With the national championship pressure off their backs and non-conference games in their rear-view, the Iowa Hawkeyes are now focused on the Big Ten title and opening up conference play against Penn State—a team they have beat the last two years that catapulted them into national championship contention.
For the Hawkeyes, the young 2010 season has been one of mostly highs after beating Eastern Illinois, Ball State, and their in-state rivals Iowa State, but marked by a devastating loss to Arizona in the scorching heat of Tucson.
Although Iowa is a favorite to win the Big Ten championship this season, there are five major obstacles the Hawkeyes will need to overcome in order to hoist the trophy at season's end and secure a berth in the Rose Bowl.
Just three weeks ago, the Hawkeyes had plenty of depth in their running back lineup with sophomores Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher returning after impressive performances on the ground in 2009 and the explosive Jewel Hampton returning from an injury that placed him on the sidelines for all of last year.
After the news of Wegher not returning to the team in 2010 for personal reasons and losing Hampton to a knee injury that was suffered against Arizona, the Hawkeyes are left with one running back—leaving Robinson to handle the majority of the snaps for the ground game.
To spell Robinson, head coach Kirk Ferentz burned a redshirt and brought in the true freshman running back of Marcus Coker. If Iowa is to win the Big Ten title, it will be imperative that Robinson stays healthy and available to lead Iowa's notorious running game for the remainder of the season.
Through the first three weeks of the 2010 season, Big Ten special teams squads allowed at least one touchdown against their opponents. The same is true for Iowa, who allowed a blocked punt and a kickoff return for a touchdown in their loss to Arizona.
During the very tough and occasional struggles on offense during Big Ten play, it will be crucial that Iowa focus on special teams and not allow their opponents to score on punt and kick returns.
On offense last season, quarterback Ricky Stanzi threw 15 interceptions and completed his passes only 56 percent of the time—allowing plenty of missed opportunities on vital scoring drives.
Although appearing to have matured during the offseason and only throwing one interception during the first four games, it will be very important that Stanzi continue this trend and that Iowa's offense not turn the ball over for the Hawkeyes to have a chance to contend for the conference title.
Most importantly, the Hawkeyes have to capitalize on all scoring opportunities and maintain their focus through adversity. The Big Ten is one of the most competitive and wide-open conferences in college football, and upsets are always lurking right around the corner.
The Hawkeyes have all the weapons needed to win the Big Ten title, but maintaining their focus and keeping their mistakes to a minimum are the keys to bringing home the Big Ten championship outright for the first time since 1985.
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