Eastern Illinois (0-0) at (9) Iowa (0-0)
Saturday, September 4th, 12:05 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The ninth-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes lift the lid on the 2010 season this Saturday, as they play host to the Panthers of Eastern Illinois in the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
Eastern Illinois, which plays its football out of the Ohio Valley Conference and is ranked 18th in the initial Football Championship Subdivision poll sponsored by The Sports Network and Fathead.com, is coming off an 8-4 season in which it won the OVC title with a 6-2 mark.
The Panthers are playing a FBS school for the 27th time, with their last win coming in 2004 against Eastern Michigan. Iowa is the highest ranked foe EIU has ever faced. The Panthers are coached by Bob Spoo, who took over the team in 1987 and has a career mark 140-113-1 as the fourth-longest tenured coach (same school) in Division I.
The Hawkeyes, under the direction of head coach Kirk Ferentz, went 11-2 (6-2 in the Big Ten Conference) in 2009, and returns a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball so it's understandable if fans are excited about the prospect of their beloved team challenging for both the Big Ten and BCS titles.
Like most coaches, Ferentz doesn't want his team looking past the Panthers in this opener, "They are a well coached football team, disciplined and they play hard. We expect a very tough contest. All we have to do is look back to last year's opener and I don't think we have to say much more than that just in terms of what's in front for us."
Eastern Illinois, picked by many to finish atop the OVC this season, boasts 15 returning starters, including senior RB Mon Williams (191 carries, 870 yards, nine TDs). Unfortunately, Williams will miss at least this game with a strained knee. In his absence, expect QB Brandon Large to shoulder much of the offensive burden, despite this being his first Division I start.
Running back Jimmy Potempa (32 catches in 2009) is the team's top returning pass catcher, and he can expect to see his workload increase with Williams on the shelf. The offensive line features just two returning starters in OG Eric Zink and C Willie Henderson.
Defensively, the Panthers should be fine once they get past this game as standout performers like corners C.J. James and Rashad Haynes, DE Perry Burge and starting LBs Nick Nasti (83 tackles last year), Cory Leman (63 tackles) and Gordy Kickels (62 stops) all have the talent and experience to help the team achieve its goals.
Iowa averaged 23.5 ppg in '09, and upping that figure will be paramount to the team reaching its full potential this season. The return of six starters on offense, including QB Ricky Stanzi and RB Adam Robinson (Iowa freshman-record 834 rushing yards last season), should help reach that goal. Stanzi isn't the flashiest signal-caller out there, and he will need to make better decisions with the ball this fall after tossing 15 INTs in 11 games in 2009.
Helping Stanzi make plays down the field is a deep receiving corps that Ferentz says should make the difference between a sub par offensive showing, and one that causes opposing defensive coordinators plenty of sleepless nights.
"I think we have a chance to be better in the passing game, and you know, when you have that kind of experience, you hope that's a by product of the good production."
On the defensive side of the ball, expect to see a whole lot of DE Adrian Clayborn, who in 2009 logged 11.5 sacks, 20 TFLs, four fumble recoveries and was named the MVP of the Orange Bowl.
In addition to Clayborn's contributions, the Hawkeyes, who were absolutely dominant on defense last season in allowing a paltry 15.4 points and 276.5 yards per game, expect to get consistent efforts from guys like LB Jeremiah Hunter (89 tackles) and standout safeties Brett Greenwood and Tyler Sash.
Iowa and Ohio State are clearly the class of the Big Ten this year, and it remains to be seen if the Hawkeyes have what it takes to edge past the Buckeyes in the race for the conference crown. That said, starting the season against a FCS foe, no matter how solid, should help get them off on the right foot.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Iowa 41, Eastern Illinois 7
09/01 13:13:55 ET