Phil Parker

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Iowa expected to bump Barrington Wade, not A.J. Epenesa, into starting role

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Iowa is off this week, but when the Hawkeyes return to action next week, it looks as though Barrington Wade will be sliding into a starting role on the defense. A vacancy on the first team opened up with an injury to Nick Niemann, but the Hawkeyes may find ways to keep some other players in the defensive mix as well.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker addressed the position concern with the media on Wednesday, noting that Wade will likely be the player getting the starting nod. But Parker also made sure to include A.J. Epenesa in the defensive strategy moving forward. The vibe is Iowa knows Epenesa is a key player, but is going to continue to allow him to develop a little more in a relatively reduced role.

“If we played him more, would he be as productive? That’s the thing you’ve got to really watch out,” Parker said, according to the Associated Press. “I really think the way we’re handling the situation, and it worked out the first four weeks, is that 25, 26, reps a game has really been his potential to really make some big plays. Now, obviously, you want to keep on doing that and pushing them forward, and I think he will the more you go on in practice.”

Epenesa has recorded 13 tackles in the first four games Iowa has played this season. Wade has been listed as the backup to Niemann, while Epenesa has been listed as a backup at right end. So it seems keeping players at their listed position is the chosen path for Iowa’s defense for now.

Iowa returns to Big Ten play on October 6 against Minnesota.

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 25 Iowa

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2013 record: 8-5 overall, 5-3 in Big Ten (3rd in Legends division)
2013 postseason: Outback Bowl vs. LSU (21-14 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked
Head coach: Kirk Ferentz (108-79 overall; 108-79 in 16 years at Iowa)
Offensive coordinator: Greg Davis (3rd year at Iowa)
2013 offensive rankings: 51st rushing offense (179.85 ypg); 95th passing offense (197.1 ypg); 85th total offense (376.9 ypg); 79th scoring offense (26.3 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 8
Defensive coordinator: Phil Parker (16th year at Iowa)
2013 defensive rankings: 19th rushing defense (128.38 ypg); 9th passing defense (174.7 ypg); 6th total defense (303.1 ypg); 9th scoring defense (18.9 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 5
Location: Iowa City, Iowa
Stadium: Kinnick Stadium (70,585; Field Turf)
Last conference title: 2004 (split with Michigan)

THE GOOD
Iowa returns eight starters on offense, including quarterback Jake Rudock, leading rusher Mark Weisman, leading receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and three offensive linemen.The schedule is also favorable by avoiding conference games against Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State. In addition, Iowa gets Wisconsin and Nebraska at home in what could turn out to be two crucial games in the Big Ten West at the end fo the season.

THE BAD
Although Iowa generally has a solid defensive unit, there are some holes to fill on that side of the football in 2014. Iowa loses six starters from last year’s team, including all three linebackers and a pair of defensive backs. Three of those lost defensive leaders accounted for 322 tackles last season. Four of the top five tacklers from last year’s team are gone, which means there is room for new players to step up into big roles this fall at Iowa. It is a considerable amount of turnover for the Hawkeyes defense, but Iowa will have some time to figure it all out before Big Ten play.

THE UNKNOWN
Is this an Iowa team that resurfaces every few years to make a Big Ten run when few are paying attention, or will this be another year of mediocre to slightly above average play? Health stability is always a concern for Iowa it seems and it could quickly derail any high hopes Iowa may have for this season. The schedule sets things up nicely for Iowa, but the Hawkeyes still have to prove they can grab a hold of things. Ball State may not be a pushover but they will not be Northern Illinois (which beat Iowa last season). Iowa State can always be a toss-up it seems, and a road game at Pittsburgh should be a good test before Big Ten play. Can Iowa get out of that early stretch without a blemish or will they be limping into Big Ten play already?

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Minnesota
Iowa’s schedule is very favorable when it comes to Big Ten play. As long as the Hawkeyes can avoid slipping up before November, the final two games of the season at home against Wisconsin and Nebraska could leave the Hawkeyes in control of the West Division championship. But before Iowa can worry about that they will have to come out of Minnesota with a win on November 8. If all goes to plan before then, this will be Iowa’s last real road challenge before entering the final stretch of the season. Iowa has won each of the previous two meetings with the Gophers by double digits, but they will not be able to get too confident this season with so much possibly on the line. Win and the Big Ten West could be theirs to lose. Lose and they will likely lose ground to Wisconsin and/or Nebraska with time running out.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: RB Mark Weisman
Weisman for Heisman? That may be a reach, but his importance to Iowa team this year is not to be taken lightly.  After leading the Hawkeyes in rushing with 975 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago, Mark Weisman appears to be ready to lead the charge on the ground once again this fall. When Iowa succeeds it is often because they have a talented running back in the backfield. Weisman may not be as high-profile as Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon or Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, but he should be expected to pile up some good yardage this season for Iowa.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)