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Rick Brown: Don't expect Hawkeyes to take nosedive this year

[ 0 ] October 15, 2013 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa is 4-2 through the first half of the college football season. Sound familiar? The Hawkeyes were in this same a spot a year ago. And then they crashed and burned, losing the last six.

This is clearly a better Hawkeyes team than last season, on both sides of the ball. The offense, not a finished product, is on the same page more times than not.

Last season, it looked like no one was even reading the same chapter.

The quarterback, Jake Rudock, has been steady and cerebral. The redshirt sophomore has a world of potential. The defensive line has made more progress than any other position.

“We weren’t very experienced and very stout up there (in 2012),” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We have only one senior, Dom Alvis, up front. But the guys are more seasoned. Certainly Louis (Trinca-Pasat) is a better player than he was a year ago. Carl Davis is a better player. And Drew Ott is a little bit more savvy than a year ago.”

Iowa's Anthony Hitchens has turned into a defensive threat for the Hawkeyes this season (Register file photo)

Iowa's Anthony Hitchens has turned into a defensive threat for the Hawkeyes this season (Register file photo)

Senior linebacker Anthony Hitchens has also made a big jump this season. He and fellow upperclassmen James Morris and Christian Kirksey make this a position of strength.

“We’re a little saltier up front,” Ferentz said. “We weren’t very salty last year. We’re a little better there now. Our linebackers are playing better because of that.”

Before you label me a Ferentz apologist, check out Big Ten Network senior writer Tom Dienhart. In his midseason report this week, Dienhart called Iowa the Big Ten’s most surprising team and Rudock the most surprising player.

Sure, things are not perfect. Iowa’s running game ground to a halt against Michigan State, and Ohio State appears as formidable a challenge on Saturday. Iowa’s special teams play — an area that received extra attention during the bye week — needs work. So does the secondary.

But the positives outweigh the negatives, even though reality says the improvement might not show up in the record at the end of the season.

The second half of this season’s schedule is tougher than a year ago, when the last six losses came against unranked teams. Two of those losses, at home to Purdue and at Indiana, were especially hard to justify.

On paper, the Hawkeyes will be favored in just one of this season’s six remaining games, a Nov. 9 contest at Purdue.

Iowa faces No. 4 Ohio State and the Buckeyes’ nation’s-best 18-game winning streak on Saturday. Then it comes a home game against a Northwestern team that has been ranked as high as 16th. Another home game, against No. 25 Wisconsin, follows.

After the game at Purdue, Iowa returns home against a Michigan team that has been ranked as high as 11th and is one spot out of the top 25 this week. The regular-season finale is at Nebraska, which is two spots out of the top 25 and has been as high as 18th.

A victory in any of the three remaining home games and taking care of business at Purdue would make Iowa bowl-eligible. The Hawkeyes have not gone winless at home in Big Ten play since 1999, Ferentz’s first season as their coach. The only other time that has happened since that forgettable winless season of 1973 came in 1989 under Hayden Fry.

Another winless Big Ten season at Kinnick Stadium could well mean no bowl game in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1999 and 2000, the first two of the Ferentz regime.

And no one wants to make history like that. Progress or no progress.

Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and covers Hawkeyes football for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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