2012 Record: 4-8, 2-6 Big Ten. 5th in Legends Division.
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz, 15th year at Iowa. 100-74 overall in 14 seasons.
Offensive Starters Returning: 6
Defensive Starters Returning: 7
Head coach Kirk Ferentz, who currently earns $3.86 million per year and is the highest-paid state employee in Iowa, hasn’t been earning his keep the past few seasons.
In 2009, Iowa went 11-2 and finished tied for second in the Big Ten, which earned the Hawkeyes a date against Georgia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl, won by Iowa, 24-14.
Following that season on Feb. 1, 2010, Iowa’s athletic director Gary Barta upped the ante and gave Ferenez a new 10-year, $39 million deal. So barring any NCAA violations or anything else that involves dishonesty, moral turpitude, conflict of interest, or conviction of any law, Ferentz is pretty much unfireable. While the University could fire him without cause, Ferentz would still be owed a sum equal to 75 percent of the annual guaranteed amount as a buyout.
That’s a lot of cheddar if Iowa wants to fire its head coach.
But things have gotten progressively worse in Iowa City for Ferentz as the Hawks went 8-5 in 2010, won only seven of 13 contests the following year, and in 2012 after winning four of the first six games, then dropped six-straight to finish 4-8 while failing to get a bowl invite for the first time since 2007.
After three years of coaching the offensive line under head coach Ted Marchibroda for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, Ferentz accepted the Iowa job after legendary head coach Hayden Fry retired at the end of the 1998 season.
Ferentz inherited a team that won only three games in 1998, but the Hawkeyes could muster just one victory in his first season. But Iowa gradually improved each year by winning three games in 2000, and seven the next season.
In 2002, Ferentz guided the Hawkeyes to an 11-2 record, a co-Big Ten championship and a BCS bowl berth. In 2003, Iowa was 10-3, and the next season, the Hawkeyes were once again 11-2 with a another share of the Big Ten title in 2004. In three seasons from 2002-2004, the Hawkeyes had an overall record of 31-7 with two conference titles.
But Ferentz hasn’t been as fortunate since, except for the 2009 season, and the downward spiral continues.
So can Ferentz right the ship?
For 2013, Ferentz has 13 returning starters, six on offense and seven on defense, his most experienced group to start a season in three years.
While Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis have several skilled players returning, the coaching staff will likely lean on a junior college transfer at quarterback.
Cody Sokol, a junior from Phoenix, Arizona, who played the last two seasons at Scottsdale Community College, completed 253-of-424 of his passing attempts for 3,807 yards with 43 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a sophomore.
Others battling for the quarterback job includes sophomore Jake Rudock and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard, though neither of the two have taken a snap in college.
One benefit on offense is having two of the top running backs return for 2012 with juniors Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock. Weisman gained 815 yards on 159 carries with eight touchdowns. Bullock toted the rock 135 times for 513 yards and three TDS.
Another benefit is having two of the top three receivers return for 2013 with junior wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and senior tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. Martin-Manley caught a team-leading 52 passes for 571 yards and two touchdowns. Fiedorowicz netted 45 receptions for 433 yards and a score.
The Hawkeyes also return three starting offensive linemen with junior left tackle Brandon Scherff, senior right tackle Brett Van Sloten and sophomore center Austin Blythe.
Seven starters return on defense that includes three of the top tacklers from a year ago, all senior linebackers with WLB Anthony Hitchens, MLB James Morris, and OLB Christian Kirksey. Hitchens led the team with 125 total stops, Morris was second with 113 tackles and led the squad with 7.5 tackles for loss, while Kirksey was third with 95 stops and shared the team lead with two interceptions.
Two starters return on the defensive line with senior DE Dominic Alvis and junior DT Louis Trinca-Pasat, who combined for 71 tackles, three sacks and six tackles for loss. Sophomore DE Drew Ott, who did not see action in first seven games of 2012, had his redshirt burned and played in final five. Junior DT Carl Davis saw action in 11 games last season and had 14 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and recovered one fumble.
The secondary also returns two starters with senior cornerback B.J. Lowery and senior free safety Tanner Miller.
Conclusion and Prediction:
Last season, Iowa had one of the worse offenses in the nation. The Hawkeyes were 111th in the NCAA in scoring offense averaging 19.3 points per game, and 114th in total offense gaining an average of 310.4 yards per contest.
Iowa was also equally bad running and throwing the ball. The Hawkeyes were No. 101 in the NCAA in rushing offense (123.0 ypg), and 99th in passing offense (187.4 ypg).
Despite the woes on offense last season, it appears that Rudock will get the starting nod at quarterback for the season-opener against Northern Illinois on Aug. 31. The only reason he does is because Rudock has been in the program for a year, serving as a backup to James Vandenberg last season, even though he never took one snap. But eventually, I think, Sokol wins the job.
Iowa has a very favorable schedule and the first four games are all winnable before hosting Michigan State on Oct. 5. While the Hawkeyes have to travel to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes two weeks later, they also get Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan all at home.
Given what transpired last season and the question marks entering the 2013 campaign, I somehow have Iowa going 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten.
I think Ferentz can right the ship.