Big Ten preview: Iowa

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


The 2012 Iowa football season completely fell apart as the Hawkeyes lost their last six games to finish at 4-8; the program's worst record since 2000.
So, naturally, in this crazy world of college athletics, it's natural to think Kirk Ferentz, who has had success at the Big Ten school and enters his 15th season on the job, is in trouble if he doesn't turn things around in 2013.
By all indications, things will NOT turn around for the Hawkeyes, who appear to be hard pressed to get the wins necessary to go bowling, something they had done in 10 of the previous 11 seasons until last year (they were bowl eligible in all 11).
But as is the case with most teams at this time of year, there is talk of optimism. And this Iowa team is NOT without talent.
"Certainly at the end of spring I felt like our team progressed," Ferentz said at the team's media day. "I thought we were a better team than we were back in November and now we're back to it again and building up to it as we go.
"Yesterday was our first day with shoulder pads on, so we've had two days of work there, and every step is a step. We've got a lot of work in front of us. Guys have a great attitude. Our seniors have been outstanding, and we've got a big month in front of us so we're here to take on that work after we finish up with today."
The top question coming into camp is who will be the starting quarterback? James Vandenberg, who had a poor senior season after throwing 25 touchdown passes as a junior, is gone and there is no experience fighting for the job in his absence.
Running back Mark Weisman, who emerged as a real 2012 story, has to stay healthy and handle the load a full season brings and combines with Damon Bullock to form a quality dual threat; although both have battled injuries. The offensive line is strong and the receivers have potential.
On defense, a strong linebacking corps backs up a deep but question-mark filled line and Micah Hyde will be missed from the secondary.
Kicker Mike Meyer is solid, but punter Connor Kornbrath had his ups and downs, while returner Jordan Cotton emerged last season.
"The big thing is since we got going at the end of November, the attitude has been real positive," Ferentz said. "I haven't seen it waver, so that's a really good thing."

SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: Last year, Iowa went 3-2 in September, but the evidence was there that things weren't going to turn out that well; and the Hawkeyes went just 1-7 the rest of the way. This year's opening month actually starts with an Aug. 31 home game against Northern Illinois, a team Iowa beat by a point to open last season. FCS foe Missouri State follows before Iowa visits rival Iowa State and goes on to visit Western Michigan before finishing the month with the Big Ten opener, at home against Minnesota.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: With the running game apparently in good shape, Iowa has to develop some sort of passing game, regardless of who wins the quarterback competition. With only seven touchdown passes last year, the Hawkeyes ranked 99th in the country in passing and 114th in total offense. The defensive numbers were much better and should be solid again in 2013.
AREAS OF CONCERN: The quarterback position will be manned by a player with no major college experience and that is always a concern. The wide receivers have ability but no one has blossomed. This team has to find a way to score touchdowns.