IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Coach Hayden Fry says he likes his 1996 football team, but he stopped short of calling it one of his better teams.
“Not at all, no,” Fry said at the Hawkeyes’ media day. “This will be a good football team, but it won’t be the best because we’ve got too many holes.”
The Hawkeyes return 15 starters from last year’s 8-4 Sun Bowl champion squad, but they have to reload along the offensive line and tight end positions as well as replace leading tackler Bobby Diaco.
The Hawkeyes, ranked 22nd in the AP preseason poll, averaged nearly 418 yards and 31 points a game last year, which was third in the Big Ten in both categories.
Matt Sherman, who completed 170 of 295 passes for 2,546 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, returns for his junior season.
He’ll have experienced receivers in Demo Odems and Tim Dwight, a flanker who had 46 catches and nine touchdowns as a sophomore last year.
“Without question, in my mind, he’s the finest competitor I’ve ever had,” Fry said of the junior from Iowa City.
Chris Knipper, a sophomore, and Zeron Flemister will vie for the tight end spot.
Iowa is loaded in the backfield, with quality fullbacks in sophomore Michael Burger and senior Rodney Filer and the one-two running back punch of Sedrick Shaw and Tavian Banks.
“We feel extremely good about our offensive backfield,” Fry said.
Shaw, a senior, set a school single-season record with 1,477 yards and 15 touchdowns last year; Banks, a junior, came off the bench to run for 400 yards on only 66 carries although he had missed six games with a broken left arm.
“What can you say about Sedrick? It could be his third year he rushes for over 1,000 yards if everything goes right,” Fry said. “Behind him is probably the best No. 2 running back that I’ve ever been associated with — Tavian Banks.”
Defensively, Iowa has nine underclassmen in its two-deep roster.
Vernon Rollins and Matt Hughes, both sophomores, will have to compensate for the loss of Diaco.
Bill Ennis-Inge and Jared DeVries, who was the Sun Bowl’s most valuable lineman, will solidify the trenches. They’ll be joined by Brett Chambers, Aron Klein and Jon Ortlieb.
Iowa’s defensive secondary — Tom Knight at left corner, Kerry Cooks at strong safety, Damien Robinson at free safety and Plez Atkins at right corner — could be one of the strongest units in years.
The Hawkeyes open the season Sept. 7 against visiting Arizona.
“I know we’re going to have a good football team,” Fry said. “But I also know we’re going to play a lot of good football teams.”