NCAA Football Iowa Hawkeyes

Rant Sports College Football Rankings: No. 26 Iowa Hawkeyes

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Head coach Kirk Ferentz has been the man for the Iowa Hawkeyes since 1999. In that time, Iowa has accumulated 108 wins, including six bowl victories, and the Hawkeyes have finished in the AP Top 20 five times. As incredible of a career it has been with Iowa, though, the last four seasons have been mediocre at best. Following an 11-win season and Orange Bowl win in 2009, the Hawkeyes haven’t been big players in the Big 10.

Last season’s 8-5 campaign looked like the best Iowa has put together since that 2009 campaign. The Hawkeyes’ competent offense, along with efforts from a defense that looked very good sometimes, showed some glimpses into the program’s near future.

Offense

Iowa didn’t really excel on offense. A pair of mediocre RBs in Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock pounded the ball steadily. Weisman especially impressed with 974 yards and eight touchdowns. Teams are going to have to be prepared to face a lot of the same action this season. Though it wasn’t anything flashy, it got the job done.

Quarterback Jake Rudock is a guy who everyone is looking forward to seeing, after putting up 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns last year in his first bit of action in a Hawkeyes uniform. A starter of all 13 games a year ago, Iowa knows who will be leading the charge on offense. The question is whether or not he can cut back on the turnovers (13 interceptions), which really hurt the Hawkeyes last season.

Fortunately, two of the team’s top producers at receiver return. Kevonte Martin-Manley and Tevaun Smith combined for 64 catches and 698 yards in 2013. It wouldn’t hurt Iowa to have a big-play threat somewhere in the offense, but one may not necessarily be needed if the running backs can continue gaining ground in the backfield.

First-team All-Big 10 offensive lineman Brandon Scherff returns at LT. He’ll be joined by two other mainstay linemen, but holes at RT and LG need to be addressed in 2014. Fortunately, Iowa has the depth to answer those questions without too many concerns.

Defense

Iowa’s defense appears to be surging, and it all starts with the defensive line, which returns almost everyone from last season. Seniors Louis Trinca-Pasat, Carl Davis and Mike Hardy are going to create a very strong link. Trinca-Pasat returns as the leading tackler in the backfield with nine tackles for loss in 2013. Junior DE Drew Ott recorded 2.5 sacks a season ago and led the defensive line with 36 tackles. Big 10 teams are going to outright struggle to move the ball on the ground against Iowa this season.

All three starting LBs from a season ago are out. With a combined 35.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and six interceptions, this is obviously concerning for Iowa. There are many potential answers, but there’s nothing set in stone for this back seven yet as far as replacing the production lost.

It will mostly be up to senior SS John Lowdermilk and sophomore CB Desmond King to hold the secondary intact. Lowdermilk returns as the team’s leading tackler with 57, including, 4.5 tackles for loss. King’s sophomore season is a tricky one to forecast. He was one of the nation’s best corners is 2013, but you often see young kids fall off in their second year.

Schedule

Iowa has a dandy of a schedule to work with this season. The Wisconsin Badgers game on Nov. 22 is easily the toughest contest for the Hawkeyes, and that’s a home game. Iowa is one of those teams that, if found anywhere in College Football Playoff selection talks, would certainly be disregarded because of the lack of schedule strength.

Games against Northern Iowa, Ball State and Iowa State shouldn’t give the Hawkeyes too much difficulty. The last non-conference game is on the road against Pittsburgh, and that’s a potential trap game for Iowa.

Looking at the Big 10 schedule, Iowa luckily avoided the likes of Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State in cross-over play. Though games against Maryland and Indiana could prove to be trickier than expected, the Hawkeyes couldn’t have asked for better. That game against Indiana could be especially interesting because of the Hoosiers’ offense facing off against the tough Hawkeyes defense.

The toughest stretch of the season is probably found in the final two games against Wisconsin and Nebraska, will likely be pivotal is determining the Big 10′s West Division standing. That said, Iowa doesn’t have a very tough schedule in 2014, which could easily help see the Hawkeyes to a true resurgence.

Tyler Fenwick is a Big 10 writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.