Football Big Three: Most Important Iowa Players

BY BEN SCHUFF | JULY 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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Amid all the story lines that swirled around the Iowa football team last season, several former and current Hawkeyes — from Ricky Stanzi to Mike Daniels — improved their play significantly over previous years.

The Daily Iowan broke down which individual players will be equally as important this year to the team's success.

3) Marvin McNutt, wide receiver

In a season in which Marvin McNutt has the chance to become Iowa's all-time leader in touchdown receptions — his 16 is only five shy of the record held by Tim Dwight and Danan Hughes — McNutt will need to do much more than break records if the Hawkeyes plan on contending in the Big Ten.

The question surrounding the St. Louis native has nothing to do with his talent. The 6-4 senior has caught eight touchdowns in back-to-back years while producing a 17.6 yards per reception average during that time.

Given his production and the departure of Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, McNutt is sure to see the kind of attention from defensive backs that Johnson-Koulianos received last year. How McNutt handles being the focus of opponents' secondaries could go a long way in determining the effectiveness of Iowa's passing game.

A lack of proven depth will add further importance to McNutt's play this year. Statistically, the second leading receiver on Iowa's roster is junior Keenan Davis, who has 15 career receptions. Because of that lack of experience, McNutt should have every opportunity to be Iowa's leading receiver in this fall.

2) Shaun Prater, cornerback

Over the past three seasons, ball-hawking safeties Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood combined for 23 interceptions — one of the best marks for any safety duo in the country.

Unfortunately for Hawkeye fans, those days are gone.

With Sash leaving early for the NFL and Greenwood graduating last spring, Prater will be looked to as the leader of Norm Parker's secondary.

The native of Omaha has shown the ability to create turnovers like his predecessors in the secondary. Last year, Prater was second on the team with four interceptions, trailing only Greenwood.

The senior has been named to a handful of preseason award watch lists, and while it is the results on the field that matter, many recognize the effect Prater can have as the Hawkeyes' top defensive back.

1) James Vandenberg, quarterback

Surprise, isn't it?

It's hard to imagine the Hawkeyes having a successful season if Vandenberg plays poorly.

After two-plus years with Stanzi as the clear starter for offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe's offense, quarterback now presents the biggest question mark for Iowa.

While supporters of Vandenberg point to his performance at Ohio State in 2009, it remains to be seen what kind of results the first-year starter can produce over the course of an entire schedule.

If Vandenberg can protect the football and limit turnovers, that should give the Hawkeye faithful more than enough to cheer about.

But should the Keokuk, Iowa, native falter, there could be plenty of moaning and groaning inside Kinnick Stadium.

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