Aug. 6, 2010
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — There is a giant jigsaw puzzle out there and Kirk Ferentz and the University of Iowa football team have until the end of November to put it together. Ferentz, entering his 12th season as head coach for the Hawkeyes, is more anxious than concerned, about starting to sort out the pieces.
“It’s a puzzle to put together,” Ferentz said at a gathering of media Friday in the Paul W. Brechler Press Box. “Clearly we have probably more experience and depth than we’ve had at least at the receiver position, for instance, and in the defensive line. But then you counter with the areas where we lost. They weren’t numerous, but you don’t replace a guy like (linebacker) Pat Angerer.”
Iowa enters the season with a No. 10 ranking in the first USA Today coaches’ poll. Most of those votes are based on the fact the Hawkeyes finished 2009 with an 11-2 record and a 24-14 victory over Georgia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl. Ferentz made it clear that 2009 was 2009 and this is a brand new slate in UI football history.
“Last year was an enjoyable season for us, but the bottom line is that one is in the books right now just like any good season or any bad season or anything behind us in the books,” Ferentz says. “Our message to our team is this is a brand new year. We have a new team — not the same team we had back in the first of January — and we’ll have a lot of new challenges.”
The Hawkeyes play seven times inside Kinnick Stadium this fall, including games against potential Big Ten Conference heavyweights Ohio State (No. 2 by USA Today), Wisconsin (No. 12), Penn State (No. 14) and Michigan State. Playing in front of 70,585 of the greatest college football fans in the country is nice, but even that isn’t a free pass to victory.
“This year the buzz is that we have some really competitive home games — an attractive home schedule,” Ferentz said. “I think from our vantage point, we expect all of our conference games to be extremely challenging. My guess is our nonconference games are going to be the same way.”
“Last year was an enjoyable season for us, but the bottom line is that one is in the books right now just like any good season or any bad season or anything behind us in the books. Our message to our team is this is a brand new year. We have a new team — not the same team we had back in the first of January — and we’ll have a lot of new challenges.”
UI head football coach
An area of opportunity for the Hawkeyes is at offensive line, where Iowa took its biggest hit to graduation. Listed as starters in the preseason are seniors Julian Vandervelde (left guard) and Josh Koeppel (center), juniors Adam Gettis (right guard) and Markus Zusevics (right tackle) and sophomores Riley Reiff (left tackle) and James Ferentz (center).
“I think we’ll be OK in September if everybody stays healthy,” Ferentz said. “We had a lot of injury problems in that group last year and I thought it showed. We won’t be as good as we need to be in September. The real thing is we have to move forward the next four weeks and we have to keep our foot on the gas the rest of the way.”
The running back situation is intriguing with the return of redshirt sophomore Jewel Hampton, who did not play a year ago because of a knee injury. As a true freshman in 2008, Hampton rushed for 463 yards and seven touchdowns, including a 114-yard, three-touchdown performance at Indiana. In his absence last season, Adam Robinson, now a redshirt sophomore, rushed for 877 yards and five touchdowns and Brandon Wegher, now a second-year sophomore, picked up 641 yards and eight touchdowns.
“There will be plenty of carries and if we have a Shonn Greene story emerge during the course of the year or next year or any year, that guy will get more carries than the others,” Ferentz said. “Right now I would handicap it as a pretty even race and just see how things go. The nice thing about it is I thought all three of those guys improved in their time of play and they all did some real good things, particularly in November and in the bowl games. I hope we have all three of those guys out there full speed. They are all different packages, but they are all good packages.”
Ferentz is assuming a comprehensive approach about playing student-athletes from the highly-touted 36-member first-year class.
“I’ll know a lot more when we talk in September,” Ferentz said. “We have got a very open mind about letting guys help our football team. If a guy can help us this year and they want to help us this year, we are going to try to utilize that.”
All of the Iowa home games this season have reached sell-out status. Ferentz and the Hawkeyes do not take the support for granted.
“I think it’s fantastic and we are extremely appreciative,” Ferentz said. “People have a lot of choices and there are a lot of things they can do — things they need to do — and football probably isn’t at the top of the list. We’re appreciative that we have tremendous fans.”
The Hawkeyes return to the Kenyon Practice Facility for a Saturday afternoon closed practice.