With the season opener against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field just eight days away, Voice of the Hawkeyes examines eight reasons why Iowa will - or will not - win the B1G in 2012. Be sure to stay tuned, as we will be revealing one reason every day leading up to the opener.
REASON NUMBER ONE WHY IOWA WILL - OR WILL NOT - WIN THE B1G IN 2012: JAMES VANDENBERG
Will: James Vandeberg is arguably the top pro-style quarterback returning in the B1G this season. He passed for over 3,000 yards in his first full season as a starter, and should be much more confident and comfortable with 13 more starts under his belt. In terms of his arm strength, accuracy and release, he doesn't take a back seat to anyone in the B1G.
As a pure passer, there may not have been anyone better in the B1G in 2011. With another offseason to get stronger, fine-tune his mechanics and develop more chemistry with some of his receivers, Vandenberg could emerge as an even better passer in 2012.
Vandenberg's number one problem throughout the 2011 season was his pocket presence. In order to improve a quarterback's pocket presence, gaining experience in the heat of battle on Saturday afternoons is vital. Vandenberg did exactly that last year, and should be poised to take the next step in 2012.
If he does take that next step, the Hawkeyes could become that much more difficult to stop on offense, and that would take some pressure off of the defense and special teams. Football is a game of inches, and each game is often decided by 3-5 plays. With a veteran quarterback with the improved pocket presence, arm strength and accuracy that Vandenberg may display, the Hawkeyes may be able to make those plays more often in 2012 than they did in 2011.
Will not: Arguably, Iowa's top three offensive linemen in 2011 are now playing in the NFL, with Riley Reiff being selected in the first round. Simply put, if Vandenberg struggled with his pocket presence playing behind a first round pick and two other NFL-caliber offensive linemen, what will happen when he plays behind a much less-experienced offensive line in 2012?
Additionally, Marcus Coker was the epitome of a workhorse in 2011, carrying the ball 281 times. It is not news to any Hawkeye fans that there are not any proven running backs on the roster heading into the 2012 season. If the running game takes a step back because of the inexperience up front and at running back, that may put even more pressure on Vandbenberg.
Further, Vandenberg's go-to receiver in 2011, Marvin McNutt, was by many measures the top receiver in school history. With McNutt now in the NFL, will Vandenberg be forced to hold onto the ball for an extra split second at times this fall?
There are several ways Iowa may be able to replace McNutt's production. Maybe Keenan Davis has a breakout season and virtually matches McNutt's production, or maybe the combination of Davis, Kevonte Martin-Manley and C.J. Fiedorowicz is better in 2012 than Iowa's top three receivers were in 2011. While both of those scenarios are certainly possible, neither one has actually happened yet.
Lastly, up until this spring, Vandenberg had played his entire Iowa career in Ken O'Keefe's system. How long will it take Vandenberg to feel fully comfortable when the bullets are flying in the relatively new system implemented by Greg Davis? And if that proves to be a bit of a challenge for Vandenberg, does that essentially negate some of the benefits of the experience he gained in 2011?