Kirk Ferentz and Iowa have a favorable Big Ten home slate in 2010.
Every single season, it feels like coach Kirk Ferentz finds a way to field a winner at Iowa. Last year though, his Hawkeyes made a real run as a potential National Championship contender.
They were sitting at 9-0 SU and No. 8 in the country going into what should have been a relatively easy home date with Northwestern on the first Saturday of November when disaster struck. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi, the heart and soul of the team's offense, was knocked out of the game early and replaced by backup QB James Vandenberg.
Guaranteed DonBest.com Picks
Iowa lost that day, 17-10, but rebounded nicely. The Hawkeyes marched into the Horseshoe the very next week and nearly upset the Ohio State Buckeyes for what would have sent them to the Rose Bowl.
A trip to the Orange Bowl was the consolation prize for Iowa, a game that ended in a 24-14 victory to cap off a solid season.
Only 14 starters are back from last year's veteran-laden squad. Offensively, that probably isn't such a bad thing. The Hawkeyes ranked No. 89 in the land in total offense at 336.3 YPG and No. 86 in scoring at just 23.2 PPG. The rushing attack was the second worst in the Big Ten at 114.2 YPG.
The running game should be improved this year as long as someone can step into the spot vacated by OL Bryan Bulaga, a first round selection in this year's NFL Draft. Both running backs, Adam Robinson (834 yards, 5 TDs) and Brandon Wegher (641 yards, eight TDs), are back in the fold and should be counted on for some productive games.
Stanzi is back and healthy, and though his numbers were by no means stellar from a year ago, he is clearly the best option that Ferentz has at quarterback. Stanzi completed 56.3 percent of his passes for 2,417 yards and 17 TDs in '09. Throwing 15 INTs was just too many.
Defense was where this team thrived. Eight of the 11 players from last year's unit are back, though the three that were lost all turned out to be NFL Draft picks. Linebackers AJ Edds and Pat Angerer are going to be very difficult to replace from the heart of the defense.
College Football Betting Odds
All four defensive linemen return from what was one of the strongest units on the team in '09. Iowa only conceded 276.5 YPG, the fifth best mark in the country. If they can allow somewhere around the 15.4 PPG from a year ago, the Hawkeyes could be well on their way to another BCS bowl.
Watching Iowa football wasn't exactly a thing of beauty at times, but no one buying into this team is complaining about its 8-4 ATS mark. The Hawkeyes went 7-2 ATS and 10-0 SU in Stanzi's 10 outings, including a perfect 5-0 SU mark out of conference. Iowa also went 3-1 ATS in four college football betting encounters that had NCAA football odds.
This year, the slate is as easy as it has ever been for the Hawkeyes. Non-conference games at home against Eastern Illinois, Iowa State and Ball State should easily provide three victories, though the duel at Arizona is going to be a real test between two underrated programs.
In conference, the four road games are against Michigan, Indiana, Northwestern and Minnesota. The four games at home are all very, very tough encounters, as the Nittany Lions, Spartans, Badgers and Buckeyes are going to try to take out the runner-ups from last season in the Big Ten.
Challenging for the league championship is paramount for the Hawkeyes in this, Stanzi's senior season. There is a great chance for Iowa to capture 10-11 victories once again, and yet another season in a BCS bowl game is a legitimate possibility.