Kirk Ferentz, heading into his 14th season as Iowa's coach, is on the hot seat. The Hawkeyes are coming off a 4-8 season and have won only 11 games in the past two seasons, the worst two-season stretch for the Hawkeyes since 2000-01. The talent level has dropped precipitously: After having a combined 18 players drafted from 2010-12, Iowa had only one draftee this April. This season's senior class isn't overly impressive, but there are some intriguing underclassmen.
Ferentz and his staff need to find a way to rev up the offense, as the Hawkeyes finished 115th in the nation in total offense last season. The schedule is set up for a fast start, but if the Hawkeyes struggle out of the gate it will be a long season -- and in that scenario, it seems likely Ferentz will be looking for a new job in December. Fourth place in the Leaders Division seems to be the best Iowa can do.
Top senior prospects
TE C.J. Fiedorowicz: On the hoof, Fiedorowicz (6-foot-7, 265 pounds) is as impressive as any tight end in the nation. But until last season, he hadn't done all that much and had been criticized for failing to understand the offense. Last season, though, Fiedorowicz finally blossomed -- he had 45 receptions for 433 yards and a touchdown, giving him 61 career catches. He has excellent speed and athleticism for his size. Iowa has some issues at quarterback, which could hurt his production.
OLB Anthony Hitchens: After two seasons as a reserve, Hitchens (6-1, 233) started for the first time last fall and led the Big Ten with 124 tackles (cough, cough, padded stats, cough, cough). He has had some injury issues throughout his career and hasn't made many big plays, though he does run well.
K Mike Meyer: By performing in 2013, Meyer will have handled Iowa's kicking duties for four seasons. He has been accurate (45-of-58 in his career, including 17-of-21 last season), but hasn't made a kick longer than 50 yards while playing for the Hawkeyes. A bit more than 40 percent of his kickoffs were touchbacks last season.
FS Tanner Miller: Miller (6-2, 207) has good size and will be a three-year starter. He is willing in run support and has four interceptions and eight pass breakups in the past two seasons. But he struggled at times last season, especially against productive passing attacks, and must become more consistent.
ILB James Morris: Morris (6-2, 240) has been a starter since he set foot on campus in 2010, and has 293 career tackles. He is tough against the run and has good instincts. But he lacks quickness and Iowa has a reputation for padding its tackle stats.
C Austin Blythe: Iowa seemingly always has at least one top-flight offensive lineman, and Blythe (6-3, 300) has big-time potential. He was a freshman All-American selection as a guard last season, but was moved to center during the spring. He has good footwork and strength, and was a three-time state wrestling champ in high school in wrestling-mad Iowa.
DT Carl Davis: Davis (6-5, 315), a junior, certainly has the size to be a force in the middle of the line, but he must develop some consistency. He had a big spring and will start for the first time this season. Davis is expected to be strong against the run and has the athleticism to cause problems as a pass rusher.
OT Brandon Scherff: Scherff (6-5, 315) was playing at a high level as a sophomore last season before suffering a broken leg and dislocated ankle vs. Penn State. Scherff played guard as a redshirt freshman in 2011 before moving to left tackle and is especially proficient as a run blocker. If he is healthy, he will vie for All-Big Ten honors. He started at quarterback as a high school sophomore before moving to the line as a junior.
FB Mark Weisman: He led the Hawkeyes with 815 rushing yards and eight touchdowns (six came in two games) as a sophomore last season. Weisman (6-0, 236) played tailback and fullback last season, but has no shot at being a featured back in the NFL because of his lack of speed. He is a physical between-the-tackles runner, though. He began his Iowa career as a walk-on after first attending Air Force, where he did not play football.
Three must-see games of 2013
Oct. 19 at Ohio State:Iowa's linebackers will be on the spot against Ohio State's spread offense. Conversely, this contest will be a chance for Blythe, Scherff and the rest of the offensive line to make some noise against a rebuilt Ohio State defensive line.
Nov. 2 vs. Wisconsin: Davis and the linebackers will get an opportunity to shine against the Badgers' big, physical offensive line.
Nov. 29 at Nebraska: The regular-season finale will be another chance for the linebackers to make plays against a run-heavy offense. Fiedorowicz could have some success against an underwhelming group of Nebraska linebackers.