Projecting the Iowa football starters in 2015
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The lights were turned out on the 2014 Iowa football season Friday at EverBank Field, as well as the careers of 16 seniors — some of them very-hard-to-replace seniors.
Here is a look at what went right and wrong during a 7-6 season, as well as the best-guess starting lineup when Iowa opens the 2015 season Sept. 5 against Illinois State:
2015 PROJECTED LINEUPS
SE — Tevaun Smith (sr.): Led Iowa with 596 receiving yards and has been billed by assistant Bobby Kennedy as one of the best he's ever coached.
LT — Boone Myers (soph.): Has the potential to be a great Kirk Ferentz success story. Former walk-on could emerge as the heir apparent to Brandon Scherff.
LG — Sean Welsh (soph.): Started nine games at both guard positions. Played every offensive down for Iowa in his first six games.
C — Austin Blythe (sr.): Moved to guard when Tommy Gaul emerged as a starter mid-season; likely slides back to line signal-caller as a senior.
RG — Jordan Walsh (sr.): Has 23 career starts but was injured in Iowa's first series vs. Indiana. Regained starting spot he lost to Gaul in TaxSlayer Bowl.
RT — Ike Boettger (soph.): Coaches like this athletic former high school tight end who has gained more than 60 pounds since high school.
TE — Jake Duzey (sr.): The team's top pass-catching tight end returns, along with Henry Krieger-Coble, George Kittle and Jon Wisnieski.
WR — Matt VandeBerg (jr.): Appears to be the steady target Iowa needs to replace Kevonte Martin-Manley. Scored Iowa's final touchdown of the season.
QB — Jake Rudock (sr.): If C.J. Beathard doesn't transfer, it could be another spring/summer battle for the starting gig like 2013. If Beathard's gone, redshirt freshman Tyler Wiegers likely becomes Rudock's backup.
FB — Adam Cox (sr.): Missed the entire 2014 season after knee surgery. Iowa missed him in the running game. A lot.
RB — Jordan Canzeri (sr.): He won't be an every-down back, likely to share time with physical runner LeShun Daniels Jr. and breakaway threat Akrum Wadley.
PK — Marshall Koehn (sr.): A touchback machine on kickoffs, the Solon native found his groove after the Ball State game. Could be an underappreciated weapon in 2015.
LE — Nate Meier (sr.): The incumbent here will look to increase his production; has only three career sacks at a pass-rushing position.
LT — Jaleel Johnson (jr.): The 310-pounder was the first tackle off the bench to spell Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat. He saw extensive action in the bowl game.
RT — Darian Cooper (sr.): Missed the 2014 season after knee surgery, depleting Iowa's depth. Sophomore-to-be Nathan Bazata could also emerge here.
RE — Drew Ott (sr.): Could be the face of the 2015 Iowa defense. Led team in sacks, tackles for loss, moped accidents and butt-punt return touchdowns.
OLB — Bo Bower (soph.): Former walk-on from West Branch started all 13 games for Iowa, but had a TaxSlayer Bowl to forget. Ben Niemann will see more time.
MLB — Reggie Spearman (jr.): Was suspended two games after OWI arrest in late October, and didn't regain starting weak-side linebacker spot.
WLB — Josey Jewell (soph.): Decorah native's progress was slowed by a hand injury. Took over as starter in Iowa's final four games, led the team with 14 tackles vs. Tennessee.
LC — Greg Mabin (jr.): Struggled at times after winning starting battle over Maurice Fleming and Sean Draper in summer camp. Needs to make next step in 2015.
SS — Miles Taylor (soph.): Saw limited time behind John Lowdermilk as one of three Hawkeye true freshmen to see action.
FS — Jordan Lomax (sr.): Was a steady contributor, but unfortunately is remembered most in 2014 for failing to cover Melvin Gordon on a key third down against Wisconsin.
RC — Desmond King (jr.): Did something that few NFL cornerbacks could do as a freshman: Held Odell Beckham Jr. to two catches. Could be a special Hawkeye when he's done here.
P — Connor Kornbrath (sr.): A major weakness for the Hawkeyes. Transfer Dillon Kidd wasn't the answer, so Kornbrath is the de facto starter.
LOOKING BACK AT 2014
High point — A suddenly-explosive offense with 28 first-quarter points fueled a 45-29 rout of Indiana on Oct. 11 at Kinnick Stadium. That moved the Hawkeyes to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten, and the Sept. 13 loss to Iowa State wasn't looking so bad when the Cyclones beat Toledo later in the afternoon. The true 2014 Iowa high point probably occurred in the first quarter at Maryland one week later, when Iowa stormed to a 14-0 lead before unraveling.
Low point — There were worse losses (Iowa State wound up 0-9 in Big 12 play) and performances (the embarrassments vs. Minnesota and Tennessee), but the 37-34 overtime defeat in the regular-season finale to Nebraska was a kick to the program's gut. The Hawkeyes gave away the game in just about every way imaginable, via four first-half turnovers — including two inside Nebraska's 10-yard line — overthrown receivers and blown coverages. A week later, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said that 7-5 "isn't acceptable." He likely wouldn't have said the same about a second consecutive 8-4 regular season.
Could have used — Melvin Gordon. OK, that's dreaming, even though the Wisconsin all-American was once an Iowa commit. The Hawkeyes really needed an explosive threat at running back. Despite having an Outland Trophy-winning left tackle in Brandon Scherff, Iowa couldn't get rushing plays to the second level and finished 10th in the Big Ten in rushing offense and yards per carry.
Offensive MVP — Scherff. If you're the best interior lineman on offense or defense in college football, you are your team's offensive MVP. The future first-round NFL draft pick was Iowa's seventh consensus all-American in Ferentz's 16 seasons.
Defensive MVP — Louis Trinca-Pasat. The senior got less publicity than fellow defensive tackle Carl Davis, but he was a force all season in bottling up opposing offenses. He collected 111/2 tackles for loss for 53 yards in the regular season as Iowa ranked 18th nationally in total defense.
Reasons for optimism — The last time the Hawkeyes crashed and burned (2012), they responded with renewed commitment. That needs to happen again for Ferentz in his 17th season. He'll have an experienced quarterback, maybe two, some exciting options at running back and a lockdown cornerback in King. A second consecutive generous schedule provides hope that 7-6 can be exceeded.
Reasons for pessimism — The entire middle of the defense (two tackles, linebacker and strong safety) needs to be replaced, as does three-fifths of the offensive line. Not to mention there are serious issues in special teams, once a proud staple of the Ferentz program. Perhaps most concerning is that Iowa's talent looked completely overmatched by a young Tennessee team that went 6-6. Iowa is 26-25 since its last bowl win in 2010, and the natives are restless.