- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Record: 3-2 (0-1 Big Ten)
After losing six players to the NFL draft and several other standouts to graduation, Iowa entered the season with a young but talented team. The Hawkeyes have looked the part in the first half, flashing their potential but also enduring growing pains on both sides of the ball. A Week 2 loss to in-state rival Iowa State showed that Iowa no longer had the stout defense of 2008-10. On the ropes a week later against Pittsburgh, the Hawkeyes mounted the largest comeback in team history as junior quarterback James Vandenberg and his receivers came of age during a wild second half. Vandenberg turned in a brilliant five-quarter stretch against Pitt and Louisiana-Monroe, and Iowa's no-huddle, pass-heavy offense delighted fans tired of watching the same movie each fall. But Vandenberg and the offense flatlined Saturday in Happy Valley, as Iowa failed to record a touchdown for the first time since 2007 and scored its fewest points since 2005. The loss reinforced that it's a process for this team and young players like Vandenberg, RB Marcus Coker, and LBs James Morris and Christian Kirksey. Iowa can't win games exactly like it did the past two and a half seasons. The Hawkeyes still have a fairly favorable schedule, but could be in for a roller-coaster ride.
Offensive MVP: Quarterback James Vandenberg. Despite a rough day at Beaver Stadium, Vandenberg turned in a solid first half in his first meaningful game action since he relieved the injured Ricky Stanzi late in the 2009 campaign. The junior ranks second in the Big Ten in passing (252.8 ypg), tied for second in touchdown passes (10) and fifth in passer rating (141.8). He led the furious comeback against Pitt and recorded 432 pass yards and six touchdowns during a five-quarter span. Vandenberg still has room for improvement, but he can be a special pocket passer for the Hawkeyes. WR Marvin McNutt merits a mention here.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Christian Kirksey. No obvious choices here, but Kirksey has emerged alongside Morris and made plays for an up-and-down Hawkeyes defense. He has recorded 49 tackles, including a team-high 30 solo stops, as well as two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a pass breakup and a sack. Defensive backs Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde also merit mentions.