Brown: Hawkeyes need more than a feeling to beat Illinois State

Rick Brown
Illinois State rushed and passed for four figures last season. Quarterback Tre Roberson leads the charge.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — It's there, but no one can put their arms around it or describe it definitively. It's a feeling.

It lives inside Iowa's new football operations center, in Chris Doyle's weight room, in the locker room. There's a vibe that was missing around this Iowa football team a year ago, when a 7-6 season was filed under disappointing.

The 2015 season starts Saturday at 11 a.m. against Illinois State at Kinnick Stadium. Vibe and all.

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"It definitely feels different from last year," Iowa center Austin Blythe said. "At practice, things are different. There's just a different attitude. It's hard to describe. Just a feeling. Hopefully we'll reflect that with our play."

There was a vibe heading into the 2013 season, too, when the players had an air of quiet confidence while trying to flush a 4-8 season. That team won eight games. Quarterback C.J. Beathard will tell you the vibe has returned.

"It feels like a different atmosphere, and environment, and not just because of the new facility," Beathard said. "It's because this team has got a different attitude, a chip on the shoulder, and we're going into a new season."

Beathard, who has carried the title of starting quarterback around for the last eight months, will show what he's got on the field against an Illinois State team that was 13-2 last season and lost in the FCS title game to North Dakota State.

Don't sleep on the Redbirds. This is a very good team, better than some of the Big Ten foes the Hawkeyes will meet in 2015. So Iowa's going to have to bring more than a positive vibe down the Kinnick Stadium tunnel.

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Beathard will need a solid effort in his second career start, and the offensive line has to give him time to do his thing. Linebacker play has to be better, or quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Marshaun Coprich will haunt them.

Punting, and the field-position battle, has to be an upgrade as well. Not to mention special teams, an Achilles' heel in 2014. It's going to take more than a feeling to get 2015 off on the right foot.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.