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What Happened To Iowa?

Before the 2016 season began, the upcoming primetime matchup between the Michigan Wolverines and Iowa Hawkeyes this Saturday night was seen as a possible preview of the Big Ten Championship. Many pundits, including myself, predicted the Hawkeyes would be the team to beat in the West, especially with a slew of returning starters including All-American corner Desmond King and breakout quarterback C.J. Beathard, who led Iowa to a 12-0 record in 2015. However, after vastly overachieving last season, the Hawkeyes have been a major disappointment this year, stumbling to a 5-4 record. It’s been baffling to say the least. How did this happen? Let’s take a look.

First, it all starts with the most obvious position, the man under center. Stat-wise, Beathard’s numbers are similar to last year’s, though he passed for more yards in 2015 (2,809) and had nine 200-plus yard games in the regular season. This season, he is on pace for around 2,000 yards and has surpassed 200 yards just three times. In his defense, his favorite target Matt Vandeberg sustained a season-ending foot injury and there is a lack of explosive playmakers, not to mention a banged up offensive line. Iowa has used six different offensive line combinations in nine games. Some say, though, even with a few weapons, good quarterbacks are able to put a team on their back and elevate the play of others. So far, he hasn’t done that yet.

In addition, offensive coordinator Greg Davis has been under fire for conservative, predictable play-calling. Only once since Davis took over in 2012 have the Hawkeyes surpassed 205 yards per game in a season, and that was in 2014. Only once since 2011 have the Hawkeyes thrown for at least 20 touchdowns, and that also was in 2014. Iowa finished 7-6 in 2014. This season has clearly been his worse as the Hawkeyes rank 118th in total offense as well as 109th in passing yards per game (173.8) and average just a measly 6.3 yards per play attempt.

To make matters worse, the Hawkeyes have trouble running the ball, averaging 152.6 yards a game, good for 12th in Big Ten play. Iowa cranked out just 30 rushing yards on 26 carries in last week’s 41-14 loss at Penn State. Iowa’s offense is built to pound teams with the run and utilize play-action passing. With none of the receivers stepping up and an ineffective ground game unable to open up the field, the offense has been rendered obsolete. Also, the offense averages about 29 minutes per game (83rd) and as a result, there is tremendous pressure riding on Beathard’s shoulders and the defense.

On defense, the team is getting exploited in the air and on the ground. Purdue threw for 458 yards three weeks ago while Penn State accumulated 599 yards (359 rushing) last Saturday, the second-most allowed in Kirk Ferentz’s tenure. You know the same head coach who got a fat new contract following one season after losing the Big Ten championship and getting throttled in the Rose Bowl.

Anyway, the Wolverines lead the nation in rushing touchdowns with 36 and rank second in the Big Ten with 251.7 yards per game, so the Iowa faithful better brace themselves for the incoming hurricane. The only way for Iowa to stay within shouting distance of Michigan is to sustain drives on offense, get the ground game going and chew up the clock. Given the incredible limitations on offense going up against the nation’s top defense, that’s highly unlikely. Michigan has hit its stride after thrashing Maryland 59-3 and has no signs of letting up. Something drastic would have to change for Iowa and with three games left, I don’t see that happening.

Besides the long list of problems on offense and defense, some liken the Hawkeyes talent to a developmental program, constructed to win six or seven games and if they rise above that, it’s heavily determined by injuries, circumstances, attrition and luck. I can’t help but agree with that sentiment either.

Due to all these issues, I can understand the Hawkeyes taking a step back. But with so many starters returning, it’s baffling how much they have struggled, to say the least. Instead of front-runners, they are fourth in the West and I’m not sure they even are dark horses anymore. It’s been a rough year and a forgettable season. Until next time you win 9-12 games season, which may be a while given Ferentz’s track record, hang in there Hawkeye fans and good luck. You’ll need it.

E-mail Mike at mike [dot] tews [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051

Image: Flickr user Phil Roeder

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The BielemaMeter: Remember to Respect the #MACtion

When, I find myself tasked with a difficult situation, I simply ask myself: if Bret Bielema were in this situation, what would Bret Bielema do? Then, once I have determined that answer, I proceed to do the exact opposite of that thing.

Why? Because, you see, Bret Bielema is an idiot.

On a highly-classified list of the MAC’s Ten Most Wanted, Bret Bielema clearly ranks Public Enemy #1. And it all goes back to September 9, 2015, when Bret Bielema unfortunately found himself in front of a microphone.

First off, everybody knows criticizing cupcake schedules is a thankless job reserved for stooges like me who write for college sports blogs. For the head coach of an SEC football team? Way out of bounds. Cool your jets, Bret. Bielema’s jab at a clearly better coach and a clearly better program also contained some hidden commentary. Ohio State’s 2015 schedule featured noteworthy bouts against Western Michigan and Northern Illinois- two of the MAC’s strongest programs. Was Bielema suggesting that the Mid-American Conference isn’t worthy?

That’s right, folks. Bret Bielema made a critical error. Bret Bielema didn’t respect the #MACtion.

Bret Bielema also paid the price. Just three days after dismissing the MAC as an inferior conference, Toledo stormed their way into Fayetteville and took Bielema to the cleaners, rocketing the Razorbacks straight back to reality. The takeaway? There is one, simple rule when it comes to non-conference #MACtion:

No one is safe.

With that in mind, let’s analyze all five of the MAC’s opportunities to pull off upsets against AP Top 25 teams early this season. I’ll break down each game and then rank the likelihood of an upset based on a super-duper scientific metric known as the BielemaMeter. Essentially, the more Bielema it sounds, the more Bielema it is; the more Bielema it is, the more likely a Power Five team is about to come crashing down.

Week 1: Miami (OH) at #17 Iowa

Last time the RedHawks faced the Hawkeyes, a young Ben Roethlisberger stood under center, throwing four interceptions in a 21-3 thumping at Kinnick Stadium. The RedHawks won every other game in the 2003 season, chalking up the Iowa game as another exercise in what could’ve been.

There will be no one loss seasons for the RedHawks this time around. Miami is still undergoing a Chuck Martin rebuild, leaving them at least another year away from any legitimate contention against a top echelon squad.

Meanwhile, Iowa returns much of the talent that garnered a Rose Bowl big a season ago. The defense returns eight starters, including Jim Thorpe Award-winner Desmond King. The offense also returns eight starters, including quarterback C.J. Beathard and many vital components to 2015’s vibrant rushing attack. In Week 1, Iowa will basically be starting where they left off. Miami? Not so much. There’s still too much work to do in Oxford.

BielemaMeter: a Rose Bowl victory. You can’t get any less Bret Bielema than a Rose Bowl victory. Iowa shouldn’t have any trouble dispatching the RedHawks, so long as Billy Bahl doesn’t morph into Ben Roethlisberger through some fratty, Miami wizardry.

Week 1: Bowling Green at #6 Ohio State

I won’t lie: I think Bowling Green can keep this game interesting for about a quarter. Then, Ohio State’s firepower takes over. It’ll be intriguing to see how Ohio State copes with the departure of twelve draftees, but it won’t be because Bowling Green displays any ability to expose them.

We’ve seen Ohio State slouch down to non-conference competition in seasons past. Remember when Northern Illinois almost caught the 2015 Buckeyes napping? I suspect, with a younger team now hungry to prove themselves, the 2016 Buckeyes won’t follow suit. Bowling Green needs to string together a load of big plays to mount any chance in countering the speed, size, and skill of this Ohio State team. As confident as I am in picking Bowling Green to carry the MAC East, I don’t see nearly enough experience in this team to warrant any expectation for a competitive game.

BielemaMeter: the state of Wisconsin. Bielema flirted with Wisconsin for a few years before defecting to Arkansas. I expect Ohio State to flirt briefly with losing before sending Bowling Green back to the wrong side of Ohio.

Week 2: Central Michigan at #21 Oklahoma State

These are two teams that everybody is sleeping on. In a questionable Big 12, who’s to say the Cowboys can’t claim the conference? And who’s to say Central Michigan can’t create some mischief in a hotly-contested MAC West?

Oklahoma State opens their season tomorrow against Southeastern Louisiana, which certainly isn’t a very inspired choice. Thus, the Chippewas provide Oklahoma State their season with its first real dose of competition. The same was true last year, when the Chippewas opened their season in Stillwater with a 24-13 defeat.

With offensive weapons like Mason Rudolph, Marcell Ateman, and James Washington, expect Oklahoma State to score many points and throw many passes. Their running game suffered last season, a weakness Central Michigan’s defense might be able to capitalize on. Ultimately, Oklahoma State is going to score a massive amount of points. Either Cooper Rush and Central Michigan reciprocate, or they become just another bullseye in a round of Pistol Pete’s target practice.

BilemaMeter: an SEC championship. Bielema has never won an SEC championship, nor do I ever expect him to. But, if one day every other SEC team vanished out of thin air, there’s at least a slight chance Bielema could win it. Similarly, I don’t expect Central Michigan to beat Oklahoma State, but I’m leaving the window of opportunity cracked slightly open as a member of the Cooper Rush fan club.

Week 3: Ohio at #9 Tennessee

I’m certainly not sold on Butch Jones and the Volunteers this early in the season. After Thursday’s atrocious showing against Appalachian State, nobody is.

Tennessee’s offensive line bordered on disaster last night, which is something they’ll obviously need to correct if they hope to make a run in the SEC. But never mind the SEC, how about the Ohio Bobcats? Ohio features perhaps the stiffest front seven in all the MAC, a battle in the trenches for which Tennessee might not be adequately prepared. Plus, Tennessee’s tilt against the Bobcats serves as a wedge between two very high-profile contests: one at Bristol Speedway against Virginia Tech, one against the Florida Gators that may decide the SEC East.

Ohio certainly lacks the flash you’d expect out of a promising underdog, but the skill pieces are in place for the Bobcats to compete. The Bobcats can out-grind even the grittiest of opponents when Frank Solich has them firing on all cylinders- even those in Bielema’s beloved SEC. Granted, Ohio doesn’t look quite as strong as in years past, and they’ll likely need poise from an inexperienced Greg Windham to secure a fighting chance. But Butch Jones is prone to slow starts, and the climate seems right for another SEC shakeup. When it comes to #MACtion, anything is possible.

BielemaMeter: Jen Bielema. Yes, the wife of the Bretmaster happens to be smoking hot– just like this matchup’s BielemaMeter. Tennessee, beware- the Bobcats are on the prowl. One more disappointing season, and we may forget why we’re even supposed to care about you.

Week 4: Kent State at #1 Alabama


BielemaMeter: freshly-tossed salad. You’ll be hard-pressed to find Bret Bielema venturing among leafy greens, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody willing to bet against the Crimson Tide in a shameless, non-conference cakewalk. Remember to respect the #MACtion Bret, or you may be eating spinach and romaine for the remainder of your days.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Email Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Ranking the Power 5 Conferences for 2016

The SEC has been running college football for about a decade now. When will it end? 2020? 2030? Never? It certainly doesn’t look to be anytime soon. Though the SEC went on a two-year championship drought, it still felt like it was the best conference overall. With Alabama winning it all in 2015, it stamped another year of SEC supremacy.

Even if no conference challenges the Southeastern Conference for the top spot in 2016, it is important to look at the perceived strength of the remaining conferences since it always gets talked about once the playoff rankings roll around.

2016 could be an interesting year because of the relative strengths of the Power 5 conferences. The past two years it was somewhat easy to have four conference champs in the playoff while leaving the fifth conference champ out. Looking forward to 2016, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the first year in the era of the college football playoff that we see two teams from the same conference make the four-team field. So with that, here is my ranking of the Power 5 conferences heading into 2016.

5. Big 12

The Big 12 is used to being picked on when it comes to conference rankings. Being the only Power 5 conference with just 10 teams and without a conference championship game certainly hasn’t helped matters. This offseason hasn’t exactly seen a lot go right for it either. The conference seemingly can’t decide whether it should expand or not, and in the end will probably have to do what Oklahoma and Texas want it to do anyway.

The conference’s on-field prospects don’t exactly look great heading into this fall either. Oklahoma will be ranked highly to start the year with Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield returning under center after leading the Sooners to the playoff a year ago. Looming however is Oklahoma’s history of falling apart whenever it starts the year ranked highly. If it happens again this season, the conference may not have another team to fall back on to lead its charge.

Baylor looked to be the other contender for the conference, but with the recent off-field turmoil and dismissal of coach Art Briles it is difficult to expect much from the Bears. I wasn’t sure Baylor would make a run at a playoff spot to begin with and replacing the head coach three months before the season starts has only added to those doubts.

There are nothing but question marks among the rest of the teams. Oklahoma State had a nice season in 2015 on its way to a surprising ten wins but got blasted in its final two games against good competition. TCU has to replace Trevone Boykin at quarterback and WR Josh Doctson, who was picked in the first round. Then there’s Texas, who is in the vast group of former powerhouse programs that have to show something before we buy in again.

Being a top conference is largely based on the contenders at the top. I don’t see the Big 12 having that strength at the top or the depth to make up for it.

4. Pac-12

It certainly looks like the Pac-12’s opportunity has passed it by. A couple years ago the conference had gained enough steam where an argument could be made that it was the nation’s best. The past year and a half has seen a swift fall that culminated in the Pac-12 being left out of the college football playoff in 2015. It’s going to be tough for the conference to claw its way back up the conference rankings, at least in 2016.

There’s a decent chance the Pac-12 will be the only Power 5 conference to not have a team ranked in the pre-season Top 10. Stanford has to replace Kevin Hogan who, while not the most dynamic quarterback, has the most wins in Cardinal history. It is also hard to expect Christian McCaffrey to duplicate his historical 2015 season. They may be the favorite again, but they aren’t nearly in the same class as the Alabama/Michigan/Clemson’s of the world heading into this season.

The Cardinal’s main competition in the Pac-12 recently, the Oregon Ducks, will be trying to bounce back from their first season of under ten wins since 2007. They’ll have to do it with just five starters returning on defense and relying on another FCS transfer at quarterback.

Elsewhere in the conference you have USC which hasn’t been able to get back to national prominence, UCLA who has folded under the weight of pre-season expectations multiple times recently, and a group of average teams that were a disaster on defense a year ago (Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State).

The two teams that battle for the Apple Cup, Washington and Washington State, give the conference some hope in providing quality depth. The Huskies will be a popular sleeper pick to be the conference champion, and the Cougars Mike Leach-led offense will have a field day against Pac-12 defenses after ranking first nationally in passing a year ago.

There is a lot of uncertainty in the Pac-12 and a lot of that comes down to the unknowns behind center. The conference has just six returning starters at quarterback (all other Power 5 conferences have at least nine). The Pac-12 may not have elite level teams, but it still has some quality depth throughout the conference which is why I rank it ahead of the Big 12.

3. Big Ten

There isn’t nearly as much uncertainty in the Big Ten where Ohio State and Michigan may both be ranked in the top 10 to start the year, two teams that didn’t even play for the conference title in 2015. Michigan should challenge for a playoff spot and even with just six starters returning, anything less than double-digit wins would be a disappointment in Columbus.

Then we get to Michigan State and Iowa, the two teams that did play for the Big Ten Championship a year ago. Regardless of who they lost, the Spartans can’t be counted out after what they’ve done under Mark Dantonio. Aside from 2012, Sparty has notched at least 11 wins every year this decade. The Hawkeyes will be doubted again after being treated to much of the same throughout their surprise 2015 campaign, but I don’t think they should be. They should have one of the best defenses in the country led by future first-round cornerback Desmond King. That defense, along with a returning signal-caller and a solid running game, will keep them in each contest.

The difference when it comes to the Big Ten is that I believe the bottom of the conference is more of a disaster than the ACC, which is why I could only put it at three.

2. ACC

The ACC can thank Clemson for getting it out of the conference-rankings basement in recent years. The conference needed a team to step up to challenge Florida State on a yearly basis and the Tigers have done more than that. Clemson has reached SEC-level respect nationwide under Dabo Swinney as they are expected to be a contender every year no matter who they lose to the NFL.

This year they’ll have a tougher path in an Atlantic Coast Conference that may be as good as it has been in recent memory. The Seminoles have the look of a top 5 team with athletes all over the defense and every single starter returning on offense.

A large number of returning starters is a common theme among ACC teams in 2016. Eight of the conference’s 14 teams return at least 15 starters, and 11/14 have their starting quarterback returning (a nation high). While this doesn’t mean all of those teams will necessarily be good, it does mean a lot of those teams should be improved, increasing competition in the middle and bottom off the conference. Boston College, Syracuse, and Wake Forest were at the bottom of the conference a year ago, but with 15+ starters back including the quarterback, should be less of a pushover than they were in 2015.

There’s also hope for the ACC in the tier below Florida State and Clemson. Louisville has eight starters back on a defense that was 18th in the country last year. If they can get consistency from an offense with 10 starters returning, they’ll be a dark horse in the conference.

The Coastal division should be a three-team race between UNC, Pitt, and Miami. The Tar Heels will be the favorite, but it’s hard to expect them to run away with it again if they repeat a defensive performance that left them 97th in the country in 2015. The Panthers return eight starters on each side of the ball after going 6-2 in conference play a year ago. Then there’s Miami, which could see improvement with new head coach Mark Richt and a quarterback that could be taken very highly in the 2017 NFL Draft.

1. SEC

Was there any doubt? As much as I’d like to see another conference take over the top spot, it’s hard to make that argument for 2016. After last year, it’s time for anyone (myself included) who doubted Alabama to stop expecting less than an SEC championship for the Tide. It’s better to just be surprised if it doesn’t happen.

LSU could be the team to overtake them this year. After a couple of disappointing seasons, the Tigers have the look of a championship contender once again. Everyone will point to the needed improvement at quarterback, which is surely necessary. Really though, it’s the defense that needs to get back to playing the way it used to. The Tigers’ run defense imploded last year during the team’s losses, but should revert to form with nine starters back and new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda on board.

Tennessee was looked at as a bit of a disappointment last year, but still went 9-4. This year they bring 17 starters back from that team, including a dynamic backfield in Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd. Along with Tennessee, Ole Miss could help give the SEC four pre-season Top 10 teams. Say what you want about pre-season polls, but they are generally about the most talented teams, and the SEC has more talent than anyone.

The talent discrepancy shows up among the second-tier of the SEC, where teams like Tennessee, Arkansas, and Ole Miss had dominating bowl wins over other Power 5 teams. Other conferences may have a couple teams as good as the SEC’s top teams, but it’s the quality of that middle tier that keeps the SEC on top.

Feature image courtesy Ken Lund

My 2017 “Big Board”

Now that the 2016 NFL Draft is complete, it’s time to start talking about the 2017 draft.  It’s like Christmas, every year people start getting in the holiday spirit earlier than the year before.  Well, this year we’re getting way ahead of ourselves.

We don’t know which NFL teams will be drafting at the top.  We don’t know which college players will stand out in the fall.  Still, that shouldn’t stop us from having some fun.  Let’s look at some possible 2017 draftees before the 2016 rookie contracts are finalized.

Disclaimer: I’m totally playing favorites here.  This is not meant to be a serious, analytical piece examining which prospects will be taken in the top ten.  This is simply a list of ten guys I’m looking forward to watching go through the process of turning pro.

  1. Cooper Rush, QB, Central Michigan

This is the main reason I had to put in the disclaimer.  I haven’t seen enough of Rush to be fully comfortable saying he’ll make for a great pro one day, but I have seen enough to be interested in how he does this fall.  Last year’s stats are intriguing.  25 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, 3848 yards on 324 completions, a 66.3 completion percentage, if he improves on those numbers he’ll certainly draw someone’s interest.

  1. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

Without Freeman, the Oregon Ducks might have lost six games last year, instead of four.  Whenever Vernon Adams was struggling (which was often), his saving grace was being able to hand it to Freeman.  He rushed for at least 105 yards in all but two games and scored touchdowns in bunches with six multi-score performances.

  1. Roger Lewis, WR, Bowling Green

Again, I’m never sure how anyone else is going to look at MAC football and those who play it, but this guy’s talented.  He’s got the hands, the quickness and at six-foot, 196 he’s not as small as he sometimes looks.  As a sophomore last year, Lewis won the Paul Warfield Award, the Touchdown Club of Columbus’ honor for the nation’s top collegiate receiver.  2014’s winner was Amari Cooper.  Even though his quarterback has graduated, I can’t wait to see what Lewis will do this fall.

  1. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC

Another super sophomore last year, Smith-Schuster put up the fourth most receiving yards in FBS.  If you want to see blazing speed you’ve found it right here.  Get the ball in this guy’s hands and watch him run by people.  There’s no doubt he has some refining to do, but his potential is undeniable.

  1. Desmond King, DB, Iowa

With so much passing going on, corners are valuable nowadays and King is one of the best around.  Iowa went undefeated in the regular season because of its defense, which becomes much easier to play when you only have to worry about the opposing quarterback throwing to one side of the field.  King locked down the opponents’ best target all season.  Maybe last year was a fluke, but I doubt it.

  1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

Mr. Yards after the Catch, himself checks in at number five.  McCaffrey finished third in Heisman voting last season and will be back in New York as a finalist again this year.  On a team that’s lacked offensive playmakers for years, he’s what Cardinal fans have been waiting for.  Hand it to him, split him out, sneak him out into the flat and check it down to him, it doesn’t matter.  McCaffrey averages six yards a carry and 14 yards per completion.

  1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Mayfield burst onto the scene during Oklahoma’s magical run to the College Football Playoff and I want to see if he can continue playing at such a high level.  The top-notch numbers he put up were one thing, but the way he led his team by example was another.  The Sooners fed off his energy and he was able to answer the bell for them just about every time.  He’s fun to watch and I’m glad he’ll be coming back for another year.

  1. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

With Derrick Henry and McCaffrey and Leo Fournette all going off last fall, Cook got a bit overshadowed.  Still, he scored 19 touchdowns on the ground and was one of two players with 200 attempts to average north of seven yards a carry.  Don’t forget about this guy.

  1. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

He’s got to be the most feared defender in college right now, which is funny because his team is terrible defensively.  Opponents plan their games around Garrett and it works because there’s no one else to help.  Garrett still gets his though.  12.5 sacks last year tied him with Shaq Lawson for fifth in the FBS.  There’s a premium on pass rushers of late and Garrett looks to be the next great one.

  1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

This guy’s unreal.  He can bully you or blow by you, depending how he’s feeling at the time.  Last fall, Fournette got off to a torrid start, rushing for 1352 yards in his first seven games.  He couldn’t keep up that frantic pace, but he still finished third in the FBS in rushing yards.  This rising junior has already proven, at least physically, he’s ready for the jump to the NFL.  Watching him takeover games should be even more of a spectacle in 2016.

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College Football’s Next Stars

The 2016 NFL Draft has now come and gone. While the draft has exploded into a huge event for NFL fans, it’s also fun for college football fans to look back on the best players from the previous year or two. With each pick, highlights are shown that take you back to those explosive plays that show the skills that went into first-round picks terrorizing opponents. Now that the draft is over, it’s a good time to look toward next year. Which players will we be talking about during the 2017 NFL Draft? Here are some players who may not be household names yet, but could dominate the college gridiron this fall on their way to becoming a first-round pick in next year’s draft.

Brad Kaaya – QB, Miami (Fl)

Kaaya has been a good quarterback for the Hurricanes since starting as a true freshman in 2014. Though his touchdowns decreased in his sophomore year, he improved his accuracy to 61% and threw just five interceptions in 389 attempts. With prototypical size (6’4’’, 210 lbs) and Mark Richt there to help develop him, Kaaya could have his name called early in 2017.

Jamal Adams – S, LSU

Adams has been terrorizing the SEC since stepping on the field as a freshman. At 6’1’’, 210 pounds, he packs a punch and makes receivers think twice about going over the middle. On a Tigers team that is loaded this fall, Adams might be the best pro prospect of the bunch.

Justin Davis – RB, USC

Next year’s NFL draft may see an influx of RB talent that we haven’t seen in years, so Davis will be flying under the radar. He didn’t become the Trojans primary ball-carrier until halfway through 2015, but finished the year by averaging at least 5.2 yards per carry in his last five regular season games. After earning now-permanent head coach Clay Helton’s trust and behind an elite offensive line, Davis is primed to burst onto the national scene in 2016.

Mike Williams – WR, Clemson

The Clemson wideout could have heard his name called early this year if not for a neck injury suffered in the first game of the Tigers’ season last year. That injury cause Williams to miss the entire season but if he’s back to 100 percent, it won’t take long for everyone to remember his name. Using his great size, Williams had over 1,000 yards on 18 yards per catch in his sophomore year, and if he had been healthy in 2015, likely would have been the first WR off the board in last week’s draft.

Roderick Johnson – OT, Florida State

A lot was made about Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson’s play as a freshman in 2014, but over in Tallahassee Johnson was having a similar impact. He was so good that Cameron Irving was moved to center and later ended up a first-round pick himself. At 6’7” and 300+ pounds, Johnson has the size and athleticism NFL teams look for in a franchise tackle.

Derek Barnett – DE, Tennessee

Barnett isn’t exactly flying under the radar after notching double-digit sacks a year ago, but when it comes to collegiate pass-rushers, Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett gets all the hype. With the SEC not exactly churning out high level quarterbacks lately, Barnett will wreak havoc on the conference once again.

Eddie Vanderdoes – DT, UCLA

A five star recruit coming out of high school, Vanderdoes has had a rocky college career, transferring to UCLA and then suffering a season-ending injury in the 2015 opener. He was having an excellent game before the injury and looked to live up to his hype. If he can do that for a full season in 2016, Pac-12 offensive coordinators will pray that he leaves for the NFL.

Raekwon McMillan – LB, Ohio State

McMillan was one of the top recruits coming out of high school and hasn’t disappointed to this point. He’s produced on a defense that had plenty of veteran NFL talent in front of him. With much of that talent now in the NFL after last Thursday, it’s McMillan’s time to shine. There is little doubt he will be one of the Big Ten’s best players this fall, if not the country.

TreDavious White – CB, LSU

White could have entered this year’s draft and went on the second day but decided to stay with the Tigers to be part of a loaded defense. He doesn’t have the type of size most first round defensive backs have, but his speed and quickness can help him succeed in a football world that is more wide open than ever.

Desmond King – CB, Iowa

It’s hard to say the Jim Thrope Award winner isn’t a household name, but that’s what happens when you play for Iowa. King was the best player on a defense that helped lead Iowa to its surprise season in 2015 and will look to do so again after returning to school. King had eight interceptions this past year and would have been a first round pick already this year.

Quin Blanding – S, Virginia

Quin Blanding has size, Quin Blanding has speed. What Blanding doesn’t have is a team that’s good enough to get him national recognition, after the five-star recruit decided to pass up on offers from schools like Alabama, Ohio State, and Michigan. He was first-team all-ACC last year and if he continues to develop and takes that next step it wouldn’t matter if he played for a Group of Five school, everyone will know his name.

Feature image courtesy

Iowa Hawkeyes Early Football Preview

Before the start of the 2015 season, Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz made an uncharacteristically bold move by naming junior CJ Beathard the starting quarterback over the incumbent Jake Rudock, even after he posted decent numbers in 2014. Some of the Hawkeye faithful were baffled and thought Ferentz was losing his mind choosing an unproven, raw product over a proven commodity.

However, after 17 seasons, Ferentz was frankly getting sick and tired of settling for second place and wanted a taste of the winner’s champagne. Iowa could’ve settled with mediocrity and another appearance in a lackluster bowl game but the coach proved he knew best as Beathard produced stellar results, leading the Black-and-Yellow to a perfect regular season and a place in the Big Ten title game. Although they ultimately lost, the old adage of big risk big reward was once again proven right. With a season under Beathard’s belt and a roster still mainly intact, the Hawkeyes are poised to build upon last year’s success and make another title run.


As far as the schedule is concerned, it’s certainly not as easy as last year’s when the Hawkeyes ran the table and went 12-0. Although, there were some close calls like when they needed a game-winning field goal to beat Pittsburgh. Nonetheless, Iowa should get off to a solid start as it takes on lowly Miami (OH), followed by a home game versus in-state rival Iowa State, though the Cyclones could put up a fight even in a down year. The wildcard non-conference game is against FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. At 13-2, NDSU dominated the Missouri Valley conference but had Carson Wentz, arguably the top quarterback in this year’s NFL draft, so it’s going to be interesting to see what team the Bison are this season.

If they can clear those non-conference matchups unscathed, the Hawkeyes have three road games in the first four weeks of conference play. All of those are winnable matchups (Rutgers, Minnesota and Purdue) and their home game is versus Northwestern, the toughest out of the four. Then, the Hawkeyes will face the ferocious Wisconsin Badgers, hungry for payback after a frustrating 10-7 loss in Madison before a bye and a tough trip to Penn State. All of this is leading up to a potential Big Ten title game preview in a huge showdown at Iowa City versus the Wolverines. Closing out the year, Iowa visits Illinois and have their home finale taking on Nebraska. With most of their big games at home, there are some who believe they can go undefeated again but I see them dropping their game against Michigan and maybe against Wisconsin or Nebraska for a 10-2 record.


While other Big Ten teams are searching for quarterbacks, Iowa has stability at the position as Beathard returns for his senior season. Keep in mind he was not 100 percent during the 2015 season due to a lingering hip injury and still threw 3,046 total yards and 23 touchdowns. Yes, he had off-season hernia surgery and is still recovering but it’s not hard to see why Hawkeye fans are excited to see a potentially healthy Beathard with a sturdy set of legs. Remember, he scored six touchdowns on the ground. Named Second Team All-Conference and Iowa’s offensive MVP, he also proven he’s a strong, reliable leader who’s more than capable of taking a team to soaring heights. However, he will need a strong offensive line and a consistent receiving corps to exceed expectations.

All-Conference center Austin Blythe, who started 49 games over four years, has moved on as well as All-Conference guard Jordan Walsh. Losing those kinds of players hurts but the entire line is versatile and has starting experience. Arguably, Iowa’s best returning lineman Sean Welsh, who is a 23-game starter, including 12 games at left guard and two at right tackle last season as a sophomore, is playing center this spring and might stay there in the fall. Meanwhile, James Daniels, who started twice at left guard as a true freshman in 2015 and was injured this spring, will likely join Welsh and Boone Myers inside in the fall. The tackle position is in solid form with Ike Boettger and Cole Croston.

As for wide receiver, the Hawkeyes have lost three of their top five pass catchers, including top tight end Henry Krieger Coble and deep-threat Tevaun Smith, whose 17.6-yard average per catch ranked second in the Big Ten. One of the questions is who will replace them? The team has a good tight end in George Kittles and Matt VandeBerg, who led Iowa in receptions (65) and receiving yardage (703) last year, is the team’s top wideout. Besides those two, it remains to be seen who will step up. Jerminic Smith and Riley McCarron are both listed as starters but neither of them impressed in the spring game as McCarron had three receptions for 17 yards and Smith one for six yards.

Fortunately, even if there is a void in the passing game, Iowa’s rushing attack ranks near the top of the conference. Iowa rushed for 181.7 yards per game last season, ranking fifth in the Big Ten. At first glance, it may seem they’ll be in trouble as they lose leading back Jordan Canzeri, who accounted for 984 yards, and 12 touchdowns. Make no mistake, the Hawkeyes have a three-headed monster at running back that most Big Ten teams would be envious about. Leshun Daniels, a 225-pound workhorse, fought off injuries in 2015 to gain 646 yards while the speedy 185-pound Akrum Wadley added a season total of 496, and Derrick Mitchell rushed for 162 as a predominately third-down back.


It will definitely be interesting to see how the defensive line responds this season especially with the loss of Drew Ott, who was not granted an extra year of eligibility, and the undersized workhorse Nate Meier, who started every contest last year, registering a team-best seven sacks and 76 tackles. This season the ends will be bigger but also younger as the main contributors look like 6’8″ sophomore Matt Nelson, 6’7″ redshirt freshman Anthony Nelson as well as sophomores Parker Hesse, who filled in admirably last season when Ott went down with a knee injury in wee six and Sam Brincks. While the ends look like to be a work in progress, the interior of the defensive line will be a strength for the Hawkeyes with veteran tackles Jaleel Johnson (45 tackles and 5.5 for loss) and Nathan Bazata returning.

At linebacker, Iowa returns a good amount of talent and experience despite losing Cole Fisher, who started all 14 games and contributed 116 tackles, second on the team. Those returning include junior Josey Jewell, who was named second-team All-Big Ten for leading the Hawkeyes with 126 tackles and tallying four picks as well as juniors Bo Bower and Ben Niemann, who started 14 games last season with four sacks and sat out spring due to injury. Sophomores Aaron Mends and Jack Hockaday, both of whom had some experience as freshmen on special teams, are currently in a position battle for Fisher’s vacant OLB position in Iowa’s 4-3.

Last, the crown jewel of the stingy, Iowa defense is the lethal secondary led by one of the nation’s premier shutdown corners. Desmond King, who was awarded the Jim Thorpe Award for nation’s best defensive back last season, ranked second in the nation for his eight interceptions as well as contributing 72 tackles and 13 pass breakups. Greg Mabin, who missed the spring with injuries, will fill the other cornerback spot after tallying 54 tackles, eight pass breakups and two interceptions a year ago. Safety Miles Taylor also comes back after posting 69 tackles while sophomore Brandon Snyder will fill In the other safety spot after the departure of starter Jordan Lemux. If that wasn’t enough, freshman Michael Ojemudia made an impact by intercepting a pass for a touchdown in the annual spring game and his emergence is likely one of the reasons senior defensive back Maurice Fleming abruptly decided to transfer.

Bottom Line

Even though they lose several key players from last year’s squad, the Hawkeyes are still very deep and talented at every level, especially at running back, in the secondary and in the trenches on both sides. Plus, with one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, a solid coaching staff and a manageable schedule, it’s easy to see why they are the early favorite to win the West. I’m not sure they can win every contest this year like they did last season but even if they drop two or three games, they should be in pretty good shape. I believe they’ll will win the West again with a 10-2 record.

*Featured image courtesy of Flickr/Phil Roeder