Iowa football unfazed by lowered expectations

BY SETH ROBERTS | JUNE 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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At this point a year ago, it seemed everyone was salivating over the Iowa football team — and with good reason — the Hawkeyes were returning most of the talent they rode to the Orange Bowl a few months before.

This year? Not so much.

After all, the team’s big-name players are gone; the Black and Gold stumbled late in games on several occasions and needed a miraculous pick-6 to win the Insight Bowl; and Iowa’s long off-season was punctuated by a series of arrests, team dismissals, and something called rhabdo.

The hype that surrounded the 2010 Hawkeyes is long gone.

That suits offensive lineman Markus Zusevics just fine.

“I don’t care either way,” the right tackle from Arlington Heights, Ill., said. “Expectations don’t really involve us — it’s just what a bunch of outside people think, or say, or need to write about. We’re just going to control what we can control. If that means we’re going to be in the spotlight, all right. If we’re not, we’re not.”

The spotlight will get a little brighter this week, starting today when the Hawkeyes begin seven-on-seven drills. Several members of the team spoke to the media on Tuesday afternoon in the sunshine outside the Fry Football Complex, and wide receiver Marvin McNutt said he’s itching to strap on pads and get going.

“I’m ready for camp to come — I’m ready for football season,” McNutt said. “This is a great time of the year where we have to get better, and improvement is key right now. This is a great time.”

For McNutt, that improvement will center on giving everything he has to the team — even at the expense of his own stats. He said he would be happy to finish the season with 100 total receiving yards if it meant the Hawkeyes won 12 games.

For defensive lineman Broderick Binns, the improvement lies in making sure the rest of the defense is in good enough shape to finish games, which was one of the many criticisms leveled at the squad last season. The 6-2, 261-pound senior from St. Paul, Minn., said he has been using the memories of those games as a primary source of motivation during preseason workouts.

“We use it all the time, [and] if someone’s slacking, we get on him,” he said. “We tell him, ‘Last year, we lost too many close games, and it’s because guys couldn’t finish. The conditioning level starts now.’ If we start conditioning well now, it won’t be a problem during the season.”

And for senior cornerback Shaun Prater, the improvement doesn’t lie so much in polishing his own game — he is one of the few Hawkeyes to enter the season with expectations and hype, and he has collected several preseason All-America honors — but in helping his teammates make themselves better.

“Everyone’s trying to push one another, [and] we’re constantly battling against one another,” he said. “The thing I keep preaching is, don’t focus on your strengths this summer. The summer is to make sure you are [at] your best when the season gets here. I’m constantly preaching to guys and telling them, ‘Attack your weaknesses. Figure out what your weakness is, and if you don’t know what your weaknesses are, go ask a coach. They’ll tell you, flat-out.’ ”

Prater said he preferred to praise McNutt than preach to him, though. He said the 6-4 wideout looks excellent after he missed spring ball while recovering from shoulder surgery, and the receiver said he and the rest of the team will be at full strength when the season begins — no matter what the hype machine might say.

“Just wait for the games,” McNutt said. “You never know what’s going to happen. I’m sure nobody probably had us picked to go to the Orange Bowl two years ago, but stuff happens.”

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