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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 26, Digital 6

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Page 95 of 110

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 26, ISSUE 6 94 N ow, the expectations are higher. Following an undefeat- ed regular season that saw Iowa come within seconds of a chance at a national championship, the Hawkeyes would like a repeat. And more. But that won't be easy. "Last season was really magi- cal," said Tom Kakert, the publisher of, the Rivals site that covers Iowa. "I mean, no one saw a 12-0 season coming. No one. Heck, before the season, as strange as it might seem, Kirk Ferentz's coaching seat was prob- ably as hot as it has ever been. To his credit, he changed a few things around in the program, (C.J.) Beathard turned out to be the right choice at quarterback, and they picked up momentum as the sea- son went along." Momentum that came crashing down following the last-second loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten champi- onship game. The Hawkeyes were then pummeled by Stanford in the Rose Bowl, trailing 35-0 at the half on the way to a 45-16 loss. But that doesn't diminish what Iowa did during the regular season, when it became the talk of the college football world before the College Football Playoff. To make another run, the defense might again be asked to lead the way. And it could. Iowa has arguably the best secondary in the Big Ten, led by corner- back Desmond King, who eschewed be- ing an NFL draft pick to return for his senior season. He was an All-American last year, after having eight intercep- tions, an Iowa single-season record. If there's one defensive spot that might be a weakness — although that's too strong a word — it's defensive end. After Drew Ott, who missed most of last season with an injury, was denied a fifth year by the NCAA, the Hawkeyes will be reliant on inexperience. "Had Ott returned, Iowa's defensive end position wouldn't be a question mark at all," Kakert said. "Parker Hesse, who started in Ott's place last year, and Matt Nelson will be the starters. They have tal- ent." The offense will center around the talents of Beathard, who not only took over the QB position full-time in 2015 but excelled. The senior showed a lot of moxie then, seemingly making big plays at every critical moment, frequent- ly while battling through some nagging injuries. He finished with 2,809 yards, 17 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He also ran for six scores. "I think you could make a good case that he could have an even better sea- son this year, stats-wise, and his record as a starter might not be as good," Kak- ert said. "It's hard to beat a 12-0 regular season and then they were less than 30 seconds away from a Big Ten title and a spot in the College Football Playoff. That's awfully hard to duplicate." Some more playmakers on offense would help. The leading rusher, Jordan Canzeri, graduates, but Iowa feels good about the combination of LeShun Dan- iels and Akrum Wadley, who combined for more than 1,100 yards and 15 touch- downs primarily as backups last year. On the outside, wide receiver Matt VandeBerg was good, with 65 catches and 703 yards, but not much other pro- duction returns. Maybe it's Jerminic Smith, a rising sophomore who had one start last season, or senior Riley McCarron, a player who has shown po- tential before but only in short stretch- es. "I'd also include tight end George Kittle as an impact player," Kakert said. "Iowa uses their tight ends quite a bit and Kittle has a chance to be one of the best in the Big Ten. He has good size and 4.5 speed so he is a mismatch in the passing game." The schedule will help the Hawkeyes. This season, Iowa misses Ohio State and Michigan State, plus gets Michigan at home. Its toughest games come in the second half of the year against Wiscon- sin, Michigan and Nebraska, all at home. "Like last year, it's very manageable for Iowa," Kakert said. — Kyle Charters Iowa Quarterback C.J. Beathard was outstanding in his first season, probably even better than the numbers indicate. And the numbers were good.

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