IOWA CITY, Iowa - I usually pause a few times while compiling this piece annually for fear of offending someone. It's safe to say when Iowa Football enjoys a successful season, the list of important contributions runs long.
With that as the backdrop, think of these 10 student-athletes I list as the foundation on which to build a special campaign. Losing one or more of them would create a hole needing to be filled. Maybe that happens. Maybe it doesn't. But odds are against it.
10. Tyrone Tracy, RS JR, WR - I think the Indianapolis native could end up higher on this list given the opportunity. He has the potential of being the program's best receiver since Marvin McNutt. His explosiveness with the ball in his hands reminds me of Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.
The key to his success will be coordinator Brian Ferentz calling his number more than he did in '20 and quarterback Spencer Petras getting the ball in his hands.
9. Cody Ince, RS JR, OL - As first-year position coach George Barnett puts the pieces of his O-Line together this month, he's aided by Ince's ability to play any spot in the front. That helps the Hawkeyes find their best five blockers.
Ince is physical and athletic. He could very well be Iowa's breakout player on offense this fall.
8. Jack Campbell, TR JR, WLB - I'm likely too low on Campbell here but I have my reasons. I worry a little that inexperience at defensive tackle could make it easier for teams to neutralize him, somewhat, early in the year. I also think opponents might try to put him in coverage more and seek mismatches.
Campbell is capable of handling whatever is thrown at him. I would expect him to adjust and thrive in time.
7. Dane Belton, TR JR, CASH/S - Belton's versatility and proven proficiency at multiple positions allows the defense to match up well with the various offensive looks it sees. He covers well and supports the run.
The Florida product is improving with each passing game. A season similar to what his predecessor, Amani Hooker, put together as a junior is a plausible outcome for Belton in '21. That would be defensive back of the year in the Big Ten.
6. Jack Koerner, RS SR, FS - I feel like this position is undervalued far too often by people outside of the program. It's the quarterback of the defense and the spot coordinator Phil Parker relies on to communicate his plan.
Koerner begins his third year as a starter having earned second-team all-Big Ten recognition last fall. He's a tough, physical and smart.
5. Zach VanValkenburg, RS SR, DE - Iowa is replacing multiple starting defensive linemen for the third year in a row. As a result, the front is as inexperienced overall as any in the last five or so years.
VanValkenburg is back for a fifth season of competition after earning second-team all-Big Ten laurels in '20. He is far and away the most seasoned member of the D-Line.
4. Sam LaPorta, TR JR, TE - The Illinois product is the only student-athlete at this position with any consequential game reps. He's an improved blocker and a reliable target, having led the Hawkeyes with 27 receptions in '20.
Iowa boasts talent behind LaPorta. Chances are good that one or more will emerge like he did in '19. But that's not a given, especially early in the season.
3. Spencer Petras, RS JR, QB - Experienced starting quarterbacks usually rank high on this list because the position is so essential to success. While he has his armchair detractors, there's little doubt Iowa begins the season with Petras giving it the best chance to win.
While that certainly could change over time, the Dead Head signal caller from Northern California certainly can build off of a pandemic-impacted first season as a starter that saw him improve. He's capable of making all the throws and should have improved chemistry with guys he's grown up around in the program.
2. Tyler Goodson, TR JR, RB - The Atlanta-area ball carrier is coming off a season that saw him earn first-team all-Big Ten honors after rushing for 762 yards and seven touchdowns in eight games. He's as talented as any running back Iowa has had in the last 25 years.
There's talent behind Goodson but it comes with question marks. No. 2 Ivory Kelly-Martin is returning from an ACL repair. Redshirt freshmen Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams enter the campaign without meaningful game reps.
Goodson is a threat from the wildcat formation, is a proven blocker and can do damage in the passing game. Losing him would be a gut punch.
1. Tyler Linderbaum, RS JR, C - The Solon (IA) High native represents a remarkable story of a guy who came to college as a defensive tackle and turned into the nation's top center. His position at the top of this list isn't hyperbolic or a result of aiming for shock value. It's an easy choice for me.
If Iowa pulls off an upset in Ames Week 2, you can bet Linderbaum will be playing a big role. It's the first road start with fans for quite a few of the Hawkeyes, including Petras and, potentially, both tackles.
One of the main factors in forming this list is the perceived drop-off if a guy needs to be replaced. It would be precipitous if Linderbaum was lost.