IOWA CITY — It’s media day and so it’s time to separate questions from conclusions.
You can’t go into your favorite college football team’s media day looking for conclusions. You can have questions, and the answers to those questions reveal themselves over the 14 wonderful weeks known as the “season.”
Friday is stepping into the batter’s box, but it’s football. It’s a four-month at bat.
Let’s start out with exactly what you’re wondering going into the Hawkeyes’ media day Friday.
Can the Hawkeyes win a championship?
Simple question. It was posed to quarterback Nate Stanley during Big Ten media days in Chicago.
“Definitely,” he said. “The work we put in, the type of guys we have on this team. I think we have enough talent on this team to compete against anyone else in the Big Ten. I think what separates us just the competitive spirit and attitude that we’re going to bring every single day.”
Yes, it’s easy to say this wearing a suit in Chicago, but Stanley immediately launched into the question and clearly knew what he wanted to say.
A confident QB can’t hurt.
OK, now more practical stuff.
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Who’s going to run the ball?
The fact of the matter is Iowa’s assistant coaches aren’t going to conduct a personnel meeting on media day. So, instead of sticking a finger in the dirt and trying to see which way the wind is blowing, let’s roll over the best possible scenario for the five backs in camp.
Mekhi Sargent — The 5-9, 212-pounder is the leader in the clubhouse and listed at No. 1. He led the Hawkeyes with 745 yards and 4.7 yards per carry on 159 attempts. Sargent was in his first year at Iowa in 2018. The fact that November was his best month (360 yards on 63 carries with five TDs) has to be encouraging. He simply “saw” the game better and found a niche in Iowa’s read-option look. He’s the Hawkeyes’ most proven performer at the position.
Toren Young — He’s beloved by the coaches. The 5-11, 223-pound junior earned a trip to Chicago and Big Ten media days because he reps the program well. He also averaged 4.7 yards on 136 carries and finished with 637 yards. At face value, those are fine numbers. Who did he do it against? That’s the question. So, best case, if Iowa finds success with the inside zone and heavy formations, it’s probably Young, who only had four carries in 2018 on third and 1 to 3 yards.
Ivory Kelly-Martin — The 5-10, 203-pounder suffered an ankle injury in the opener last season. It was just one of those years where the injuries found Kelly-Martin. But one thing you have to remember, he won the job in camp last year. He has something offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz likes. Maybe he’s quick out of the blocks? Between pass catching and good eyes in the zone scheme, Kelly-Martin can have a say here.
Tyler Goodson — It’s hard to say what the 5-10, 190-pounder can be. He’s a true freshman. Goodson was an important recruit for the Hawkeyes. Iowa finding a running back in Georgia (Goodson is from Suwanee) really almost never, ever happens. He has the speed and quickness to find a spot. Young running backs can find their way and make a difference.
Shadrick Byrd — The 5-10, 212-pounder from Alabaster, Ala., was an early enrollee and so had his cleats scuffed in spring practice. He’s a burly 212 and probably very much in this race.
“This is a position where young guys can play,” Ferentz said. “We’re going to keep an open mind and we’re going to get our best guys on the field. That’s our goal, regardless of who it is.”
Now do the Big Ten West.
Let’s do a “best case” thought for each school (in order of when the schools show up on Iowa’s schedule).
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Purdue — Quarterback Elijah Sindelar has to hit, as in “work and work well.” The defense has to be more like 2017 (10th in the Big Ten in total defense with 375.5 yards per game surrendered) than 2018 (13th, 452.6).
Northwestern — Clemson QB transfer Hunter Johnson remains a curiosity for a little while longer. Will the Wildcats have the weapons to work with the former 5-star recruit? Defense? Keep doing what you’re doing, Wildcats.
Wisconsin — The Badgers do one thing and Jonathan Taylor had nearly 2,200 yards last season doing that thing. It might be a true freshman QB. The middle of the defense is a rebuild, but the Badgers have finished fourth, first, third, first and second in the Big Ten in total defense the last five seasons.
Minnesota — If the Gophers come out of non-conference averaging more than 200 rushing yards per game, they will be a tough out for everyone in conference play. On defense, end Carter Coughlin had 9.5 sacks last year and playmaking defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. is back from injury.
Illinois — Head coach Lovie Smith might’ve corraled enough transfers to claw at some teams. That’s it.
Nebraska — Credit head coach Scott Frost for recruiting and installing Adrian Martinez as the Huskers’ QB last season. He was second in the Big Ten with nearly 300 yards total offense per game. Defense needs to come through. Former Hawkeye walk-on Erik Chinander is the defensive coordinator and the Huskers have upgraded personnel on the defensive line.
Now, let’s enjoy the conclusions as they come in during the next four months.
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