Hindsight picks to overachieve in 2015
Predictions are fun to look back on at season’s end. The seemingly no-brainer choices in the preseason don’t always pan out. And visa versa, the teams that didn’t have any business winning eight or nine games do exactly that. Let’s focus on that side of the coin.
Below are two teams that I originally predicted to finish in the middle or bottom half of their respective divisions. But if I had to pick teams that could make my preseason predictions look stupid, these are them.
I know, I know. If there was ever a lock for a mediocre finish in Big Ten play, it’s the Hawkeyes. After all, Kirk Ferentz is just 34-31 since that magical Orange Bowl run. But the wild, wild West is set up for a surprise team like Iowa to take it by storm. Plus, look at that schedule. The Hawkeyes could wind up being favored in all but two games this season. Crossover games against Indiana and Maryland are both winnable, as is the Hawkeyes’ entire non-conference slate. But in order for Iowa to finally take advantage of a favorable schedule, it’ll have to be less predictable on offense. That starts with C.J. Beathard, who could be the wild card Iowa has been lacking in recent memory. Emergence at the skill positions from the likes of LeShun Daniels and Tevaun Smith would certainly help the Hawkeyes rise above mediocrity, as would its experienced secondary. This could be a make or break year for Ferentz, which explains his decision to roll the dice on the unproven Beathard instead of Jake Rudock. Teams sometimes play with a different edge when they’re fighting for their coach. That would be a welcome sight in Iowa City.
There’s a theme among the two teams that cracked this list. Both have quarterbacks that could become stars in their first years as starters. For Rutgers, that guy could be Hayden Rettig. He and Chris Laviano have been battling it out in camp for the starting gig after the departure of the underrated Gary Nova. The LSU transfer has the upside to thrive in Ben McDaniels’ pro-style offense. All reports out of fall camp have been that the former high school All-American has impressed. Even former Rutgers star and Cincinnati Bengals receiver Mohammed Sanu was impressed with Rettig after the two worked out together in California over the summer. Current Rutgers star Leonte Carroo might be the Big Ten’s best receiver, and could thrive with a big-armed quarterback like Rettig. Couple that with a whole bunch of experience in the backfield — and possibly a stellar comeback season for Paul James — and the Rutgers offense could be better than most expect. Darius Hamilton and Kemoko Turay could form one of the league’s top pass-rushing duos, and make an inexperienced defense look better than it is. The schedule isn’t kind, but if the Scarlet Knights clean up a pedestrian non-conference slate, it wouldn’t be crazy to see another eight-win campaign.