Iowa vs. Iowa State isn’t a matchup that gets as much national recognition as it used to, but in the Midwest, it’s one of the biggest college football games of the year.
The Hawkeyes and the Cyclones certainly don’t have a lot of star power these days, but this should be a fun game to watch as it usually is.
Iowa is led by a young quarterback named Jake Rudock, whom fans have had pretty high expectations for since coming from the state of Florida out of high school a couple of years back. Rudock is joined in the Hawkeye backfield by a whole host of backs, led by returning leading rusher and former Air Force transfer Mark Weisman, who is sharing a lot more carries this year than he did last year.
Iowa State is led by safety Jacques Washington, a defensive back in his senior year who led the team with 91 tackles a year ago, and also added three interceptions. Washington is the leader of the Cyclones defense, and he may be one of the best overall prospects in this game behind the linebackers from Iowa.
Iowa features a trio of senior linebackers in James Morris, Christian Kirksey, and Anthony Hitchens, all of whom should be in the NFL a year from now on 53-man rosters.
Perhaps my favorite of the group is Hitchens, whom Iowa uses all over the place. A former running back recruit, Hitchens has great range and instincts at the linebacker position. He is a tackling machine, and is very effective in coverage and on blitzes. He looks more like a safety out there because of his speed, instincts, and quickness, and I think he’s probably the best prospect on the defensive side of the ball playing in this game Saturday.
The true talent in this game is on the Iowa sideline in future starting NFL tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, a 6’7″ 265 pound beast who can block and be a huge mismatch in the red zone.
To say the Hawkeyes haven’t always properly used Fiedorowicz would be an understatement, but he’s made enough of an impact to impress scouts and earn late first-early second round grades from most. Fiedorowicz has elite level size and the frame to be a huge impact tight end at the next level, not unlike a Heath Miller.
Between Hitchens and Fiedorowicz, Iowa has the best NFL prospects in this game, but another name to watch out for is ISU center Tom Farniok. Farniok has been the starting center for the Cyclones since he was a freshman, but unfortunately Farniok will not be playing in this game due to a sprained MCL suffered against Northern Iowa.
Here are my notes on Iowa LB Anthony Hitchens from the pre-season:
Hitchens flies around the field. Came to Iowa as a defensive back and has really excelled in the change to the LB position, where he led the Big Ten in tackles as a junior in 2012. His breakout season as a junior put him on the map, and NFL scouts are really intrigued by his combination of speed and playmaking ability. Hitchens has added a good amount of weight since arriving at Iowa City in order to play the LB position more effectively, and he’s finally starting to get things figured out. Last year, he had 124 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. He was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection and found himself on the Butkus and Lombardi Award watch lists to start the year.
Hitchens came to Iowa as a three-star defensive back prospect by many outlets, but heâ€™s added nearly 25 pounds of bulk since he came to Iowa City and has turned into the teamâ€™s best tackler. Hitchens flies all over the field, making plays behind the line of scrimmage and shutting run plays down with his quickness. He is the ideal weakside linebacker for a Tampa 2 defense because of his ability to cover the pass and pick up backs out of the backfield. I would love to see Iowa use him more in blitzing situations, but I think Hitchens has the potential to be a Wesley Woodyard type of player, slightly undersized defensive back hybrid linebacker who can fly all over the field and make plays.