Four Story Lines for 2015 Football Season

September 3, 2015

Written by David Schwartz

The approaching Iowa football campaign will be filled with typical in-season headlines. Wins. Losses. Heroes. Injuries.

Those day-to-day happenings are important, but they’re minor compared to four macro-level 2015 Iowa storylines:

Will the real Phil Parker defense please stand up?

The defensive coordinator, entering his fourth season, began the same year as embattled offensive coordinator Greg Davis. Davis has drawn so much verbal ire that Parker’s performances largely have gone unevaluated.

A closer look shows some good news and some bad. The good news: under Parker’s watch, Iowa’s defense produced more sacks in Year 2 than Year 1 and more in Year 3 than Year 2. The bad: The Hawkeyes gave up more points last year than any year of Parker’s tenure.

Iowa’s defense allowed Maryland to score 38 points; Minnesota 51; Nebraska 37; and Tennessee 45.

So what will we see in 2015? Was last year a fluke when the Hawkeyes gave up nearly 35 points a game over their last five games? It’s hard to imagine them possibly being worse. My hunch is Iowa has a very, very good defense on its hands, but even a good defense will spring a few leaks when it doesn’t feel complemented by the offense.

Let’s not file Parker in the same cabinet as Davis. That’s not fair to Parker. But it might be worth our time to stop yelling at Davis for a few moments to get a feel for the direction of the defense.

How will Gary Barta be evaluated by his new boss?

The University of Iowa is conducting a search for a new president. One of his duties (the UI included no female candidates) will be to evaluate Barta, the director of athletics.

Barta’s administration has achieved numerous successes, including new facilities, exceptional fiscal responsibility and an above-average graduation rate.

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The one thing Iowa programs haven’t done under Barta of late is win Big Ten titles. The Hawkeyes have won only seven of a possible 244 Big Ten regular-season and postseason championships dating back the last seven academic years (2.9 percent). That would be OK if football – college sport’s Holy Grail – were among the higher-performing Iowa programs, but over the last half-decade Hawkeye football is 19-21 in Big Ten play.

Barta’s contract expires at the end of the 2015-16 academic year. If the new UI president is more interested in spreadsheets and ledgers than wins and losses, he might view Barta favorably. But if the new president wants trophies, evaluating Barta will be tougher.

No one can ignore the important off-field achievements of Barta and his staff. Whether they’re enough to erase Iowa’s on-the-field culture of acceptable mediocrity is the bigger question. Of course, in the end Barta’s evaluation might come down to neither finances nor championships. It might come down to the field hockey fiasco and other personnel matters. Stay tuned.

The performance of Jake Rudock

I’m sorry, Hawkeye fans. I need to apologize for something in advance. I am obsessed with the Jake Rudock story.

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Yes, the former Hawkeye quarterback will be wearing Michigan’s maize and blue this season. Yes, Iowa won’t play Michigan in 2015 unless they meet in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Nevertheless, after Drew Ott, Desmond King and CJ Beathard, there isn’t a player in college football more important to the Hawkeyes than Rudock. His performance at Michigan will speak volumes about the Iowa coaching staff.

As I’ve written before, if Rudock performs poorly or can barely get on the field, we’ll know Iowa coaches did the best they could with him. Ditto if his performance mimics his Iowa performances. But if he becomes a household name and an NFL prospect, we’ll have verification that the coaching he received in Iowa City held back his development.

Rudock’s season at Michigan allows us to replace hypothetical scenarios with a live case study.

How will Iowa fans react to this team?

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We know what will happen if the Hawkeyes win. The fans return.

If the Hawkeyes struggle, Iowa fans will react in one of three ways. One, they’ll express anger by not showing up to Kinnick Stadium and venting over social media. Two, they’ll continue to show up because, what the hell, they’ve already bought tickets. Might as well. But Kinnick will be eerily quiet. Three, they’ll cheer loudly – show their Hawkeyes that they support them no matter what.

Hawkeye fans have experienced an awakening in the second decade of the new millennium. As college football has evolved from a regional game into a national one, as cable and satellite TV delivers dozens of games to our homes each weekend, as the online realm has given us a place to commune our common Hawkeye interests, we’ve banded together to celebrate, complain and share expectations.

We’ve realized it’s OK to express frustration.

We’ve learned thinning patience is a shared, justifiable emotion.

We’ve learned we don’t have to behave like Dickensian-era orphans who are grateful just to have someone – anyone – to cheer for.

Iowa fans are beginning to realize we have a collective voice. How will that voice be used? We’ll find out, won’t we?

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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