Dad: "How do I get to this blog of yours?"
The preseason rankings are starting to trickle out, and most see the Hawks and Irish congregating at the bottom of the Top 25. That's progress, considering they spent a combined zero weeks in the Top 25 in 2008. (Iowa cracked the list after the dominating bowl win to finish at 9-4.) The coaches have Iowa #21 and ND #23. The New York Times is similar, with Iowa #19 and ND #21. AP comes out on Aug. 22. Phil, as mentioned before, is high on the Irish (or just high).
Comparing Iowa and Notre Dame, I see some similarities. One is the quarterback position: strength at starter and lack of depth. Ricky Stanzi may not have announced his commitment at the College Football Hall of Fame, but he did lead a season-defining, fourth-quarter game-winning drive. Behind him are Jake Christensen (oops, transferred) and Marvin McNutt (uhhh, switched to wide receiver) ... are, uh, two redshirt freshmen. Behind Jimmy are redshirt freshman Dayne Christ and true freshman Nate Montana (err, going to play at junior college this fall), and Evan Sharpley (a fifth-year senior and professional first baseman who luckily came back). Guess it's good we have experienced O-lines--more on that in a sec.
Also, both schools make the Phil Steele Surprise Teams article. That's his list of schools outside the preseason consensus Top 10 that could rise up and win the national championship. The Irish are No. 4, the Hawks are almost No. 10. Phil writes: "The highest rated of my remaining teams (after No. 9) is Iowa but they have to play Ohio St AND Penn St along with Michigan St and Wisconsin all on the road."
One factor of sharp contrast is balance. Thanks to the once-a-generation performance of Shonn Greene, Iowa exhibited excellent run-pass balance in 2008: 189 yards rushing, 182 yards throwing per game. A near-even split means the defense never knows what's coming, they can't key in on just one aspect, and they have to respect the play-action pass. By contrast, Coach "we're gonna pound it" Weis must have a different definition of "pound it," because the Irish ran for just 110 yards per game (ypg), throwing for 245. (This, by the way, is the second-worst rushing effort in Irish history, behind the 2007 debacle we all erased from our memory.)
Besides ypg rushing, I also looked at average yards per carry (ypc) and sacks allowed. If there's one thing I learned living in Nebraska, it's the importance of a strong offensive line in college football (also, that Omaha is not a great place for a 20-something non-native to live). Notre Dame had 110 rush ypg last year, as mentioned, and ypc of 3.3. Iowa had the record-setting performance by Greene, pushing the numbers to 189 and 4.8. But that's not a once-a-lifetime performance: Iowa produced 175 ypg and 4.8 ypc in 2005, and 215 ypg and 5.0 ypc in 2002. The Irish haven't cracked 4.0 ypc or 150 ypg since Ty's first year! With Allen, Hughes and Alridge in the backfield, and Gray, Wood and Riddick waiting in the wings, the running game simply has to be better to justify the expectations.
For context, Florida has produced 4.2 ypc or better five of the past six years, and Southern Cal has gone 4.0, 5.0 and 5.0 ypc in the years following the insane Bush-fueled 6.4 in 2005. This is where I'd like to see my teams.
As for sacks: ND gave up 22, Iowa gave up 27. I think you can chalk some of that up to quarterback inexperience, with sophomore and first-time starter Stanzi learning how to avoid the rush and dump off an incompletion. After all, Christensen was sacked 46 times in '07, and most of ND's 58 (gulp) sacks given up in 2007 were Clausen, a true freshman.
Finally, there is offensive line experience. This became somewhat of a hot stat over the summer, after the Wall Street Journal did an analysis of starts returning for every team's OL. You can see here that Iowa and ND are in the top 5 nationally among major conference schools.
Three weeks and counting til football!