Iowa Football: Dissecting Phil Steele's JVB Snub on Preseason All-Big Ten Team

David Fidler Correspondent IMay 28, 2012

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 30:  Quarterback James Vandenberg #16 of the Iowa Hawkeyes during the Insight Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners at Sun Devil Stadium on December 30, 2011 in Tempe, Arizona.  The Sooners defeated the Hawkeyes 31-14.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Recently, college football guru Phil Steele sent the Hawkeye fanbase into a tailspin with the announcement of his pre-season All-Big Ten team.

Steele has become, as The Cedar Rapids Gazette's Mike Hlas pointed out, "the E.F. Hutton of college football national gurus," in that when Steele talks, "people listen."

Steele named two Hawkeyes—receiver Keenan Davis and cornerback Micah Hyde—first teamers, while eight Hawks made it to one of the four squads.

However, the biggest shock was the omission of Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg. It certainly wasn't a surprise that he wasn't chosen for the first team, as everybody has Michigan's Denard Robinson in that spot.

The surprise is that JVB was absent not only from the first team, but also from the second, third and fourth team. That means that Steele is predicting that the second-best returning passer in the conference will not rank among the top quarter of the conference's signal-callers.

The players that were chosen, along with Robinson, were Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase.

Miller certainly comes as a surprise, given that last season—his true freshman season—he completed just 54.1 percent of his passes. Moreover, the coaches had such little confidence in his throwing ability that his busiest day of the season was against Michigan, where he only attempted 25 passes.

Complicating the issue this season, he will learn a new offensive system under new head coach Urban Meyer.

I don't mean to imply he can't be a successful collegiate quarterback, as he was Rivals No. 1 dual-threat quarterback recruit in the country in 2011. Furthermore, Meyer is known for producing quality quarterbacks.

The accolades just seem premature at this point.

As for Martinez, he has yet to prove that he is a capable passer.

I admit I am on the boat as it concerns Scheelhaase; I feel Illinois will have a surprisingly strong year and to the victors go the spoils.

Nevertheless, what makes Vandenberg's omission particularly glaring is a number of the smoke signals coming from Steele that point to the Iowa offense—and by extension, JVB—as having a big season in 2012.

First of all, Steele predicts Keenan Davis to be a first-team receiver. He also has Hawkeye tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz on his third team.

The 2012 Big Ten pass-catcher situation is decidedly nebulous, given that the conference's top five pass catchers in both touchdowns and yards-per-game have all graduated, while the top seven in receptions-per-game are gone.

Still, in order for Davis and Fiedorowicz to have all-conference worthy years, as Steele predicts, somebody has to get them the ball.

Comparatively, Steele has two Michigan pass catchers among his four all-conference teams, four from OSU—again, a lot of projection for a team that had the seventh-fewest passing attempts in the nation last year—one from Nebraska and none from Illinois.

It is true that an all-conference receiver does not make an all-conference quarterback. For example, last season, Steele correctly predicted Marvin McNutt as a first-team all conference wide receiver, yet, the Iowa quarterback was not among Steele's top-four signal-callers.

However, in this case, Steele predicts two pass catchers to whom Vandenberg will deliver the ball that will have all-conference caliber seasons. It seems unlikely that JVB wouldn't have a season worthy of his pass catchers' talents, if not contributing directly to their success. It is also true that all of Steele's pre-season all-conference signal-callers are of the dual-threat variety, but in the end, all of them will have to pass in order to be effective and lead effective offenses.

The other key "smoke signal" is that Steele, who is in the process of unveiling his pre-season top 40, has Iowa at No. 38.

In effect, he must feel that Iowa will go 8-4 this season, as a 7-5 Iowa, given the Hawks' soft schedule, would not be among the top 40.

Hawkeye fans are well aware that the 2012 Hawkeye defense projects to have some serious issues, especially along the defensive line.

As The Cedar Rapids Gazette Marc Morehouse aptly noted, "Iowa football ’12 is under construction and nowhere is that more evident than the defensive line."

In effect, if Iowa is to win eight games, let alone seven, it will have to lean on its offense.

Given that Iowa's top rusher, Marcus Coker, has transferred, and three offensive linemen—two of whom were drafted and the third of whom would have been drafted had he not torn his pectoral muscle during the NFL scouting combine—have graduated, one would expect the success of the offense to hinge on the passing game.

One would assume Steele, who is nothing if not thorough, knows all of this.

In effect, consider all of the evidence: Steele presumably feels the Hawks will go 8-4, he feels they will do it on the back of the passing game and he expects at least two pass catchers to shine in that passing game.

He also obviously expects a lot out of OSU and Nebraska, as he has the Huskers ranked No. 17—above both Michigan and Michigan State—and OSU will probably land somewhere in the yet-to-be-released top 10.

Nevertheless, Iowa will achieve success on the back of its passing game. Nebraska and OSU will feature strong rushing games and defenses, with the respective passing games taking a back seat. I'm not sure where Illinois fits into Steele's picture.

In closing, I consider myself an adherent of Phil Steele. When he talks, I do indeed listen.

I just wish I could know his thought process in this case, as his typically flawless logic seems...well, flawed.


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