April 10, 2014
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Gerry DiNardo, studio analyst for the Big Ten Network, watched drills and scribbled notes at the University of Iowa's seventh football practice of the spring April 9 in Kinnick Stadium.
The stop in Iowa City was DiNardo's 13th on his personal fling through Big Ten Conference football's version of spring training. The UI was his seventh and final stop among teams in the newly-created West Division.
"I look at Iowa's conference (schedule) and they're going to line up with anybody," DiNardo said. "I think Iowa is going to be in the thick of it in the west. I don't see why not."
The Hawkeyes return 14 starters (eight on offense, five on defense, one specialist) from a team that finished 8-5 last season, 5-3 in the Legends Division. Iowa played in its 11th bowl game in 13 seasons, losing to Louisiana State University, 21-14, in the 2014 Outback Bowl.
"This team is built at the line of scrimmage, which is very unusual because most teams are spread teams and they are not built at the line of scrimmage. What separates Iowa is the line of scrimmage, and I would say Ohio State and Nebraska are separated at the line of scrimmage, and that might be it this year."
"The good news is, whatever they decide, you have two good quarterbacks, and that really is rare," DiNardo said. "Indiana probably has two good ones and there might be a couple other places that have two good ones, but it's hard to be deep at quarterback now a day because when a kid gets beat out he usually transfers. It looks like you have two good ones. Who's the best? (offensive coordinator) Greg (Davis) and (head coach) Kirk Ferentz will figure that out."
Don't think because a Big Ten team hasn't played a football game since early January that DiNardo has been out of the loop. He has done at least one show a week on BTN since July. His early observations on the 2014 Hawkeyes will be revealed April 14 on BTN Live.
The first thing DiNardo noticed at practice was a consistent philosophy instilled when Ferentz returned in 1999.
"I don't come looking for anything, but what jumps out at me is -- typical of an Iowa team -- this team is built at the line of scrimmage, which is very unusual because most teams are spread teams and they are not built at the line of scrimmage," DiNardo said. "What separates Iowa is the line of scrimmage, and I would say Ohio State and Nebraska are separated at the line of scrimmage, and that might be it this year."
Even more impressive to DiNardo is the quality he saw on the both Hawkeye lines Wednesday.
"I would say the line of scrimmage here is ahead of most, if not all, of the Big Ten," he said.
Iowa's spring "game" is later than most in the Big Ten. Ten schools will hold their final spring event Saturday, a day when the Hawkeyes travel to West Des Moines, Iowa, to showcase their talents to fans in central Iowa.
"Obviously linebackers and wide receivers have to come on and all of that, but you have a long time before you play a game," DiNardo said. "A lot can happen between now and competition."