- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our look at the best and worst possible outcomes for each Big Ten team (in alphabetical order) rolls on with the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Remember these are not actual game-by-game predictions, and we're having a little fun here while trying to illustrate the ceilings and floors of each team. Iowa, your case will now be heard.
Yes, the Hawkeyes are frightfully young on the defensive line. Yes, they are replacing three starters on the offensive line. And, yes, the Iowa running back curse could mean that a school janitor is taking carries by the end of the season. Still, why are you still doubting Kirk Ferentz's ability to get the most out of his players? Ferentz has a standout senior quarterback in James Vandenberg, some promising receivers and tight ends and soild players in the back end of the defense. And a pretty good schedule to boot.
The Hawkeyes come out firing right away in Greg Davis' new offense, putting up 40 points against both Northern Illinois and rival Iowa State to give the young defensive front plenty of room to grow. They exact revenge on Minnesota in the Big Ten opener with an easy romp, going into the bye week at 5-0 and ranked in the Top 25. The week off gives them time to prepare an excellent game plan and beat Michigan State on the road, just as they did in 2009. In fact, it's starting to look a lot like '09 as Iowa then takes down Penn State at home, Northwestern and Indiana on the road and then Purdue at home for a 10-0 record. Fans fall in love with a team that plays an up-tempo offense and throws the ball all over the field.
The Hawkeyes are in the Top 5 heading into the Nov. 17 game against Michigan, where they suffer their first loss. But that's quickly forgotten the following Friday with a Heroes Game victory over Nebraska on Vandenberg's last-second touchdown pass to Keenan Davis. That clinches the Legends Division title, and a blowout win over Wisconsin brings home not just the Big Ten championship but the Heartland Trophy as well. Iowa goes on to the Rose Bowl.
Here's the difference between the 2012 Hawkeyes and the 2009 version: there's no Adrian Clayborn or Christian Ballard on the defensive line. Or, at least, there's no one mature enough to play like those guys yet. Iowa usually succeeds on the basis of strong play in the trenches and a powerful running game. Guess where the biggest questions are for this year's team?
The offense has Vandenberg, but he's missing Marvin McNutt. And Davis wasn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard in his final seasons at Texas. The Hawkeyes are upset in Week 1 at Soldier Field by a solid Northern Illinois team, and afterward Ferentz announces that starting running back Damon Bullock has been dismissed from the team. Iowa State makes it two in a row in Week 2; Ferentz announces the following Monday that new starting running back Barkley Hill has transferred. Iowa wins its next two but then loses its third straight Floyd of Rosedale game against Minnesota as MarQueis Gray runs wild. During the bye week, new starting tailback Greg Garmon is kidnapped by the Russian mafia. Michigan State blows out the Hawkeyes for the second straight year to send them to 2-4. The team rallies to beat Penn State at home but loses to its thorn in the side Northwestern on the road. Back-to-back wins over Indiana and Purdue are marred when A) new starting running back Jordan Canzieri, just back from an ACL injury, defects to Cuba and B) new starting running back Nate Meier is swept away by a tornado.
The season concludes with a three-touchdown loss at Michigan and a dispiriting four-touchdown loss to Nebraska in a half-red Kinnick Stadium. In the finale, new starting running back Todd Smith -- formerly a school janitor -- spontaneously combusts. Iowa finished 5-7 and misses a bowl for the first time since 2007.
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