Scott Chandler will lead a strong group of tight ends, but it's Davis who has to shine at split end and become the consistent deep threat who opens things up for the rest of the offense.

"The season will be a success if ... Iowa wins 11 games and comes up with at least a share of the Big Ten title. The Hawkeyes will be favored in every conference game but two (at Michigan and home against Ohio State). If this really is a Big Ten championship-caliber team, it splits the the two nasty games and beats everyone else.

"Key game: Sept. 30 vs. Ohio State. It'll take an upset for Iowa to lose at home to Purdue, Northwestern or Wisconsin and on the road against Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota. A win in Kinnick Stadium over the Buckeyes would likely mean it's a one-game season (Oct. 21 at Michigan) for the title.

"2005 Fun Stats:

"- First quarter scoring: Iowa 119 - Opponents 37
"- Field goals in eight Big Ten games: Iowa 14 of 17 - Opponents 4 of 9
"- Time of possession: Opponents 32:27 - Iowa 27:33

"The Last Time Iowa…

"…played in a bowl game…2005 (Outback Bowl vs. Florida)
"…missed a bowl game…2000
"…pitched a shutout…2005 (Ball State)
"…was shutout…2000 (Illinois)
"…scored 50 points…2005 (Minnesota)
"…went undefeated…1922
"…won a conference title…2004 (share, Big Ten)
"…had a 3,000-yard passer…1988 (Chuck Hartlieb)
"…had a 1,000-yard rusher…2005 (Albert Young)
…had a 1,000-yard receiver…2000 (Kevin Kasper)
"…had a first-round draft choice…2006 (LB Chad Greenway)"

* * *

Head coach: Kirk Ferentz
8th year: 49-36
11th year overall: 49-36
Returning Lettermen: 45
Lettermen Lost: 25
10 Best Iowa Players

1. QB Drew Tate, Sr.
2. RB Albert Young, Jr.
3. DE Ken Iwebema, Jr.
4. DE Bryan Mattison, Jr.
5. LB Edmond Miles, Sr.
6. TE Scott Chandler, Sr.
7. DT Mitch King, Soph.
8. G Mike Jones, Sr.
9. PK Kyle Schlicher, Sr.
10. FS Marcus Paschal, Sr.


9/2 Montana
9/9 at Syracuse
9/16 Iowa State
9/23 at Illinois
9/30 Ohio State
10/7 Purdue
10/14 at Indiana
10/21 at Michigan
10/28 Northern Illinois
11/4 Northwestern
11/11 Wisconsin
11/18 at Minnesota

CFN Prediction: 9-2
2005 Record: 7-5

9/3 Ball State W 56-0
9/10 at Iowa State L 23-3
9/17 Northern Iowa W 45-21
9/24 at Ohio State L 31-6
10/1 Illinois W 35-7
10/8 at Purdue W 34-17
10/15 Indiana W 38-21
10/22 Michigan L 23-20 OT
11/5 at Northwestern L 28-27
11/12 at Wisconsin W 20-10
11/19 Minnesota W 52-28
1/2 Outback Bowl
Florida L 31-24

* * *

Mark Robinson writes:

"Nice story about your early days in Cedar Rapids.

"I'm not sure if I told you, but my father taught at McKinley in 1957 and '58. I think my brother was born right across the street. At least, I think that is where St. Luke's Hospital is. My memory is failing as well.

"Before that, dad taught at that pre-historic monument known as Ottumwa High (where I was born, not at the high school, but at what was then known as St. Joseph's)). Before that, his first job was at Clarinda High in 1951. Moved back to his and mom's hometown of Marshalltown in '59.

"In Cedar Rapids, we lived in the shadow of Regis High School. If I walked out the front door, on the left was the football field and the high school was straight up the hill. Can't recall the address, but I'm sure you'll know. Five years ago, I revisited the neighborhood and it is remarkable how much I recall from my time as a 3- and 4-year-old.

"Thanks for listening."


[RON MALY'S COMMENTS: Thanks for writing, Mark. Although you now live in California, you recall quite a bit about Iowa. It's Mercy Hospital that's across the street from McKinley in southeast Cedar Rapids. St. Luke's is on the northeast side of town, but your memory is certainly better than mine. Heck, I'll bet you even know who Mike Gartner is, and I know you haven't forgotten Sec Taylor Stadium a.k.a No-Name Ballpark].

* * *

More from Mark Robinson:

"Hi, Ron;

"Baseball trivia created [this week].

"St. Louis Cardinals pitchers did something against San Francisco that may go down in the record books, but I don't know if they have a category for it.

"The Cards beat the hell out of the Giants with a bullpen lineup of pitchers because Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter is sidelined, at least for this game, with a festering elbow problem.

"Here's what transpired:

"LaRussa pinch-hit Jason Marquis, a starting pitcher and a very good hitter, who responded by hitting a triple. Later on, relief pitcher Looper hit a double.

"From the category of those statistics that are stranger than fiction is that reliever Wainwright hit a home run. He hit the home run on his first at bat in the major leagues. Not only that, he hit it out of the park on the very first pitch.

"I've never seen anything like it.

"Keep writing, Ron."


[RON MALY'S COMMENTS: The Cardinals do things like that, Mark, in a season when the Chicago Cubs and Dusty Baker, their horrible manager, keep shooting themselves not only in the foot, but the legs, the groin, the abdomen, the chest and the head. Good things happen to good teams and good managers. That's why the Cubs lost another one in the ninth inning today].