1. During their bye week, the Hawkeyes announced that they would use both of their quarterbacks, CJ Beathard and Jake Rudock, in the coming weeks. IU had some experience with a 2-QB system last year, so they're familiar with this type of rotation. How come Kirk Ferentz has decided to go with both QBs going forward?
ROSS: Iowa's going with two quarterbacks (C.J. Beathard and Jake Rudock) because both have been effective at times this year and neither has really distinguished himself as the top option at QB. It's certainly unusual to have a QB competition playing out in the middle of the season, but... here we are. Rudock started every game last season, entered this year as the starter, and still seems to have the coaches' trust. One thing he doesn't have? A sterling medical record. Rudock has missed time in several games over the past season and a half, which opened the door for most of Beathard's opportunities. Beathard appears to be a more physically gifted QB than Rudock -- he's more mobile and has a stronger arm -- but doesn't have the same command of the offensive playbook as Rudock. I'm not sure how it's going to play out Saturday, but my guess is that both guys will get a series or two in the first half and the "hot hand" will get most (or all) of the snaps in the second half.
2. The Iowa offensive line is led by left tackle Brandon Scherff. Could Scherff be the #1 overall pick in next year's NFL Draft? And what does IU need to do to contend with the Hawkeyes' O-Line?
ROSS: A few experts have tabbed Scherff as a potential #1 pick, but I think it's unlikely. So far Scherff has had a very good year (minus the knee injury scare against Ball State), but it hasn't quite been a head-turning, world-dominating year. Scherff also has a few physical limitations (short arms, an Iowa OL staple) which will probably keep him out of the top spot. I'd be surprised to see him fall out of the top ten in the 2015 NFL Draft, but I don't think he'll hear his name called first.
As far as how Indiana should attack Iowa's OL... I assume the Hoosiers aren't stupid and they won't bother trying to attack Scherff. That would be pointless. The weakness of Iowa's line is in the interior, particularly the guard positions. Iowa's guards haven't been bad, per se, but they have been rather inconsistent (especially Jordan Walsh) and they're definitely the weakest link in the Iowa offensive line. If I was Indiana, that's where I'd be targeting my attacks.
3. The Hawkeyes are only giving up 310 total yards of offense per game, and are ranked 9th in FBS in rush yards given. This week, they face Tevin Coleman and an IU rushing attack that is also ranked 9th in the country. How do you see this battle playing out in the trenches at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday?
ROSS: Tevin Coleman is a very, very good running back and I'm very nervous of what he can do on Saturday. He's a terrifying blend of power and speed and I'm not at all looking forward to seeing the Iowa defense try to contain him. I'm especially scared of what Coleman can do in the passing game; UNI's David Johnson (a similar RB to Coleman in many ways) tore Iowa apart as a receiver in Week One and while Iowa's defense has improved since then, seeing an even-better version of Johnson come a-calling on Saturday fills me with no small amount of dread. My hope is that Iowa can limit Coleman to around 100 yards on the ground and another 50 or so in the passing game; if they do that, I think they'll be in decent shape.
4. Like you guys, we IU fans know a few things about coach buyouts for the state's highest-paid public employee. How are Iowa fans feeling about Kirk Ferentz after 16 seasons at the helm, and how many more years does Ferentz have left in him?
ROSS: Iowa fans are happier with him now, after back-to-back road wins, than they were three weeks ago, after he lost to Iowa State. In general, I think the mood is the same that it's been for a while: frustrated and weary, but ultimately not ready to pull the trigger and blow things up. The frustration always spikes when Iowa loses games like that ISU one and there's an undeniable sense of weariness about Ferentz's tenure -- 16 years is a long time to be in a relationship with someone, especially when lately it hasn't hit the highs you've been hoping for. But I don't get the sense that a majority of Iowa fans are actively looking to end things with Ferentz just yet; there's a nagging fear that Iowa could easily go backwards if they opted to replace Ferentz. As far as how many years Ferentz has left in him... at least 2-3 more, I'd say. Beyond that, I think it probably depends heavily on how those seasons go for Iowa.
5. After Wisconsin's loss to Northwestern and Nebraska's loss to MSU, the B1G West looks up for grabs. What's the likelihood that the Hawkeyes win the division?
ROSS: Iowa's chances of contending in the Big Ten West hinge on the development of the offense over the next month or so. Iowa has a good defense -- quite possibly a very good defense, in fact. But so far this season it's been like pulling teeth to get this offense to crack 20 points and it's hard to see that being a winning formula in league play. Trying to win every game 20-17 does not seem like a good idea. At this point, I think Iowa can win every game left on their schedule... and lose every game left on their schedule, too. (Yes, even Illinois.) Again, if the offense can get out of its funk -- if it can run the ball more consistently, develop a bit more explosion in the passing game, and average around 26-28 ppg -- there's a real chance to contend. There are no teams in the Big Ten West that induce knee-knocking terror and Iowa gets the West's best teams (Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Nebraska) at home this year. On paper, things set up well for them to contend... but again, it's going to depend on the offense.
6. The trolling of the Iowa State police department was brilliant, but the result of the Cy-Hawk game was less than ideal for the Hawkeyes. Would Iowa fans consider Iowa State their biggest rivals? And is that NY Times map that shows the state as predominantly Iowa fans accurate?
ROSS: Yes, the map is accurate. There are a lot of different answers to the "biggest rival" question, but it's probably Iowa State or Wisconsin. That said, some people ride or die for the Minnesota rivalry, too, and the Nebraska one is gaining intensity and interest every season. So the answer you get probably depends on which Iowa fan is responding -- and where they live. As an Iowa fan living in the Twin Cities, I have a more vested interest in the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry than many Iowa fans. Conversely, Iowa fans in Des Moines would probably name Iowa State the biggest rival and Iowa fans in western Iowa would peg Nebraska. So yeah: no good answer here, sorry.
7. What is your favorite pie shake flavor at the Hamburg Inn? And are there other Iowa City delicacies that are favorites of yours?
ROSS: The pie shakes are very good, but I can't resist the red velvet cake shake. So delectable. I'm also partial to pizza from The Airliner, burritos from Panchero's, and burgers from Shorts (a bar/restaurant owned by former Iowa kicker Nate Kaeding). And getting a pork tenderloin when I'm back in Iowa is also a must.
8. As I've mentioned before, my sister is an Iowa Writers' Workship alum. Do you have a quick poem/limerick/haiku about Iowa football that you'd like to share?
Horizontal pass --
the ball goes sideways thru air
short of the first down
(Editor's Note: This isn't any normal haiku - I'm calling this a HAWKU.)
9. Basketball talk: The Hawkeyes were pretty good most of last season, but fell apart after the infamous beam collapse at Assembly Hall postponed the IU-Iowa game in mid-February. What's the outlook on the team this year? And will Roy Devyn Marble and Victor Oladipo get to share time in the backcourt for the Orlando Magic?
ROSS: IT'S ALL INDIANA'S FAULT. IF YOUR STUPID ARENA HADN'T TURNED INTO A DEATHTRAP, IOWA'S SEASON WOULDN'T HAVE IMPLODED. Ahem. I think Iowa will be solid this season, but their ceiling probably isn't as high as it was a year ago. Losing Marble (as well as forwards Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe) is a significant blow, but Iowa still returns a solid amount of talent and there's a reasonable chance that guys like Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury, and Gabe Olaseni are able to take steps forward this year and become better, more consistent players. I don't think this is a Big Ten contender, but I'm optimistic that they'll finish in the top half of the league and make the NCAA Tournament. I hope Marble and Oladipo get to play together in the Magic backcourt, but I'd settle for just seeing Marble get regular minutes -- that would be a good accomplishment for a second round pick, I'd say.
10. Prediction time: Who wins at Kinnick on Saturday, and why?
ROSS: Iowa wins 31-27. The Iowa offense only manages 24 points, but the defense comes through with a key second-half score that proves to be the difference in the game. I'll go with a Greg Mabin pick-six for that defensive score and rushing touchdowns from Jordan Canzeri and Mark Weisman sandwiched around a touchdown pass to Damond Powell. Iowa coaches (and fans) leave the game with no better idea of who the starting QB should be.
Thanks again, Ross! The Hoosiers and Hawkeyes square off from Iowa City starting at Noon ET / 11am CT on Saturday, and the game can be seen on ESPNU.