Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: Coming off an 8-5 record the previous season, the Hawkeyes took a step back in 2011, finishing 7-6 overall, while going 4-4 in the Big Ten for the second straight year.
Expectations were tempered a bit following a Week 2 triple-overtime loss to in- state rival Iowa State (44-41). Iowa rebounded with home wins over Pittsburgh (31-27) and ULM (45-17), but then fell flat in a 13-3 loss at Penn State coming off a bye week. Once again the Hawkeyes responded, winning their next two home bouts against Northwestern (41-31) and Indiana (45-24). However, they were never able to build off those victories, as they closed the regular season by dropping three of their final five contests.
Still, six wins were enough to earn Iowa an invite to the Insight Bowl to square off with 19th-ranked Oklahoma on Dec. 30. The Hawkeyes were shut out through three quarters against OU's stout defense before rallying with two touchdowns in the fourth, but it was too little, too late as they fell 31-14.
The ensuing off-season saw offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe and defensive coordinator Norm Parker both leave the program, vacating posts they had both held since 1999. There was some other shuffling among head coach Kirk Ferentz's staff, as he felt it was time for a culture change in hopes of avoiding another middle-of-the-pack finish in the Big Ten.
OFFENSE: The hiring of former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis is expected to open up Iowa's traditionally run-heavy offense a bit. Davis, who was out of football last season, has spent a lot of time in the film room with senior quarterback James Vandenberg. That hands-on approach should only help Vandenberg after he threw for 3,022 yards with 25 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions in his first year as the starter.
Although Vandenberg will no longer be able to lean on former All-Big Ten wideout Marvin McNutt, senior Keenan Davis is in line to be a focal point of the passing game. Davis caught 50 passes for 713 yards and four TDs a year ago, while sophomore slot receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley (30 rec, 323 yds) also figures to see more action.
In the backfield, the team has been looking for the next Shonn Greene since 2008. Marcus Coker, a Second-Team All-Big Ten pick after racking up 1,384 yards and 15 TDs in 2011, was suspended for the Insight Bowl and has since left the program. That leaves sophomore Damon Bullock (6-0, 195) as the favorite for early-down work, although his role is far from set in stone. Ferentz, now the longest tenured coach in the Big Ten, said freshmen running backs Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill will also get a look.
"I think our running back situation, it's very likely that maybe one of those two guys or maybe both of them will end up playing," Ferentz said at the Big Ten's media day.
Along the offensive line, tackle Riley Reiff was a first-round NFL draft pick, leaving center James Ferentz, the coach's son, to anchor the line in 2012.
DEFENSE: After coaching the secondary for the previous 13 seasons, Phil Parker was appointed to replace former defensive coordinator Norm Parker in February. Parker has his work cut out for him, as he inherits a defensive line that returns only two players with starting experience. He also lost two defensive backs to the NFL, however the Hawkeyes are still in good shape at cornerback.
Senior Micah Hyde is a three-year starter and was a second-team All-Big Ten pick last year, while junior B.J. Lowery mans the opposite corner. The coaches are also confident in junior free safety Tanner Miller, who started most of last season and notched three interceptions.
The strength of the defense is at linebacker, where juniors James Morris and Christian Kirksey both ranked in the top 10 in the conference in tackles last year.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Keenan Davis was a serviceable kick returner in 2011 (19.5), but with an increased role in the offense, the coaching staff may opt to scale back his usage on special teams. Besides, after getting burned time and again in kick coverage, the coaches would be wise to spend more time focusing on that area.
Questions also remain at punter, where John Wienke takes over after serving mostly as the backup quarterback. Junior Mike Meyer figures to resume his kicking duties, having connected on 28-of-37 field goals over the last two years.
OUTLOOK: Coming off back-to-back sub-par seasons, by Iowa standards, the players must adapt to two new coordinators and several new position coaches. Coach Ferentz felt change was in order, and there no doubt will be an adjustment period as the new coaches and players become familiar with one another. However, entering his 14th season, Ferentz's presence will help steady the ship.
The defense has some holes to fill in the secondary and on the line, but perhaps the biggest question mark is in the backfield, where Coker was a focal point a year ago. Then again, coach Davis is expected to lean on Vandenberg and the passing game a bit more.
The non-conference schedule features just one BCS opponent, and that's at home against Iowa State. The Hawkeyes will surely want to avenge last year's heartbreaking triple-overtime loss. With its first true road game not until mid-October at Michigan State, Iowa needs to jump out to a quick start. However, with so many new faces, that will be easier said than done.