Offensive: Senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi has so-so statistics — he had 15 interceptions last season against 17 touchdown passes and a pedestrian 56.2 completion percentage — but he is 18-4 as a starter. The Hawkeyes will need to utilize his resourcefulness. Other than senior wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who needs 30 catches and 400 yards to become Iowa’s all-time leader in both categories, there isn’t an A-list skill player. Sophomore Adam Robinson (834 yards, five touchdowns) should again serve as the top ball-carrier. The offensive line, long an Iowa strength, is in transition with just two starters returning, but the Hawkeyes always seem to develop an effective unit.
Defensive: Iowa has one of the nation’s top defensive lines. The standout is senior defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who had 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss last season. But there’s also muscle inside with senior tackles Karl Klug and Christian Ballard, plus an underrated performer in junior end Broderick Binns. There’s a three-year starter in senior linebacker Jeremiha Hunter. It gets better in the secondary — senior free safety Brett Greenwood is a fourth-year starter, while junior strong safety Tyler Sash enters his third season as a starter.
Specialists: The Hawkeyes have the luxury of two standout place-kickers — senior Daniel Murray, who converted 19 of 26 field-goal attempts last season, and sophomore Trent Mossbrucker, who made 13 of 15 in 2008 before sitting out with a redshirt season. The punting is solid with senior Ryan Donahue (40.9-yard average, 12 punts of 50-plus-yards). The coverage and return units are top-notch.
Coaching: Kirk Ferentz has made an art form out of transforming Iowa’s program to middle-of-the-pack on paper to conference championship contender (almost annually). Every other year, it seems, Ferentz is rumored as an NFL coaching candidate, but he has clearly built something to last at Iowa.
Heisman hopefuls: The Hawkeyes don’t have any realistic candidates this season.
Overview: Defense and special teams alone are strong enough to make Iowa an upper-tier team in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes will give the frontrunners a strong battle, but it looks like Iowa doesn’t have quite enough muscle for a repeat trip to a BCS bowl game.
Next up: No. 14 Pittsburgh
The Fighting Irish have a promising future based on coaching, current talent, recruiting, title path, and program power.
CFT: Johnny Manziel nearly transferred out of Texas A&M before the 2012 season after being suspended, according to reports, but he stayed after his successful appeal.
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