Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pittsburgh Predictions

A week after the sting of the Iowa State loss has started to subside, Iowa fans seem to remain in a daze about this team’s true identity heading into this Saturday’s showdown with Pittsburgh.  Some of the lingering questions include whether Marcus Coker’s performance against Missouri was an aberration, whether the defensive line will struggle the entire year as much as they did against Iowa State, and whether Iowa’s defensive coaching staff has any answers for hurry-up, spread offenses.  Here are my thoughts.

GrahamPittsburgh’s running back, Ray Graham, leads the nation in rushing averaging 161 yards per game.  Granted, Pittsburgh has opened this season against Buffalo and Maine, neither of which would be considered world beaters or be confused for having stellar defenses, so the numbers may be a bit misleading.  Nevertheless, Iowa’s run defense was paper thin against an Iowa State rushing attack that by the end of the year will likely be considered mediocre by the end of the year.  While I am of course interested to see whether the defensive line improves from last week’s performance, I am also interested to see how James Morris performs.  Morris seemed lost at times last week and was having problems shedding blocks to put himself into position to make tackles, but he is still a young player with plenty of time to improve and to put his incredible athletic ability on display.  Assuming that Pittsburgh tries to establish a running game behind Graham, the play of the linebackers will be crucial to slowing down that element of the Panther offense and forcing Pittsburgh to rely on a shaky pass attack.

Offensive Line.  For the playing experience that the members of the offensive line have, it was disappointing last week to see them struggle to win the line of scrimmage battle against Iowa State and, in some instances, struggle to reach Iowa State’s linebackers.  The tendency of Iowa offensive lines under Kirk Ferentz is that they tend to come out of the gates slowly but continue to improve as a unit as the season progress, hopefully we see parts of that progress on Saturday.  Speaking of offense, Marcus Coker remains an enigma.  While most fans, including myself, were giddy at the prospect of his return this season, he has thus far struggled to get into the rhythm of a game with any consistency.  It was obvious in the Tennessee Tech game and last week that Coker is still shaking off the rust from camp when he was not hit.  Unfortunately, Coker has fumbled four times in his last four games as a Hawkeye, a statistic that likely makes the Iowa coaching staff quite nervous.  Regardless of how Coker does on Saturday, I am curious to see how Jason White and Damon Bullock perform, as one or both of them will need to be able to shoulder at least 5-10 carries a game in order to spell Coker over the course of a long Big Ten season.

Pass Attack.  It will be interesting to watch how James Vandenberg plays in a home game that does not involve miserable, wet conditions and, whether his offensive coordinator gives him the opportunity to throw the ball down field.  Establishing Vandenberg’s confidence seems critical to me at this point in the season in order to lighten the defensive fronts that the Iowa running backs see week in and week out. What I would like to see is the Iowa offense coming out throwing short, seven to eight yard pass plays on first and second down in order to get into manageable third down situations rather than running Coker into eight man defensive fronts to set up third and long situations.

With so many questions about this team still remaining unanswered, I am excited to see what unfolds on Saturday.  I am curious to see if we see any changes on defense in terms of personnel or schemes.  I am curious to see if this offense has the octane necessary to put points on the scoreboard in droves, which a young Iowa defense desperately needs this year.  I also want to see our kickoff coverage unit make tackles and not give up field position to the Panthers.  Hopefully there are more good answers than lingering questions after Saturday’s game.  I tend to think that the former will be true.

Prediction:   Iowa 24   Pittsburgh 20

Pick to Click:   James Vandenberg

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thoughts on Iowa State Game

Well, I told you so. An uninspired Iowa team rolled into Ames and got steamrolled by a better coached, better Iowa State team in arguably the most exciting game in the Cy-Hawk series.  Here are my thoughts.

Defensive Front.  The all points bulletin is still out for Lebron Daniel and Broderick Binns.  Even though I said before the game that Daniel would be challenged against Kelechi Osemele, it was even worse than I thought.  The inability of the Iowa defensive line to put pressure on Steele Jantz or to close on him for making a sack or a tackle for loss is going to be a movie that Iowa fans will likely watch more than one time this season.  I do not know if the answer is have a linebacker spy the quarterback or continue to be more aggressive with blitzes, but something needs to change because this Iowa defensive line looks like the Iowa defensive line of 2005 when Mitch King, Matt Kroul, Bryan Mattison, and Kenny Iwebema were all first year starters.  Name me the last time when an Iowa defense surrendered 100 yards to a running back in consecutive contests.  I do not have the energy to look, but I would guess that it has been a long time.

Playcalling.  I have never been a Ken O’Keefe hater.  As fans we have no idea what play was called and whether the quarterback misread the defense to audible out of the play or make an adjustment.  With that said, I think O’Keefe had a pretty decent game plan yesterday that faltered when Iowa continued to run the ball against an eight man front rather than allowing James Vandenberg to throw short routes in an effort to loosen up the Cyclone defense for Marcus Coker.  The reverse call in overtime was quite possibly the dumbest calls I have seen in some time, but it ended up not mattering.  Oh, and another thing, despite gaining over 100 yards, Coker still looked very tentative hitting the hole.  Although he will continue to improve as the season progresses, I also think that Iowa fans need to temper their expectations of what type of back Coker is, which is to say that he is not blessed with breakaway speed and is not an imposing physical back.  He is a serviceable, solid running back who will likely have a respectable career at Iowa, but will probably not become the savior that Iowa fans expected after his performance in the Insight Bowl.  In the coming weeks I hope that O’Keefe puts more trust in Vandenberg to throw on first and second downs in an effort to make defenses defend the pass, which in theory would lighten the load for the Iowa offensive line and Coker.  At some point, the Iowa coaching staff also needs to allow Jason White, DeAndre Johnson or Damon Bullock to have some carries because Coker will not last through the Big Ten season carrying the ball 30 plus times a game. 

Great Expectations.  In one of my entries prior to the start of the season, I caught serious grief from several of you who thought my 7-5 prediction was too low and negative.  I made that prediction based on the fact that we have a young quarterback, an inexperienced defensive line, and questions at several positions—due in large part to the exodus of sixteen Hawkeyes into the NFL over the past two years.  So many unrealistic, what have you done for me lately Hawkeye fans have just come to expect that Iowa will finish anywhere from 9-3 to 11-1 each year.  The Iowa coaches have done a great job of recruiting diamond in the rough players who they take and turn into solid players, but Iowa will not ever be able to lose players to the NFL and simply reload at positions.  The Iowa staff certainly has the penchant to work their magic during a five year career of most players to turn most of them into either draft picks or guys that have a chance at making an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent.  With that in mind, however, fans need to remember that there will be years that are better than others.  Be sure to keep that in mind for the rest of the games this season.  Enjoy the fact that you are watching an Iowa game and just go in with an expectation that this team is not going to challenge for a Big Ten championship and you will feel a lot better both after the wins and losses this year.

Remember how I said that Iowa’s kickoff coverage was suspect last week?  After another solid performance on Saturday, Iowa’s kickoff coverage team now ranks 103 out of 120 FBS teams in yards allowed on kickoff.  Do not be surprised to Shaun Prater, Micah Hyde, and other starters migrate to the kickoff coverage unit in the coming weeks.  Finally, you have to tip your cap to Paul Rhoads and the rest of the ketchup and mustard players from that other school.  They flat out beat Iowa by playing with more emotion and making plays when it mattered.  Unfortunately, I think we are going to see more days like this past Saturday this season, which is why you should relax going into a game, enjoy the atmosphere of your tailgate or other Saturday pre-game rituals and hope for a well-played game but do not be upset if the Hawkeyes continue to struggle like they did against Iowa State.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Iowa State Predictions

The uncertainty that is the week leading up to the Iowa State has settled in leaving many Iowa fans still wondering what they will see on Saturday.  After the glorified scrimmage that was the game last week, it is almost as if the Hawkeyes will be playing their first game of the season.  Here are my thoughts.

Line Battles.  Evidently Iowa State’s offensive line was less than impressive last week against UNI.  Granted, two of its starting offensive linemen, including All-American candidate Kelechi Osemele, were either injured or not playing due to suspension, so it is difficult to assess that unit’s performance.  One of the key matchups on Saturday will be whether Lebron Daniel is able to generate any type of pass rush against Osemele, who has approximately an 80 lbs. weight advantage over the Hawkeye.  Iowa’s defensive line will not only need to generate a pass rush with the four down linemen, but they also need to finish a sack or tackle for loss when the opportunity presents itself.  It will be interesting to see how much of a push the Iowa offensive line is able to get against the Iowa State defensive line and, perhaps more importantly, whether Marcus Coker runs more aggressively than he did last week.

Special Teams.  As I mentioned in my comments following the Tennessee Tech game, Iowa’s kickoff coverage unit picked up where it left off last year—looking dismal and lost at times.  A long kickoff return by Iowa State is the type of play that can ignite an already hostile fanbase in a rivalry game and put the road team behind the proverbial eight ball.  It will also be interesting to see how Eric Guthrie and Mike Meyer respond in a hostile road environment.

Drops and Missed Blocks.  Beyond the obvious errors that one may observe during a game (e.g. a dropped ball or missed tackle), there are many more subtle errors that keep coaches up at night and lead to big plays going the other way.  With that in mind, there are many key positions at which Iowa is very inexperienced, including fullback and free safety.  While I think Iowa fans can certainly trust Micah Hyde’s instincts and athleticism, he still has a lot to learn as evidenced by him getting sucked in on a play-action and getting beat deep.  Perhaps I should take this opportunity to amend my earlier statement that Iowa would miss Brett Morse the most the season by adding Brett Greenwood to that list.

Vandenberg.  Iowa State will most certainly try to eliminate Marvin McNutt as a target by placing talented senior Leonard Johnson across him from the line of scrimmage.  While we have certainly seen that James Vandenberg can play in a hostile environment, how well he respond with a surrounding cast that is arguably not as talented as the persons that were in the skill positions for Iowa in 2009.  The obvious answer is that Keenan Davis will need to make himself an open target for Vandenberg, but the third and fourth options, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Brad Herman, CJ Fiedorowicz, and others need to improve on their performances from last week that led to several dropped passes.

Assuming that Iowa starts with the ball, it will be critical for the Hawkeyes to move the ball down the field and score.  As is the case for any favored road team, a close game allows the underdog to continue to think that they are in the game and keeps the fan base engaged.  If we see Iowa come out with a stretch play to the left and then to the right, I think we are all in for a long day.  Although it is against my religion to pick Iowa State, I have a bad feeling that several factors set this game up perfectly for an Iowa State win:  the game is in Ames, Iowa is inexperience at several key positions, and the usual weird things that happen during Iowa-Iowa State games.  With that said, I have convinced myself that Iowa State will likely win this game, but I sure as hell am not about to put that in writing.

Prediction:  Iowa 21 Iowa State 20

Pick to Click:  James Morris 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thoughts on Tennessee Tech Game

Well that game was quite the glorified scrimmage.  Yes, Tennessee Tech played a spread offense that may be helpful in preparation for Iowa State, but other than that pseudo benefit, Iowa would have been better off playing a scrimmage between the ones on both sides of the ball.  Here are my thoughts.

Running Back.  Seriously, for the love of all that is holy, AIRBHG, please go away.  For those of you who are uninitiated to the satirical, comedic Hawkeye website of Black Heart Gold Pants, which I recommend for good analysis and good laughs, AIRBHG stands for Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God, a the devil incarnate who seeks to destroy the Iowa ground game one running back at a time.  Unfortunately, Mika’il McCall was the victim this year after impressively running for sixty one yards on nine carries.  After Marcus Coker’s less than impressive performance, Iowa fans have to be scratching their heads wondering what the depth at the running back position will look like for the remainder of the season.  While Coker will perform much better than he did last Saturday, the stable of running backs consists of walk-on junior Jason White, untried redshirt freshman Deandre Johnson and true freshman Damon Bullock, who was slated to move to wide receiver.  The Iowa coaching staff has always been able to come up with an answer after prior AIRBHG attacks, including in 2004 when AIRBHG struck down Albert Young, Marcus Schnoor, Champ Davis, Jermelle Lewis, and Marques Simmons, but one has to wonder if Iowa will have to completely change its offensive strategy, like it did in 2004.

Defense.  Certain units of the Iowa defense looked very good on Saturday, including the linebackers and defensive backs.  Micah Hyde looked good at times, but it was clear on Tennessee Tech’s long pass play in the second quarter that he was out of position.  Jordan Bernstine’s performance certainly gave the Iowa coaches a reason to elevate him to starting strong safety this week against Iowa State.  The defensive line was salty, but their inability to complete a sack after getting into the backfield was certainly disconcerting.  Again, it was difficult to walk away with much from this game, so I think it is clear that Iowa fans will have a better idea about the defensive line after this Saturday’s game.

Kickoff Coverage.  After a less than stellar season of kickoff coverage last year, things did not improve against Tennessee Tech allowing an average of 22 yards per return.  Additionally, Mike Meyers was unable to put the ball deep enough in the end zone for a touchback, which may have been due in part to a wet, heavy ball, but the young kickoff coverage team could use all the help they can get. 

Similar to my entry prior to the Tennessee Tech game stating that there was not much to be said heading into the season, I do not think we know very much about this team after one game.  Iowa fans should be cautious about placing on bets on the intrastate rivalry matchup this Saturday against Iowa State.  As you all know, better Iowa teams than this one have gone into Jack Trice Stadium and lost to bad Iowa State teams.  The old adage about turnovers and penalties certainly will apply on Saturday and it will more likely be a one score game than the blowouts that Iowa fans have experienced the past two years. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tennessee Tech Predictions

After nearly eight months after playing in the Insight Bowl, the Iowa Hawkeyes will take the field to begin its 122nd season as a collegiate football program. While there is not much to be said about a game that fans have been waiting for the entire offseason, I will try to give my thoughts about things that I am curious to see on Saturday.  Here are my thoughts.

Who?  A program or printed roster will be everyone’s friend on Saturday.  With the news earlier this week that Kirk Ferentz plans to play a number of freshmen and the impending season-long defensive line rotation, many Iowa fans will be scrambling to determine who is in the game.  While Ferentz has been coy about which freshmen will play, if I had to venture a guess, I would posture that Mik’ail McCall, Jordan Canzeri, Ray Hamilton, Torrey Campbell, and Darian Cooper will all see playing time on Saturday.  Perhaps others will see team through special teams, but the number thrown out has been anywhere from four to eight.

Defensive Line Rotation.  The million dollar question for this season is the quality and dependability of the defensive line.  It does not take ownership of an internet domain devoted to Hawkeye sports or a column featured an Iowa newspaper to figure out that this unit’s ability will dictate how well the defense does this season.  While I made my thoughts clear that I am skeptical about this unit, I am curious to see how they perform against an offense that is predicated on quick tempo—a fortuitous offense to face in anticipation of next Saturday’s matchup against that other team in Iowa.  Call me crazy, but I think Broderick Binns has a better season this year.  Scott Dochterman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette had an interesting piece about Binns and how his DUI arrest from last summer really seemed to affect mentality, which arguably derailed him for the remainder of the season.  While I think everyone knows what the line has with Mike Daniels and Binns, we are all curious to see how Lebron Daniel, Thomas Nardo, Joe Forgy, Mike Hardy, Dominic Alvis and Steve Bigach play.  Kudos to those of you who even recognize those last five names.  Bonus points to those of you who can match a name with a jersey number.

Offensive Line Dominance.  A healthy dose of stretch plays will be on display Saturday, as Ken O’Keefe will likely try to wear down the Tennessee Tech defense before getting its defensive backfield to bite on play action.  While Marcus Coker and Mik’ail McCall will have plenty of big holes to run through, keep your eye on Jason White.  The walk-on junior from Davenport is still listed as the number two running back on this week’s depth chart.  Pat Harty of the Iowa Press Citizen wrote a great column about White and his dreams about being an Iowa Hawkeye.  After reading that column, I really hope that he is able to earn a scholarship and have some meaningful, productive carries this season.  Two years ago I said that Iowa would miss Rob Bruggeman the most.  Last year I said that the defense would miss A.J. Edds the most.  This year I think the team will sorely miss three year starter Brett Morse at fullback.  Morse quietly paved the way for Shonn Greene, Adam Robinson, and company for the past three season.  Matt Meyers was listed as the first team fullback in this week’s depth chart.  As long as the young man keeps James Vandenberg upright and does not miss any linebackers hunting the Iowa running backs, he will have done his job and anything beyond that is gravy.

Every fan of every football team has the same laundry list of curiosities heading into a season opener, and I am sure you have your own.  Rather than list those, I think it is more appropriate to wait and see how things shake out on Saturday.  Enjoy the start of the season, there are twelve weeks of Hawkeye football ahead of us and for that we can all be thankful. 

PredictionIowa 38  Tennessee Tech 10

Pick to Click:  Mike Daniels

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Random Thoughts

With two weeks left until the opener, I figured it was about time to spend some time behind the computer and hammer out a few words and thoughts on the upcoming season, the various happenings around the Big Ten and college football in general.

Uncertainty.  With Iowa breaking camp today, my optimism does not match the optimism that many fans have prior to the beginning of the season.  It does not take an Iowa football fanatic to state the obvious that there are many holes on this team.  The biggest question, of course, is how well the new defensive line will be able to play.  Call me skeptical, but this unit is going to frustrate fans all season long.  Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns anchor the group as the only two returning starters, but neither one of them gives me the confidence to think that the defensive line can stop the run or create pressure the way Iowa fans have become accustomed to under a Norm Parker coached defense.  But Daniels was an animal last year you say.  Yes, he was impressive at times last season albeit against some of the weaker teams.  In eight Big Ten conference games last season, Daniels totaled 22 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack.  Not exactly jaw dropping numbers from someone who fans are expecting to fill in for Karl Klug, who by the way is getting looks at earning a starting position at defensive tackle for the Tennessee Titans.  We all know how disappointing of a season that Binns had last year, due in large part to the emergence of Daniels, but nevertheless, it was a big drop off from his sophomore campaign.  Dominic Alvis, the other defensive tackle listed in the initial two deeps to start fall camp is listed at 6’4 250 lbs.—not exactly a bruising body on the interior.  Carl Davis, the redshirt freshman that many fans were rightfully excited about given his 6’1 310 lbs. frame has supposedly not turned heads in practice and evidently lacks the mean streak that is required of that position.  On the end opposite Binns, Lebron Daniel is a complete unknown as a fifth year senior who has not seen sparse playing time in his first four years on campus. Perhaps true freshman Darian Cooper provides some spark to this unit, but that is a complete unknown. We all knew that the defensive line was going to be a question mark this season and that seven to eight would be shuffled in and out of the lineup, but I think given the inexperience and small size of this unit, Iowa fans are going to become very frustrated at the group’s ability to stop the run and create pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Record.  When it comes to fans and media members making predictions on this year’s team, I find it entertaining that when asked to give the win total on the season, the typical response is something to the effect of, “Well I could see them winning 9 games this season, but I could also see them winning 7 games.”  Way to go out on a limb on a deviation of two, folks.  Look, the schedule this year is very, very favorable for a young team that will likely have some growing pains, but it is just difficult for me to get my mind around this team winning 9 games.  Where things stand now, I see a 7-5 season with losses coming against Pittsburgh, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska.  There are two weeks until the opener, so maybe some additional reports out of camp will change my mind, but the aforementioned issues with the defensive line and an unknown at the second string running back position bother me to the extent that I think that Iowa fans will be seeing déjà vu in the fourth quarter of several games this season, which is to say that the Hawkeyes will keep it close, but will not be able to close out games.

The Circus. As you can tell by this point, the tone of this entry is not exactly uplifting.  Maybe it was sparked in part due to the unveiling of the new Cy-Hawk trophy yesterday at the Iowa State Fair.  I am sure you all have now seen the trophy that belongs on a mantle in someone’s house who has zero taste when it comes to decorating.  Look at some of the best rivalry games in college football:  Michigan/Ohio State, Army/Navy, and Texas/Oklahoma, none of which have a lame trophy that goes to the winner.  Yes, the old Cy-Hawk was a joke of a trophy but it at least had an association with the game of football.  Of course, this does not come as a surprise to me given the fact that this was likely approved by the same marketing department that brought you “Let’s Get Mad Again,” “The Heroes Game,” and a gimmick for every Iowa home game.  Gary Barta has now shown that he has no chutzpah to maintain the University of Iowa brand as a longstanding brand that was around long before he was born and will be around long after he is gone.  The University of Iowa and Hawkeyes brand has been severely cheapened by all of the hokey marketing efforts that his athletic department has either approved or acquiesced to over the past few years.  Does every Iowa home game have to be associated with some type of color scheme?  Is it too much to maybe just designate one home game each year as a “Be Bold, Wear Gold,” “Blackout,” or alternating stripes game?  With his willingness to desecrate Carver Hawkeye Arena with Mediacom logos on the floor, do you have any doubt that if a sponsor was willing to put up the money that he would do the same at Kinnick?  Curse the day if that were to ever happen.  The stadium atmosphere at Kinnick is starting to resemble an NBA game with constant music and cheers generated by a sound system rather than a college football game. Hell, you cannot hear the band playing On Iowa when the swarm comes out on the field thanks to the lame video of a truck rolling over a graphic of the opponent’s mascot or logo.  Say what you want about Notre Dame, but it was refreshing to see no advertisements around the stadium and no sound system-induced music every five minutes.  The purpose of gathering at that beautiful stadium nestled in between Melrose Avenue and Hawkins Drive is to watch a football game, not be amused by the Panchero’s burrito lift or whatever other outrageous gimmick that Barta’s marketing department comes up with next.  Couple those developments over the past few years with the changes to tailgating, and I am not sure if we will recognize the gameday atmosphere in Iowa City in ten years

These are my random thoughts about Iowa football at the moment.  My predictions are subject to change, but for now I remain very bearish about this football season.  Despite my current prediction, I am ready for the season to begin so that the talk around the water cooler returns to talk about the game on the field and not the recent scandals and off the field miseries that the game of college football has endured for the past four months.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Missouri Predictions

Although it has only been a few weeks since my last entry, it seems like ages ago before Iowa fans expected the Hawkeyes to walk out of TCF Bank Stadium with a victory and a likely berth in the Outback Bowl. Instead, Iowa laid an absolute egg and has a date with a 10-2 Missouri Tigers squad in the Insight Bowl. Here are some of my thoughts on the recent developments relating to Iowa football and my predictions on the game.

Minnesota Game. There are few, if any, positive thoughts to take away from Iowa’s 27-24 loss to Minnesota. A team that had aspirations of playing in another BCS game has no business losing to a 2-9 Minnesota team last in the Big Ten in rush defense and rush offense with an interim head coach at the helm. Yet, the Hawkeyes came out and played uninspired football that was icing on the cake of the most disappointing Iowa football season since 1997. Adrian Clayborn’s comments after the game, while honest and true, drove the knife through the hearts of Iowa fans saying that he felt as though the team had lost its will to win—very discouraging comments coming from a leader of a team with so much promise at the beginning of the season. The worst loss of the Kirk Ferentz era in terms of unexpectedness since the Western Michigan senior day debacle in 2007 was the perfect conclusion of went wrong this season.

DJK. As added egg in the face of the Iowa football program and Iowa fans, Iowa’s all-time leading receiver was charged with several serious misdemeanors involving the possession of drugs. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos’ engaging personality and flair for the dramatic on the football field endeared him to Iowa fans during his four years in Iowa City, all of which came to a sudden halt upon hearing the news of the charges. At the beginning of the season it seemed as though Johnson-Koulianos had matured and was focused on playing up to his potential. Despite his likely NFL draft status as a third round or fourth round pick, Johnson-Koulianos has now not only tarnished his reputation in the hearts and minds of Iowa football fans but has also likely lost several hundred thousand dollars and will have to rely on being signed as an undrafted free agent. Given the types of narcotics that were found at his house, it is clear that Johnson-Koulianos has problems beyond just the obvious of using marijuana and cocaine. For his sake, I hope that he is able to receive the treatment and counseling necessary to help him. While I think many Iowa fans will be able to forgive his transgressions, they will have a difficult time looking at the cover of last year’s Sports Illustrated and his name in the record books without shaking their head of what could have been and without having a bitter taste in their mouth that his name at Iowa will forever be associated with his actions off the field and not his play on the field.

Rumor Mill. The rumor mill was running rampant leading up to the news on Tuesday, December 7 that Johnson-Koulianos had been arrested. While many of those rumors turned out to be true as they related to Johnson-Koulianos, the subsequent rumors that were given life in the Iowa message board community ranged from rumors that 25 players were getting kicked off the team to Kirk Ferentz retiring from coaching. Prior to a press conference at which Gary Barta and Kirk Ferentz were to speak, Iowa fans, having suffered a disappointing 7-5 season, the arrest of its all-time leading scorer, began to fear the worst of the rumors and listened with eagerness on their radios throughout the state when Barta and Ferentz merely stated that Iowa has a drug-testing program and wanted to make some changes to the already diligent testing program in an effort to prevent cheating. It was nothing more and nothing less, but Iowa fans, and certain Iowa media members, expected the apocalypse to descend upon the Hayden Fry Football Complex all because of rumors on message boards that were perpetuated further through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. After being an avid Iowa message board reader for the past ten years or so, I am proud to say that I have now been message board free for the past three weeks. Not only was I sick of the rumors flying around, but I was sick of reading comments of people who did not attend the University of Iowa, have only been Iowa fans since 2002, and who could not form intelligible sentences and thoughts. Instead, I have decided to only read stories written by journalists who have to answer to editors, a reading public, and the threat of liability for libel or slander. I implore all of you to do the same. Andrew Logue, Marc Morehouse, Mike Hlas, Jon Miller, Rob Howe, Tom Kakert, and the many other Iowa beat writers are all excellent journalists who write well and do not post stories on their blogs or in the newspaper without credible sources and without first researching the story. If you must have the latest news on Hawkeye athletics, follow any of those gentlemen on Twitter. Not only do you cut through the garbage of the message boards, but you also are able to read stories that have credibility.

Insight Bowl. When it became apparent that Iowa was likely headed to the Insight Bowl, Iowa fans collectively began to hold a glimmer of excitement with the possibility of facing future rival Nebraska. Instead, the Big 12 Conference stepped in and prevented an early start to what will be a great rivalry and the associated publicity for the two Big Ten schools. Iowa faces a very talented Missouri team that finished 10-2 on the season with an outstanding, gun-slinger quarterback, Blaine Gabbert. There is an unscientific line of thinking that the team that wants to be at the bowl game less has a greater likelihood of losing. Iowa had its sights set on great things this season as an encore to last year’s Orange Bowl win. Missouri on the other hand was passed over for the Insight Bowl last year in favor of a 6-6 Iowa State team that beat a porous Minnesota team. Reading all of the stories coming out of Tempe this week it sounds as though Missouri is loose and relaxed while the Hawkeyes have been focused and a little tense.

This matchup has scared me ever since it was announced due to the Tiger passing attack. While Gabbert will not be confused with Dan Persa or Kirk Cousins anytime soon, he has an excellent arm and gets rid of the ball in a hurry. Missouri’s offense is most similar to Northwestern, which is an unsettling thought to Iowa fans. My concern in this game is that Missouri will exploit the Iowa defensive scheme the same way that Northwestern has done for the past five years—slant routs over the middle and quick passes to the outside, both forcing Iowa’s linebackers to make plays in space. Although the return of Jeff Tarpinian will help considerably, Iowa’s defensive line will not have any time to pressure Gabbert given how quickly he gets rid of the ball. On defense, Missouri boasts a very stout defense ranking tenth in the nation in pass defense efficiency and sixth in the nation in scoring defense. Without Adam Robinson, Iowa will have to rely on senior Ricky Stanzi’s arm and decisionmaking to pick apart the Missouri secondary, something that may be easier said than done, as I expect Missouri to sit back and force Iowa to utilize true freshman Marcus Coker. Given the way this season has gone, I have no strong feeling one way or the other as to how this game will go. It is not too cliché to say that the 2011 season starts tomorrow.

The momentum heading into the offseason can be helped considerably with a win. Likewise, things on the recruiting scene look almost as good as the vaunted class of 2005, especially with the signing of running back Rodney Coe.  A win tomorrow would do wonders not only for the players but also the psyche of the fanbase.

Regardless of the outcome, I would like to see Stanzi, Clayborn, Christian Ballard, Karl Klug, Brett Greenwood, Julian Vandervelde, Paki O'Meara, Jeff Tarpinian, Paul Chaney, Jr., Brett Morse, Allen Reisner, Colin Sandeman, Daniel Murray and Ryan Donahue to have great games for all of the hard work and time that they have dedicated to the Iowa football program the last four and five years. More than anything else, win or lose, I want to see this team play the hard-nosed, discipline football that has defined the Iowa program under Kirk Ferentz. Pressuring Gabbert and establishing a ground game will keep the Hawks in this game late into the fourth quarter. For the seniors’ sake, I hope it is enough.

Prediction: Iowa 24 Missouri 21

Pick to Click: Adrian Clayborn