Nebraska Joins the Big TenConference realignment was the biggest story of the off-season for all of college football. Rumors rampantly spread, teams were unsure where they would land, and the chaos has yet to subside. Thus far the changes have been:
- Nebraska: Big XII → Big Ten
- Colorado: Big XII → Pac-10
- Utah: MWC → Pac-10
- Boise State: WAC → MWC
- Nevada: WAC → MWC
- Fresno State: WAC → MWC
- BYU: MWC → Independent (hasn't happened officially yet)
Obviously Nebraska joining the Big Ten has the biggest impact on Iowa. Not only will it serve as a huge rivalry for the Hawkeyes as the states border one another and the teams have a history, the addition brings the Big Ten up to 12 teams thus introducing conference divisions and a conference title game.
There has been a lot of debate recently over how the conference division should be split. Earlier on the talk was about whether or not the division could be split geographically while retaining competitive balance. I think they can be, but there's basically no chance of that happening. The most recent debate is on whether or not Ohio State and Michigan should be in the same division. Clearly they should be, but that would only make too much sense. So, the divisions still remain up in the air. We should know any day now though.
Running Back DepthShortly after the Orange Bowl, it seemed Iowa would have a running back problem on its hand: too many running backs--not enough carries. Since then, things have changed. Take a look at who is available to play week 1 against Eastern Illinois.
- Jeff Brinson: Transferred to Central Florida.
- Josh Brown: Transferred to Murray State.
- Brandon Wegher: Left practice and has not returned. Even if he comes back it's unlikely he'd be ready to play.
- Jewel Hampton: Suspended for first game due to an alcohol-related arrest.
- Marcus Coker: Broken collarbone. Out a couple of weeks and may end up red-shirting.
- Brad Rogers: Moved to fullback, but may still play some running back if needed.
- Paki O'Meara: Broken nose that probably will not keep him out for long.
- Adam Robinson: Thankfully he's still here and healthy enough (rumored to be dealing with a hip flexor).
- De'Andre Johnson: True freshman that missed his senior year of high school with a torn ACL, but maybe Iowa's only option to relieve Robinson. The coaches probably planned on red-shirting him, but likely don't have a choice any more.
Offensive Line InexperienceSkeptics of Iowa's high expectations like to point to the fact that Iowa lost 4 starters along the offensive line: Bulaga, Eubanks, Richardson, and Calloway. All 4 were good players and Bulaga was a great player. However, as a unit they never really came together and played well. Bulaga missed 3 games dues to a thyroid issue, Richardson missed 4 due to injury, Calloway was suspended the first game, and Vandervelde (who's returning) missed a game due to injury as well. In the 13 games last year, the Hawkeyes used 6 different figurations on the starting offensive line. This translated into a lack of cohesion which showed on the field. Iowa only averaged 114 rushing yards a game (10th in the Big Ten) and gave up 29 sacks (tied for 8th in the Big Ten).
The line this year will be better. Though there are 4 starters leaving, there are still 2 returning. When Bulaga was out, Riley Reiff came in. Reiff played well enough that he moved from spot to spot filling any need along the offensive line ultimately starting 11 games last year. Vandervelde, as mentioned above, is the other returning starter. He had 9 starts last year and was a starter in 2008 as well. Joining Reiff and Vandervelde will be Adam Gettis (who had 1 start last year) and Markus Zusevics. The center spot is between James Ferentz and Josh Koeppel. These 6 guys have separated themselves from the competition since spring and have been playing together since. If they manage to stay injury free and play as a unit the whole season, the offense could see a big boost in productivity.