Iowa’s magical 2015 season ended on a sour note. Their undefeated dream started to turn into a nightmare with the never-ending, game-winning drive by Michigan State in the B1G Championship Game, and ended with Christian McCaffrey trampling all over them in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl. Thanks in part to a comfortable schedule and the return of some of their most important players on both sides of the ball, Iowa fans can have hope for another great run in 2016 with a possibility of a happier ending.
Along with JT Barrett, CJ Beathard is probably the best Quarterback in the B1G. He loses 4 of his top 5 targets from last year, including big-play WR Tevaun Smith (17.6 yds/catch). The Hawkeyes do retain Beathard’s favorite WR Matt Vandeberg (65 rec for 703 yds in ’15), and TE George Kittle, who was named the NCAA’s best Tight End.
Their offensive line does lose two All-B1G performers, who combined for 86 career starts, but they return five offensive linemen who started at least two games in 2015. The Hawkeyes should have a strong backfield, despite the loss of Jordan Canzeri, with the return of LeShun Daniels (646 yds 8 TDs), Akrum Wadley (6.0 yds/carry 7 TDs), and Derrick Mitchell (6.2 yds/carry).
The one weak spot for Iowa’s defense will be in the pass rush thanks to the loss of both of their starting Defensive Ends: Drew Ott, and Nate Meier. Ott’s injury in ’15 really hurt the defense as they gave up 4.4 yds/play with him in the lineup, and 5.5 yds/play without him (stats via SB Nation). Other than those two losses, most of the gang is back together again as the defense returns 7 starters and 72% of its snaps from 2015. The biggest news of the offseason for Iowa fans came when CB Desmond King announced he would be coming back to Iowa City for his senior season despite being a 1st-round caliber draft prospect.
Desmond King will also be very important to Iowa’s Special Teams unit as both a kick and punt returner (Avg 24.4 yds/KR, 14.2 yds/PR). The Hawkeyes do lose a key piece of their team in Kicker Marshall Koehn who was incredibly important to Iowa’s success in close games in 2015, including a 57 yard game-winning FG against Pittsburgh.
Iowa received a lot of criticism from the national media for a weak schedule in 2015. I suspect that criticism to be loud again in 2016 as Kirk Ferentz has called up Miami (Ohio), and FCS champions North Dakota State to join their in-state rival, Iowa State, on their non-conference schedule. The Bison are a tough opponent and won’t be huge underdogs in Kinnick, but Iowa won’t receive much credit for winning any game against an FCS opponent at home.
The Hawkeyes avoid Ohio State and Michigan State on their B1G schedules for the second straight season, and they get the Michigan Fightin’ Harbaughs to come to Iowa City on a Saturday night. They get to face 3 out of the 4 other B1G West contenders at home (Northwestern, Wisconsin, Nebraska), but they do travel to Minneapolis to play a Minnesota team that almost beat them in Kinnick last season. The only other relatively tough game on the schedule will be a trip to Penn State to play James Franklin’s Nittany Lions in November. Iowa could be allowed to lose 2 or 3 of those games listed above and still be playing Nebraska for the right to play in the B1G Championship on the day after Thanksgiving. That’s exactly how I see the Hawkeyes’ 2016 season shaking out.
Other than replacing a few key players on the Offensive and Defensive Lines, which are historically very stout at Iowa, a major concern would be Kirk Ferentz’s track record with handling high expectations. The last season the Hawkeyes won 11+ games was 2009, which was a memorable season in which Iowa ended the season with an Orange Bowl victory over Georgia Tech. In 2010 the Hawkeyes were ranked #9 in the nation heading into the year, and they returned Iowa City legend QB Ricky Stanzi along with many other stars and future NFL draft picks. That season ended in heartbreak with an 8-5 record. They lost those 5 games by a combined 15 points.
Will we see history repeat itself in 2016? Will the balls that bounced the Hawkeyes’ way in 2015 bounce the other way? The expectations are high again in Iowa City, which brings a certain level of anxiety among the fan base. I don’t see another 8-5 debacle, but I think Iowa fans should be very happy with a 9-2 or 8-3 record heading into the Nebraska game where they’ll hope Tommy Armstrong Jr. will repeat his 0 TD/4 INT performance of 2015 to send the Hawkeyes to the B1G Championship Game for the second straight year.
Heisman Trophy Finalists Include Joe Burrow, Justin fields, Jalen Hurts, Chase Young
The finalists for the Heisman Trophy have been unveiled and LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and defensive end Chase Young are headed to New York this weekend for the 85th edition of the award for the most outstanding college football player.
The winner will be announced on Saturday night during a ceremony that kicks off at 8pm est on ESPN.
“In my opinion, he should win it,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said, according to ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura. “In my opinion, he’s going to win it. The best thing about Joe is he’s a team player. All he wants to do is win this game. Individual awards are not high on his list. That’s what makes him such a great team player.”
While Burrow may have the most momentum heading into the ceremony, and is the likely number 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Young is the first Ohio State defensive player to finish in the top four in Heisman voting, and Young is the first defensive player from the Big Ten to do so since Michigan’s Charles Woodson won the award all the back in 1997.
Young led the nation with 16.5 sacks and in tackles for loss per game with 1.9.
Additionally, Ohio State is the seventh school to have multiple players invited to the Heisman ceremony in the same year, but the first to have both an offensive player and a defensive player.
Rutgers Brings Back Greg Schiano with Eight-Year, $32 Million Deal
Rutgers is bringing back Greg Schiano as their head coach following a lengthy negotiation process that has led to an eight-year, $32 million deal, according to ESPN.
“Today we open the next great chapter for Rutgers Football,” Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs said. “Coach Schiano is absolutely the best person to lead our program. He brings a quality of leadership and integrity that will make all of us proud in the years ahead. I couldn’t be more excited for our student-athletes and our fans.
“A lot of hard work lies ahead, but we will all keep chopping together with Coach to achieve success in the Big Ten. We all know what the goal is and we all must do our part. I can’t express enough appreciation to Greg and Christy Schiano, the first family of Rutgers Football. Welcome back!”
Schiano went 68-67 from 2001-2011 as Rutgers head coach.
“Rutgers University and this football program have meant the world to me and my family,” Schiano said in a statement put out by the school. “I arrived here in 2000 with the goal to build a program that would be a source of pride for the state of New Jersey and develop great young men. I look forward to embracing that challenge once again. This is a great opportunity for all of Rutgers to pull together to get us back to where we all know we belong. It will take everyone on this campus and in the State of Rutgers to get this done.”
Schiano left Rutgers in 2012 to become the head coach of the Tamp Bay Buccaneers, in a tenure that lasted just two years.
“I commend Rutgers Athletics Director Pat Hobbs and Coach Schiano for reaching an agreement following very complex negotiations to bring on this new, exciting chapter for Rutgers Athletics,” Rutgers President Robert Barchi said. “We are all thrilled to welcome Coach Schiano. He is the right coach at the right time to build our Big Ten football program into a long-running source of pride for Rutgers.”
Ole Miss Fires Matt Luke
Ole Miss is moving on from head coach Matt Luke, who was fired on Sunday following three seasons at the helm of the Rebels.
“After evaluating the overall trajectory of our football program, we did not see enough momentum on the field and determined a change is necessary in order for our student-athletes to compete at the highest level” Athletics director Keith Carter said in an official statement.
“While improvements were evident in certain aspects of the program, we are judged ultimately by our record, and, unfortunately, we did not meet the standard of success that we expect from our program. We will always be grateful to Coach Luke for his leadership, particularly from a recruiting, academic and overall culture standpoint. At the same time, winning is important, and we know that we can compete for championships at Ole Miss.
“A search is underway to find a new head coach who can build a complete program that attracts top talent, develops them as young men and sustains a winning mentality. We will be looking for the leadership, energy and commitment to excellence necessary to compete in the Southeastern Conference and galvanize our passionate fan base.”
Luke compiled a 15-21 record during his tenure at Ole Miss.
According to the Clarion Ledger’s Nick Suss, the firing of Luke was not well-received by some of the players, with some storming out of the team meeting angry over the decision.
Many are speculating that the Egg Bowl was what set the firing in motion. However, it is worth noting that attendance was becoming an issue in the midst of a losing season, and with a new athletic director in the fold, change was likely coming sooner or later.
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