Big Ten: Rafael Eubanks
What's new: The offensive line certainly has a new look after the departures of Bryan Bulaga, Kyle Calloway, Dace Richardson and Rafael Eubanks. Iowa will be breaking in a new right tackle, most likely Markus Zusevics, and the center spot is up for grabs between Josh Koeppel and James Ferentz. The only other spot that gets a major overhaul is linebacker, as standouts Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds both depart. Iowa is one of only 11 FBS programs to return its coaching staff fully intact for 2010.
Sidelined: Iowa enters camp relatively healthy, although linebacker Ross Petersen won't participate in full-contact drills for at least a week because of a torn pectoral muscle.
Key battle: The competition at center between Koeppel and Ferentz should be good, but Iowa really needs to identify a second starting cornerback opposite Shaun Prater. Amari Spievey leaves a huge void, and the Hawkeyes will be looking to players like Micah Hyde and Jordan Bernstine to step up. Bernstine missed all of last season with an ankle injury, but he played as a reserve in his first two seasons. The situation at running back also should be very interesting to watch during camp.
New on the scene: Iowa doesn't typically play many true freshmen, but heralded tight end recruit C.J. Fiedorowicz should see the field following the departure of standout Tony Moeaki. Homegrown product A.J. Derby is a very interesting young prospect, but indications suggest he'll redshirt this fall.
Back in the fold: Jewel Hampton entered last summer as the projected successor to All-American Shonn Greene at running back, but a series of knee problems ended his season before it began. Hampton is back in the fold but must beat out Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher for the starting job. He'll miss the season opener because of a suspension, but we should finally see Hampton's return in Week 2 against Iowa State.
Breaking out: Iowa opened up its passing attack last season and saw Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos emerge as legitimate deep threats in the Big Ten. Johnson-Koulianos likely will finish as Iowa's all-time leading receiver, and McNutt averaged 19.8 yards per reception with eight touchdowns. Both players could have even bigger years in 2010. Along the defensive line, everyone knows about Adrian Clayborn, but watch out for Broderick Binns, Karl Klug and Christian Ballard, who should see increased opportunities to make plays this fall.
Quotable: "We tend to be a developmental team. We were 9-0 at one point last year, and we were a good team, we had played some great football, but we weren't a great team at that point. In January, we were a pretty good team. We really grew. So it's a race against time. I don't know where we stack up in that race right now." -- Head coach Kirk Ferentz
Not surprisingly, I asked Ferentz about Iowa's offensive line, which has been and will be the team's biggest question mark between now and the season opener Sept. 4 against Eastern Illinois. The Hawkeyes lose four players with starting experience up front -- Bryan Bulaga, Kyle Calloway, Dace Richardson and Rafael Eubanks -- and need to fill three starting spots and build depth.
Ferentz has seen some separation this spring, as six linemen are creating some distance from the pack. Along with tackle Riley Reiff and guard Julian Vandervelde, who have combined for 35 career starts, Ferentz signaled out guard Adam Gettis, tackle Markus Zusevics and center Josh Koeppel and James Ferentz, who are in a tight race this spring.
"Gettis and Zusevics, both of those guys have been in the program," Ferentz said. "Gettis played more than Markus did last year. He played an awful lot of football because Julian was coming off his [pectoral] tear. He really played pretty well last year, and both those guys have potential to be good Big Ten linemen. And then at the center position, it's kind of a dead heat right now.
"Those six guys have operated pretty well, and they're going against good competition, so we're getting a fair evaluation."
After the top six, there are some question marks as Iowa tries to build depth. Ferentz identified guard Cody Hundertmark, a converted defensive linemen, as the closest to being game ready. Hundertmark has showed good ability but is still trying to bring it all together to fit with the scheme.
"We've got some ground to make up in terms of depth," Ferentz said. "I go back to my time here [as offensive line coach] in the '80s, maybe outside of one year, it's always been an issue. We're not uncommon there with any program in the country.
"Our first-line guys are progressing, doing a pretty good job. We've got to keep bringing them along."
Up next is Iowa, which returns 14 starters from a team that went 11-2 and won an Orange Bowl championship last season. The Hawkeyes are especially strong at defensive line, safety and the offensive skill spots, but they need to reload at offensive line and linebacker.
Strongest position: Defensive line
- Key returnees: Defensive end Adrian Clayborn (70 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 9 quarterback hurries, 1 blocked kick); defensive end Broderick Binns (63 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 9 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 blocked kick); defensive tackle Karl Klug (65 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 5 passes defended); defensive tackle Christian Ballard (54 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 5 quarterback hurries).
- Key losses: None
- The skinny: The Hawkeyes will boast arguably the nation's best defensive line in 2010, as all four starters return from a group that changed games last fall. Clayborn should contend for All-America honors after being one of the Big Ten's most disruptive defenders last fall. Binns also changed games with several big plays, and all four men contributed to a defense that ranked 10th nationally in yards allowed (276.5 ypg) and eighth in points allowed (15.4). Depth is a mini concern entering 2010, but Iowa boasts so many playmakers among the starting four that it should be fine.
- Key returnees: Tackle Riley Reiff, guard Julian Vandervelde
- Key losses: Tackle Bryan Bulaga, guard Dace Richardson, center Rafael Eubanks, tackle Kyle Calloway
- The skinny: Offensive line is undoubtedly the single biggest question mark for Iowa in 2010 as four players with significant starting experience depart, as well as a few reserves. The good news is head coach Kirk Ferentz has a good track record of filling gaps up front. Reiff emerged nicely during Bulaga's three-game absence in 2009 and will play a critical role in protecting quarterback Ricky Stanzi in 2010. Vandervelde also brings experience to the interior line, but Iowa needs more bodies there. Bulaga was the team's most decorated O-lineman, but Eubanks could end up being the toughest one to replace. Keep an eye on players like Josh Koeppel, Adam Gettis, Markus Zusevics and Kyle Haganman this spring.
Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin all return a large core of players from bowl championship squads. Penn State loses a bit more than the others, but running back Evan Royster's return solidifies the run game for 2010.
So how rosy is the Big Ten's outlook for the 2010 season? Colleague Mark Schlabach likes what he sees.
Schlabach lists three Big Ten teams in the top 10 of his way-too-early Top 25. The Big 12 is the only other league with multiple top 16 teams (Texas and Nebraska).
Rose Bowl champion Ohio State comes in at No. 2, one spot behind reigning national champ Alabama. Don't be surprised if the two teams who won bowl games in Pasadena meet for the national title in Glendale, Ariz., next year.
Iowa comes in at No. 9 in Schlabach's poll, as nine starters return on defense. Wisconsin surges to a No. 10 ranking and will return 10 starters on offense, including running back John Clay, the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year.
Penn State rounds out the Big Ten contingent at No. 19.
Here's what Schlabach wrote about each Big Ten squad:
Ohio State: "Terrelle Pryor finally looked like the quarterback everyone thought he would be, and coach Jim Tressel might finally be ready to open his playbook in 2010, Pryor's third season."
Iowa: "Iowa will have back six starters on offense, but the line must be rebuilt with center Rafael Eubanks, right guard Dace Richardson, left tackle Bryan Bulaga and right tackle Kyle Calloway leaving. Nine starters should return to a very stingy defense."
Wisconsin: "With tailback John Clay coming back, and quarterback Scott Tolzien making big strides at season's end, the Badgers should be very good on offense in 2010."
Penn State: "Penn State coach Joe Paterno needs six more wins to reach 400 career victories, but he'll have to rebuild his team's defense to match this season's 11-2 record."
Matt from Pittsburgh writes: Adam, Where do you see Iowa ranked going into next year? How do you feel about their offensive line situation cause that seems to be their biggest question? Do you see any possibility of them going out and hiring Chuck Long as a QB Coach?
Adam Rittenberg: Iowa will enter the 2010 season ranked anywhere from No. 7 to No. 12. If voters do their homework, they'll see what Iowa has coming back on both sides of the ball. Linebacker and offensive line are the only questionable position groups, and there are several exciting young players in both spots. Offensive line is certainly the biggest uncertainty, though you have to like Iowa's history there. If a few more Riley Reiffs emerge, the Hawkeyes will be fine. As for Chuck Long, he was just named co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Kansas, so he's not coming to Iowa right now.
Will from Cambridge, Mass., writes: Hi Adam,Enjoy reading the blog on a daily basis and your level headed analysis. I saw you mentioned Corey Wooten being a day 1 draft pick and am curious if you realize that day 1 is just the first round this year. Day 2 will be 2nd and 3rd round with day 3 being 4-7. I think Wooten has the ability to play in the NFL, but I can't see a team risking a first rounder on him.Regards,Will
Adam Rittenberg: Good catch, Will. I don't see Wootton as a first-rounder, either, so he's a Day 2 pick in my book. Forgot about the change to the draft schedule, as I'm not one of those folks who believe Christmas comes during a weekend in April. Thanks for your note.
Andrew from East Lansing, Mich., writes: So, Adam, given the national outrage directed toward Ohio State and Iowa after they played conservative football for three minutes, I am eagerly awaiting the upcoming columns berating Nick Saban for the most conservative gameplan of the last half-century. Not even Tressel could execute an entire 40 minutes of punts and runs exclusively up the middle, so I am sure the national pundits will be equally vicious in their treatment of Saban, regardless of the game's outcome.
Adam Rittenberg: In case it isn't obvious, Andrew is being sarcastic. But he brings up a good point about Saban, who would have been skewered if Texas had rallied at the end for the victory instead of giving the ball away 14 times in the final three minutes. Then again, he's an SEC coach, so the media would have gone easy on him. Going back to the Ohio State-Iowa game, I had a bigger problem with Ferentz's decisions at the end of regulation than what Tressel did. You expect that from Tressel, but Ferentz had a chance to get to the Rose Bowl but opted for overtime and lost.
Aaron from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam, you have mentioned in several posts that Iowa loses 2 starting OL next fall. Am I miscounting? From my knowledge, Bulaga, Richardson, Calloway, and Eubanks all started and are all not returning.
Adam Rittenberg: I've been writing the Hawkeyes will lose three starters: Bulaga, Richardson and Calloway. Rafael Eubanks started every game at center, so that makes four. Then again, Riley Reiff started 11 games and Julian Vandervelde started eight games, so both of them could be considered returning starters next year. I think it's safe to go with either three or four starters gone and two, Reiff and Vandervelde, coming back.
Eric from Navarre, Fla., writes: Adam, Thanks for your blog. It's always my first stop on ESPN. I did have a question regarding the recent bowl success and the Big 10 expansion. Do you think that the recent bowl success will pacify the ADs and will reduce the probability of an expansion? It seemed some the ADs wanted the expansion in order to make the Big 10 more competitive versus the other conferences. As one that wants the expansion, I hope not!
Adam Rittenberg: That's a great question, Eric. I was thinking the exact same thing after the bowls, especially after several teams with long layoffs (Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State) scored huge wins. I don't think it'll slow down the expansion movement too much, especially since the league has already come out publicly and said something. Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez told me in California that all the ADs and the coaches want expansion, so the league will be active in its search. But this year's bowls did somewhat disprove the argument that a long layoff and no championship game hurts these teams and these coaches. Norm Parker and Jim Heacock certainly benefited from having time to prepare for Georgia Tech and Oregon.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- From the name on the back of his jersey to his obvious physical resemblance to Iowa's head coach, it's obvious that James Ferentz isn't like the rest of his Hawkeyes teammates.
Ferentz received a harsh reminder of this fact in April, when he and two teammates were arrested for public intoxication. It marked the second alcohol-related citation for Ferentz, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman for the Hawkeyes.
While both indiscretions were fairly minor, the arrest of head coach Kirk Ferentz's youngest son generated a great deal of local and regional media attention.
After being suspended for spring ball, Ferentz is back on the field for the start of Iowa's preseason camp. He will be suspended for Iowa's season opener against Northern Iowa.
"I just need to be smarter and make better decisions," James Ferentz said. "I learned a lot about myself this past season. I didn't make wise decisions. Now it's time to just get ready and get going for the season."
Kirk Ferentz expressed frustration about the attention his son's arrest received, but James said he knew the spotlight would be on him when he signed with Iowa.
"I made a mistake," he said, "but at the same time, I still think I'm in the right place and with the right people."
Ferentz, who was listed as the team's second-string center before spring practice, will compete for time alongside Rafael Eubanks and Josh Koeppel. Iowa loses starting center Rob Bruggeman, a second-team All-Big Ten selection.
After a trying offseason, Ferentz jumps at the chance to contribute on the field this fall.
"This is the one thing in my life that I really love and enjoy doing every day," he said. "It doesn't really matter where I'm at or what my position is on the team. I'm just excited to be a part of it."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
There are some positions on the depth chart that make Big Ten coaches cringe. There are other spots that make them smile and nod their heads.
Let's take a look at several fully loaded positions in the Big Ten.
Ohio State's defensive line: There is talk the Buckeyes' front four could be the best since the 2002 national championship squad. Ohio State is stacked at defensive end with All-Big Ten candidate Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward and Lawrence Wilson, who can be effective if healthy. Tackle Doug Worthington brings a ton of experience to the interior line, and Dexter Larimore and Todd Denlinger add depth there.
Iowa's offensive line: This group is well on its way to restoring the tradition established during the early part of coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure. Iowa boasts the league's top tackles tandem in Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway, and there are a host of experienced interior linemen. Julian Vandervelde developed nicely in 2008, and Andy Kuempel, Rafael Eubanks and Dan Doering all are solid options at guard. The emergence of oft-injured Dace Richardson this spring adds another body to the mix. Aside from the center spot, Iowa looks extremely solid up front.
Michigan State's secondary: Despite losing All-Big Ten safety Otis Wiley, Michigan State should be even stronger in the back half. Three starters return in the secondary, including corners Chris L. Rucker and Ross Weaver. Michigan State boasts depth with corners Jeremy Ware and Johnny Adams and safeties Kendell Davis-Clark and Marcus Hyde. And the breakout performance of the spring came from another safety, Trenton Robinson, who certainly will see playing time this season.
Penn State's linebackers: Linebacker U. is back in 2009. Penn State boasts one of the nation's top linebacker tandems in Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman, both of whom will contend for All-America honors. And it doesn't stop there, as sophomore Michael Mauti is poised for a big year on the outside. Penn State also boasts veteran depth with Josh Hull, Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu.
Illinois' wide receivers: Juice Williams will have no shortage of options in the passing game this fall. All-America candidate Arrelious Benn leads the Big Ten's deepest receiving corps, which features Jeff Cumberland, Chris Duvalt, A.J. Jenkins, Cordale Scott and Jack Ramsey. Florida transfer Jarred Fayson worked his way into a starting spot this spring and will draw opposing defenders away from Benn.
Michigan's running backs: Whoever wins the starting quarterback job in Ann Arbor will have plenty of help in the backfield. Hopes are extremely high for senior Brandon Minor, who finished strong last season despite battling several injuries, including one to his right (ball-carrying) wrist. Backing up Minor will be Carlos Brown and Michael Shaw, both of whom will be more accustomed to Rich Rodriguez's offense. Bite-size back Vincent Smith emerged this spring to provide another option with breakaway speed.
Northwestern's secondary: One of the league's weakest units a few years ago has transformed into a major strength for the Wildcats. All four starters return from 2008, and safety Brad Phillips and cornerback Sherrick McManis are strong candidates for All-Big Ten honors. Safety Brendan Smith and cornerback Jordan Mabin both are natural playmakers, and Northwestern boasts depth in players like Brian Peters, Justan Vaughn and David Arnold.
Wisconsin's H-backs/tight ends: Travis Beckum's star-crossed senior season opened opportunities for other players in 2008, and the result is a multitude of options at tight end for 2009. Mackey Award candidate Garrett Graham leads the way at the H-back spot, and senior Mickey Turner and junior Lance Kendricks provide reliable options in the passing game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Mention the 2007 season to Bryan Bulaga, and the Iowa left tackle contorts his face in disgust.
A number comes to mind.
"Forty-six," Bulaga said. "We try to forget it."
Iowa's offensive line allowed 46 sacks that season, which placed 114th out of 119 FBS teams.
Any line can have an off year, and there were certainly circumstances that contributed to the Hawkeyes' struggles. But the staggering sacks total was so un-Iowa, given the program's tradition of stout line play, particularly under head coach Kirk Ferentz, a former line coach with the Hawkeyes and in the NFL.
The Hawkeyes have turned the page and appear ready to draft a new chapter in their proud offensive line history.
After clearing a path for Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene last fall, Iowa returns three starters up front, including second-team All-Big Ten tackles in Bulaga and Kyle Calloway. The Hawkeyes lose mainstays in guard Seth Olsen and center Rob Bruggeman, but they have plenty of upperclassmen -- Andy Kuempel, Dan Doering, Julian Vandervelde, Rafael Eubanks, even Dace Richardson if he stays healthy -- to fill the gaps.
"Bruggy and Seth were big-time players for us and leaders, but we need to move on toward next year, getting a new identity," Bulaga said. "We've done a good job of that so far this spring. I don't think we've missed a lot of beats on it."
Iowa's recent offensive line tradition includes players like Robert Gallery, Marshal Yanda and Eric Steinbach, and the hope is Bulaga will be the next star. The affable junior added seven pounds during the offseason, now checking in at 6-foot-6, 312 pounds.
Bulaga takes a streak of 18 consecutive starts into the fall.
"He's an easy guy to coach," Ferentz said. "He's pretty good physically, and he's got a great attitude, so we're just thrilled that he's on our football team. A guy that works hard like he does and has an attitude like he does, it's a contagious thing. He makes other guys better."
Ferentz notes that the problems in 2007 stemmed mainly from youth. Iowa graduated Yanda, Mike Jones and Mike Elgin the previous year and thrust Bulaga, Calloway and other young players into starting roles.
"We went through the same thing back in '84," said Ferentz, who then served as the Hawkeyes' line coach. "In '82 and '83, we had a veteran group. We had seven seniors in our two-deep, so '83 was a lot of fun but '84 was a lot of growing pains."
Ferentz expects to see continued growth from Iowa's veteran-laden line this fall. With questions at running back, wide receiver and even quarterback, to some degree, the Hawkeyes will lean on the five men up front.
Bulaga said 46 sacks allowed two years ago still comes up from time to time in the O-line meeting room, but he and his linemates are more focused on reducing a different number, 27, Iowa's sacks allowed total from 2008.
"This group's worked hard," Ferentz said. "We have no idea what our starting lineup's going to be right now, but we've got a group I think is going to be represented.
"We're a little bit more veteran now, and that's a good thing."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Iowa restored its tradition of stout offensive line play this season, and the Hawkeyes bolstered their front five with a commitment today from tackle Nolan MacMillan.
The 6-foot-6, 285-pound MacMillan chose Iowa over Boston College and Virginia. Michigan State, South Florida and Rutgers were among the other scholarship offers MacMillan received.
Iowa returns three starting offensive linemen for 2009 and boasts some decent depth with players like Dan Doering and Rafael Eubanks. Right tackles Doering and starter Kyle Calloway enter their senior seasons this coming fall, so MacMillan could be in the mix for playing time in 2010.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Iowa starting right guard Seth Olsen missed today's game and could be out for some time after injuring his ankle Wednesday on a non-contact drill at practice.
"It was just a blocking drill like we do every week frequently, and just one of those freak things," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I'm hoping he can make it back, but it's probably going to be a while. We'll see how next week looks."
Juniors Andy Kuempel and Rafael Eubanks rotated at Olsen's spot against Wisconsin. Iowa has a bye next week before visiting Illinois.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Iowa just released its depth chart for Saturday's game (page 2) against Florida International and for what it's worth, an "OR" no longer separates quarterbacks Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi. Christensen is the clear starter even though the junior split snaps with Stanzi in Saturday's win against Maine.
"I don't want to say it's open," Ferentz said after the game of his quarterback spot. "Jake is still our starter, so I would say it's tilting his way, but both guys are playing well, and we're going to keep watching it and watch the tape."
Christensen completed 9 of 15 passes for 122 yards with a touchdown and an interception against Maine, while Stanzi went 9-for-14 for 90 yards passing. Ferentz's desire for a clear starter is understandable, but Christensen has to do more to cement himself and Iowa should continue to take a long look at Stanzi. Christensen led five scoring drives but also made some questionable throws, which have been his bugaboo.
There were a lot fewer questions regarding potential starters for Week 2. The only other "OR" separated junior Rafael Eubanks and sophomore Julian Vandervelde, who are competing for the starting left guard spot.
Freshman running back Jewel Hampton surprisingly didn't make the two-deep after his strong debut Saturday. Paki O'Meara remains the primary backup for Shonn Greene. Linebacker Pat Angerer remains a backup at middle linebacker despite an interception Saturday.
It's time for the final installment of three questions as I take a look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, a team trying to rebound from three consecutive subpar seasons and a troublesome stretch of disciplinary problems. Here's a look at three questions facing coach Kirk Ferentz and Iowa this fall.
1. Is Jake Christensen the right man to lead the Hawkeyes offense?
The offense's struggles last season were not all Christensen's fault. He watched several key receivers go down with injuries and got no protection from the offensive line. The junior will get another chance to prove himself this fall, but he had better do it quickly. Sophomore Ricky Stanzi came on strong toward the end of preseason camp, and coach Kirk Ferentz likely will play both quarterbacks in non-league play. Christensen doesn't make a lot of big mistakes -- he has a 19-8 career touchdown-to-interception ratio -- but his completion percentage has got to get better for defenses to respect Iowa's passing game.
2. Will the off-field problems and the ongoing investigation into the university's response to allegations of sexual assault against two former players impact the season?
It could, especially if Iowa starts slow. Ferentz is convinced he handled the situation correctly, but the longer this case drags on, the more problems it could present for the coach and the program. What Iowa can control is player conduct from this point on, and it's up to senior leaders like Matt Kroul and Mitch King to make sure the string of transgressions stops immediately. As Ferentz has said numerous times, Iowa's new director of player development won't be a panacea for the problem. It has to start with the players or Iowa will be in for a long season.
3. Can the Hawkeyes return to their running roots?
An Iowa program that recently produced standout offensive linemen like Robert Gallery and Eric Steinbach has gotten away from what made it great. For the Hawkeyes to return to glory, they need much better play up front. Injuries to promising players like Dace Richardson have hurt, but Iowa needs more from Bryan Bulaga, Rafael Eubanks, Dan Doering and others. There's also uncertainty at running back as Shonn Greene claimed the starting job after spending last season at a junior college improving his academics. Greene looks like a solid back, but he'll need some holes to run through.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Iowa's depth chart for the season opener against Maine is out, and there's one very important word listed next to the quarterback position: Or.
Incumbent Jake Christensen or sophomore Ricky Stanzi could start at quarterback for the Hawkeyes. I'd be surprised if Christensen doesn't walk out there first, but this could be a message from coach Kirk Ferentz that the junior's preseason performance didn't meet expectations. Ferentz certainly didn't sound happy with the offense after Iowa's scrimmage last Saturday. Redshirt freshman Marvin McNutt is listed at No. 3.
Other notable items:
- Three offensive line positions are unsettled. Returning starter Rafael Eubanks or Rob Bruggeman will start at center, with Bruggeman listed first. Andy Kuempel or Bryan Bulaga will start at left tackle, with Kuempel listed first. Julian Vandervelde or Dan Doering will start at left guard, with Vandervelde listed first.
- Sophomore Jacody Coleman or junior Pat Angerer (great name) will start at middle linebacker, with Coleman listed first.
- Senior Harold Dalton is in a battle to retain his spot at strong safety. Dalton or sophomore Lance Tillison will start the opener, with Tillison listed first.