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It's never too early to predict

By Staff
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
It's probably not surprising at this point to see that USC is No. 1 and a pick to repeat as champions in most preseason college football publications. It's hard to pick against a team that has won two national championships in a row, owns a 22-game winning streak, returns the Heisman Trophy winner in Matt Leinart and has a team deeper than the Marianas Trench (35,800 feet, if you're keeping score at home).
But I'm going to do it anyway.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2006 Rose Bowl champion is…the University of Iowa Hawkeyes.
Yes, you read that right. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has quietly put together one of the most consistent teams in all of college football, and I believe the sleeping giant in Iowa City is about to awaken.
The Hawkeyes have finished each of the last three seasons with at least 10 wins, and have gone to bowl games each of the past four years. Their last two bowl victories have come against entrenched powerhouse SEC teams (37-17 over Florida in the 2004 Outback Bowl and 30-25 over LSU in the 2005 Capital One Bowl).
There's a lot to like about Iowa's chances this year. The Hawkeyes are typically a slow-starting team, as shown by a 44-7 shellacking to Arizona State in the team's third game of the 2004 season.
But this season, the team opens its non-conference schedule with Ball State, Iowa State (always a possible speed bump because of the rivalry factor) and Northern Iowa – hardly murderer's row. The Hawkeyes should be clicking on all cylinders by the time Iowa faces its first major test with a road game against Ohio State in the fourth game of the 2005 season.
Iowa's Big Ten schedule is far from daunting, with Illinois, Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota and Wisconsin on the conference docket. About the only toss-up game the Hawks have is against Michigan on Oct. 22, but there's several positives for Iowa in that game.
In 2004, Iowa played Michigan in Ann Arbor and lost 30-17, its second consecutive road loss after dropping the game to Arizona State a week earlier.
This season, Michigan is Iowa's eighth game of the season and the Hawkeyes play this game at home in rowdy Kinnick Stadium, where Iowa currently has an 18-game winning streak.
Add in the fact that Michigan and Iowa were co-Big Ten champions, but the Wolverines went to a BCS Bowl (and lost) and the Hawkeyes didn't, and you have the makings of a serious revenge game for the Hawks.
On paper, Iowa has a schedule where it is possible to go undefeated if the breaks fall the Hawks' way. But the team is no slouch for pure talent, either, boasting one of the country's best quarterbacks in junior Drew Tate, who was the MVP of the 2005 Capital One Bowl and threw for 2,786 yards last season.
And while the running game doesn't look like much, you have to take into account that Iowa won 10 games last year and used six different starting running backs after various players went down with injuries. Nebraska transfer Marques Simmons, who has been clocked at 10.2 seconds in the 100 meters, should help make this one of the most improved running back corps in the country.
Besides, Ferentz's Iowa teams have always been built on defense, and there's plenty of that to go around this season. If you haven't yet heard of linebackers Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway (555 combined career tackles) or cornerbacks Antwan Allen and Jovon Johnson, you will by the end of the year.
The defensive line might be the biggest question mark on this team, with only nine career tackles for the projected starting four. But Iowa's easy opening schedule should allow for enough time for the new defensive line to jell into a competent unit.
Plus it's Iowa, a team that has a history of finding a corn-fed farmer's boy to come out of nowhere and become a star lineman (see Robert Gallery, Matt Roth…).
With a schedule that is tailor-made for a strong run, a team defense that can match up with nearly any in the country and enough offense to win a shootout if it needs to do so, Iowa is my pick to win the 2005 college football national championship.
YOUR TURN: Think my prediction is lame? Have a better one? I'd like to hear it. E-mail with the subject line "YOUR TURN" and give a short prediction on who you think will be this year's college football national champion and why they will win. Please include your first name and hometown. I'll run the best responses in a later issue of the Enquirer.