CFN Preview 2013 - Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Posted Jul 3, 2013 Preview 2013 - Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa Hawkeyes

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Kirk Ferentz
14th year: 100-74
17th year overall: 112-95
Returning Lettermen: 39
Off. 19, Def. 17, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Iowa Players
1. LB James Morris, Sr.
2. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, Sr.
3. LB Anthony Hitchens, Sr.
4. LB Christian Kirksey, Sr.
5. OT Brandon Scherff, Jr.
6. S Tanner Miller, Sr.
7. RB Mark Weisman, Jr.
8. C Austin Blythe, Soph.
9. RB Damon Bullock, Jr.
10. WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, Soph.
2013 Schedule
8/31 Northern Illinois
9/7 Missouri State
9/14 at Iowa State
9/21 Western Michigan
9/28 at Minnesota
10/5 Michigan State
10/19 at Ohio State
10/26 Northwestern
11/2 Wisconsin
11/9 at Purdue
11/23 Michigan
11/30 at Nebraska
If Iowa, and more specifically, head coach Kirk Ferentz, can just make a little bit of noise this year and get back among the living, then it's possible a payoff could be coming on the other side.

The program caught a colossal break in the new realignment format with its spot in the West along with Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin, and not being in the same division as the reloading superpowers Michigan and Ohio State.

Not only are the Hawkeyes in the far, far easier division, but in 2014 they miss Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State and play Indiana and Maryland from the East – Merry Christmas – and get both Wisconsin and Nebraska at home in back-to-back late November weeks. But first, Ferentz has to get to 2014, and the 2013 team and season might make it hard to do that.

There are two ways to look at last year's 4-8 disaster. On the one hand, Iowa should've beaten Central Michigan and had its chances against Iowa State, Purdue, Indiana and Nebraska, losing all five games by a combined total of 16 points. A few breaks here and there, and 4-8 is 8-4 or 9-3 and all is right with the Hawkeye world. Of course, that's not how it works, and on the flip side, last year's team was closer to 2-10 – needing a minor miracle late to slip past Northern Illinois 18-17 and two overtimes to beat Michigan State – than it was to flirting with ten wins and a bowl game.

The downfield passing game didn't show up for an offense that finished 114th in the nation, and the pass rush was a disaster finishing last in the Big Ten and 113th in college football. The ground attack was the worst in the conference, and it was a struggle to get to 19.33 points per game with the only two games scoring over 27 coming against Central Michigan and Minnesota.

Fortunately, it might not take a massive change to right the ship – even though Ferentz brought in a few new assistants. If the pass rush can start to be more aggressive, and if there are a few deep balls now and then to stretch out opposing defenses, all of a sudden, this could look like a far different team.

The offensive line should be fine, the running backs are shockingly healthy for a program that's used to disasters in the backfield, and there's just enough talent at quarterback and in the receiving corps to get things moving.

The linebacking corps should be among the best in the Big Ten – at least statistically – and eight starters return overall. There's size up front, speed in the secondary and huge hitters at linebacker. Defense wasn't necessarily a problem last year, and it should be better this season, while the special teams should be a plus.

No, Iowa won't finally end its Rose Bowl drought, but it'll be better. It has to be, or the program will take on a whole new look going into the 2014 season.

What to watch for on offense: Scoring – can the O actually do it? The defense wasn't exactly a brick wall, but it did enough in most games to at least have finished 6-6 and get to a bowl. The D all but shut down Nebraska and gave up a mere nine points to Iowa State. However, the offense couldn't hold up its end of the bargain with scoring points as painful as pulling teeth. The Hawkeyes scored more than 24 points just three times all year and failed to do it over the final seven games of the season. The attack doesn't have to be a high-octane juggernaut, but it has to be able to put up more than 21 points on an Indiana and six points against an Iowa State.

What to watch for on defense: Can the front four generate a pass rush? Iowa didn't face too many dangerous passing teams, but the ones who could throw didn't have any real problems. The pass rush didn't help the cause for the secondary, and there weren't enough tackles behind the line to stop the better running teams – the Hawkeyes gave up 199 rushing yards or more in five of the final six games, losing all of them. The 13 sacks and 53 sacks on the season weren't nearly enough for a front four that was hardly heard from. The linebackers will do what they can to clean up the messes, and they'll put up big numbers, but the line has to start doing its job.

The team will be far better if … it can complete a downfield pass. It was painful watching Iowa try to stretch the field a bit, averaging a pathetic 5.8 yards per throw and finishing the year with seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Worse yet, of those seven scoring throws, only one – against Minnesota – came in a win. Teams didn't respect the Hawkeye receivers and loaded up to stop the run, and while the power game worked here and there. The offense failed to get over 200 yards on the ground against anyone but UNI and Central Michigan. There's just enough receiver speed to get by, and even if they don't work, the quarterbacks have to at least attempt a few deep shots.

The schedule: The Hawkeyes had a seemingly easy schedule and didn't do anything with it. This year they have a relatively easy schedule over the first half, but it's unrelenting in the second. However, if Northern Illinois easy? That's the opener, and going to Iowa State is never easy and hosting Western Michigan isn't going to be a walk in the park. Fortunately, Missouri State is up early to guarantee one win. It'll be desperately needed considering the Big Ten problems.

Getting Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders stinks, and while Purdue shouldn't be a problem, it's in West Lafayette the week after dealing with the Badgers. Getting Michigan State, Northwestern and Michigan at home might help, but the season ends with the Wolverines followed up by a road game at Nebraska. Basically, considering the Big Ten opener is at Minnesota, there isn't a sure-thing conference win.

Best offensive player: Senior TE C.J. Fiedorowicz. At 6-7 and 265 pounds, he has the size to go along with the hands, route-running ability and skills the pro guys tend to drool over. Now he needs the ball his way a little more. He started to show a little of what he could do late in 2011 with 12 of his 16 catches coming over the final four games – with three touchdowns – and last season he started to blossom even more with a steady 45 catches for 433 yards and a score. No, he's not another Jimmy Graham athletically, but he's a matchup problem who'll be the new starting quarterback's best friend.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Anthony Hitchens, or senior LB James Morris, or senior LB Christian Kirksey. Take your pick of any of the veteran Hawkeye linebackers, and he might be the one who has the big day. Morris is the best all-around playmaker of the bunch in the middle, with a nice knack for getting into the backfield from time to time and the range to get to everything against the run. Hitchens needs to make more big plays, but he comes up with a slew of stops making a team-leading 124 even though he missed a game against Michigan. Kirksey is consistent on the outside and can be used a bit as a pass rusher if needed.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Jake Rudock. Junior Cody Sokol is deep in the hunt for the starting job, and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard is technically still in the mix, but Rudock is the one who has the talent and skills to be the one to make the passing game stronger. If he grabs the starting job, he'll get the time to work behind a decent line, and he has a few nice targets to work with, but he needs to produce more deep plays for a passing offense that couldn't stretch the field.

The season will be a success if … the Hawkeyes win eight games. There isn't enough talent to win the Legends, much less the Big Ten championship, but there's enough in the bag to come up with the program's best season since 2010. A 5-0 start isn't out of the question, and there should be plenty of good chances at hope to come up with a few upsets over Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and/or Michigan. Throw in a bowl game and a win, and 8-5 would be a big step forward after last season's disaster.

Key game: Sept. 14 at Iowa State. There are several key Big Ten battles that mean more, but the in-state rivalry date with the Cyclones could be more of a tone-setter. The Hawkeyes can't lose the home opener against a retooling Northern Illinois, and they can't miss the layups against Missouri State or Western Michigan at home, but coming up with the victory over Iowa State on the road could be exactly the shot in the arm the program needs after losing each of the last two meetings by three points each.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Fumbles: Opponents 19 (lost 13) – Iowa 14 (lost 3)
- Punt Return Average: Iowa 7.4 yards – Opponents 4.4 yards
- Passing Touchdowns: Opponents 16 – Iowa 7

- 2013 Iowa Preview | 2013 Iowa Offense
- 2013 Iowa Defense | 2013 Iowa Depth Chart