Rose Bowl Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes return to Pasadena on a mission

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Rose Bowl Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes return to Pasadena on a mission

Iowa is making its first Rose Bowl appearance since the 1990 season. Stanford is back in Pasadena for the third time in four years.

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The Cardinal doesn’t often see teams like Iowa, a big, tough physical squad that likes to punch foes in the mouth with the ground game. In fact, the one time it faced such a team, Stanford lost 16-6 at Northwestern in the season opener.

This will be a great matchup of coaches. David Shaw has built on what Jim Harbaugh started and made Stanford one of the Pac-12’s premier programs. Kirk Ferentz is in his 17th season, earning numerous coach of the year honors as one of the longest tenured coaches in the nation.

Player of the spot
: Nate Meier. The Hawkeye pass rush hasn’t been the same since Drew Ott went out with injury in Week 6 vs. Illinois. Without pressure on Stanford QB Kevin Hogan, the Cardinal offense could thrive in the Rose Bowl. Meier needs to get a push off the edge to get Hogan out of his comfort zone. Hogan has thrown for 2,644 yards 24 touchdowns, completing 68.6 percent of his passes with only seven picks. He has been a big key to Stanford’s success.

Best individual matchup: Iowa RB Jordan Canzeri vs. Stanford LB Blake Martinez. The Hawkeyes have a collection of good backs that can tote the rock. But Canzeri is best, rushing for 976 yards and 12 TDs. When Canzeri went out of the Big Ten title game early with an ankle injury, the Iowa ground game floundered. Will he be OK? Will he play? If Canzeri can run well, that will open room from QB C.J. Beathard, who has been a revelation all season. Martinez is a tackling machine who has earned myriad postseason honors. He can’t let the Hawkeye ground game beat up his defense.

Best unit matchup: Stanford offensive line vs. Iowa defensive line. The Cardinal has two boffo blockers in tackle Kyle Murphy and guard Joshua Garnett, who won the Outland Trophy. The Iowa front misses end Drew Ott, who was lost for the season to injury in Week Six. But there is still talent up front in Jaleel Johnson and Ben Niemann for a defense that is 10th best in the FBS, giving up fewer than 115 yards on the ground per game. Iowa must limit Stanford star RB Christian McCaffrey, a Heisman finalist who is a big-play-waiting-to-happen after rushing for 1,847 yards. This is interesting: McCaffrey didn’t rush for over 100 yards vs. any non-conference foe but burned every Pac-12 foe for over 100. He was off-the-charts in a Pac-12 title game win vs. USC, notching 461 yards of offense.

Key number: 18. That’s the number of interceptions for Iowa, four of which went for TDs. That led the Big Ten. Thorpe Award-winning corner Desmond King named eight picks. Intercepting Stanford QB Kevin Hogan once or twice could swing victory Iowa’s way.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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