Football Four to Watch: Most important players


A five-part series, also check out:
- 07/26/10: Four to watch: Freshmen
- 07/27/10: Trap games
- 07/28/10: Top Opposing Players
- 07/29/10: Most important games
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Iowa will need great play from numerous players this season to live up to the ever-ballooning hype. But the team's success can be most dramatically altered — for good or for bad — by these Hawkeyes.

4) Shaun Prater, cornerback

Amari Spievey's early departure following his junior season means Prater is now "the guy" at his position. Spievey's interception total dipped from four in 2008 to two last season, but there's a simple explanation for that — teams didn't throw to his side of the field.

As a result, Prater was essentially baptized by fire in a starting role in 2009. With Spievey's man typically on lockdown, opposing offenses instead targeted Prater. The Omaha native did more than hold his own, collecting two interceptions and breaking up eight passes.

That being said, even in defensive coordinator Norm Parker's "bend but don't break" scheme,

Prater will shoulder a lot of responsibility as the Hawkeyes' No. 1 corner. He may be the biggest beneficiary of Iowa's stellar safety duo of Brett Greenwood and Tyler Sash, but he'll still have to perform to help the squad clamp down on opposing receivers.

3) Tyler Nielsen/Jeff Tarpinian, linebackers

If one must circle an area of Iowa's defense as its "weak link," there's no debate — it's the linebacking corps. Jeremiha Hunter is the crew's only returning starter, and many are anxious to see how his less-experienced counterparts (Nielsen and Tarpinian) will perform.

Make no mistake — Hunter and these two, as a trio, has the potential to be very good together.

Nielsen and Tarpinian are both unproven commodities at this point. The Hawkeyes don't need Nielsen and Tarpinian to be quite as good as A.J. Edds and Pat Angerer were last season, but they can't only show up to play, either.

Iowa's defensive line foursome of Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, Broderick Binns, and Karl Klug will make these guys' lives easier. But strong play at linebacker will allow those four to wreak even more havoc in the trenches.

2) Markus Zusevics/Adam Gettis, offensive linemen

The losses of Bryan Bulaga, Rafael Eubanks, Dace Richardson, and Kyle Calloway on the offensive line certainly leave massive cleats to fill.

Gettis and Zusevics, both redshirt juniors, were both listed as first-teamers in the spring depth chart.

Assuming redshirt sophomore James Ferentz doesn't win the starting center job over Josh Koeppel, both will also be the line's least-experienced players in terms of actual in-game action.

Riley Reiff and Julian Vandervelde are close to "sure things" at left tackle and guard, respectively.

And after a healthy position battle, whoever emerges at center should be reliable as well. But for the Iowa offense to reach its full potential, both Gettis and Zusevics will need to perform well.

1) Ricky Stanzi, quarterback

At this point, we know all about "Love it or leave it" and Stanzi's 18-4 record as Iowa's starting quarterback over the last two seasons. And don't get me wrong — an 18-4 record is nothing to complain about. Stanzi is a proven winner.

But if the Hawkeyes want to truly take that "next step" and win a Big Ten championship and possibly a BCS national championship game berth, the Mentor, Ohio, native will need to elevate his play to the level we all know he's capable of. It may sound greedy, but Stanzi has to be more than simply a "winner."

He needs to be a playmaker.

All the tools are in place. Iowa enters the season with arguably its deepest set of offensive weapons ever seen in the Kirk Ferentz era. The Hawkeyes have a talented stable of running backs, which should help open up the passing game for Stanzi. We know No. 12 has a big arm, and he's shown before that he's capable of making any throw he needs to.

But in his redshirt senior season, it's time he delivers those throws at a higher volume. If Stanzi can do that, he will truly be the "Manzi."

More importantly, Iowa may go undefeated.

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