Hawkeyes draw comparisons to ‘08 squad


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Kirk Ferentz can’t help but think back to 2008.

The Hawkeye head football coach mentioned it at the Big Ten media days in Chicago. He did it again at Iowa’s media day.

This year’s Iowa team enters the season with a roster in a transitional state, similar to what it did in that season.

The names Ricky Stanzi, Pat Angerer, and Shonn Greene were unfamiliar in Iowa City and unknown nationally. Iowa entered the season unranked.

Those three turned out to be pretty good, and so did Iowa. The Hawkeyes went 9-4, claiming an Outback Bowl win and a No. 20 ranking to end the year.

But that season wasn’t a smooth ride to success all the way through. Iowa entered with just 12 returning starters and sputtered to a 3-3 start as it began the season in a desperate search for continuity.

Iowa returns 10 starters on offense and defense this year.

“We’ve got a lot of moving parts, and we’ll have a lot of moving parts through the month of August,” Ferentz said earlier this month at Iowa’s media day. “We may have some moving parts into September as well.”

When the “parts” did stop moving in 2008, the Hawkeye machine functioned efficiently and steamrollered to a 6-1 finish.

How long will the Hawkeyes’ assembly line take this time around?

Judging from Ferentz’s most recent meeting with the media — an Aug. 13 open practice in which he insisted there were plenty of starting spots yet to be nailed down — it could be awhile.

Yes, there are the stalwarts not moving anytime soon, such as James Vandenberg, Riley Reiff, Marvin McNutt, Mike Daniels, and Shaun Prater. But for every one of those established players, there are seemingly just as many spots shrouded in at least a bit of uncertainty.

Jordan Bernstine is breathing down Collin Sleeper’s neck at strong safety. It’s the same story with Anthony Hitchens following Christian Kirksey at weak-side linebacker. And while Matt Tobin leads the battle royal at left guard, it could also need more than one game to be decided.

That kind of uncertainty has Iowa outside of the preseason polls for the first time since 2008. That’s all right with Bernstine — and pretty much any other Hawkeye you ask.

“Personally, I don’t really look at the outside perception that much,” the Des Moines native said. “It’s more, ‘We have to go out here, and we have to get better as a team, because right now, we’re not ready to play for a championship or anything like that.’ ”

Iowa’s soft nonconference schedule won’t allow the squad much mobility in the early season national rankings, either. Ferentz, like any other coach would, said his team has “12 tough challenges [opponents].” The reality is Tennessee Tech, Iowa State, Pittsburgh, and Louisiana-Monroe were a combined 24-24 last season, and five of those wins were by Tennessee Tech against non-Football Bowl Subdivision opponents.

Whether there’s little outside attention being paid to Iowa or not, players are focused on “what you have to do to get better,” McNutt said.

The Hawkeyes have shown over the years they might prefer the former, anyway.

“I think we like it where we’re not as popular,” Vandenberg said. “It’s good getting all those accolades, but we’d rather just take care of business. That’s how we prepare. That’s how we’re recruited. We know we’re not going to be a flashy outfit, and none of us signed up for that.”

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