Iowa Hawkeyes season preview

Previewing the 2014 season for the Iowa Hawkeyes:

2013 overall record: 8-5 (5-3 Big Ten)

Key losses: James Morris, LB; Christian Kirksey, LB; Anthony Hitchens, LB; B.J. Lowery, CB.

Key returnees: Brandon Scherff, OT; Carl Davis, DT; Jake Rudock, QB; Mark Weisman, RB; Desmond King, CB; Kevonte Martin-Manley, WR/PR.

Instant impact newcomer: Redshirt freshman receiver Derek Willies created a buzz this spring with his size and speed. Iowa has lacked a major impact receiving threat the past couple of seasons. Perhaps the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Willies can offer that.

Projected starters

Offense: QB: Jake Rudock, Jr., 6-3, 208; RB: Mark Weisman, Sr., 6-0, 240; OT: Brandon Scherff, Sr., 6-5, 320; G: Sean Welsh, RFr., 6-3, 285; C: Austin Blythe, Jr. 6-3, 290; G Jordan Walsh, Jr., 6-4, 290; OT Andrew Donnal, Sr., 6-7, 305; TE: Ray Hamilton, Sr., 6-5, 252; WR: Kevonte Martin-Manley, Sr., 6-0, 205; WR: Tevaun Smith, Jr., 6-2, 200; WR: Jacob Hillyer, Jr., 6-4, 208.

Defense: DE: Drew Ott, Jr., 6-4, 270; DE: Mike Hardy, Sr., 6-5, 280; DT: Carl Davis, Sr., 6-5, 315; DT: Louis Trinca-Pasat, Sr., 6-3, 290; LB: Quinton Alston, Sr., 6-1, 232; LB: Travis Perry, Jr. 6-3, 232; LB: Reggie Spearman, Soph., 6-3, 230; CB: Desmond King, Soph., 5-11, 190; CB: Maurice Fleming, Soph., 6-0, 200; S: John Lowdermilk, Sr., 6-2, 210; S: Jordan Lomax, Jr., 5-10, 200.

Specialists: K: Marshall Koehn; P: Connor Kornbrath

Biggest question mark: Can Iowa adequately replace three incredibly productive, multiyear starting linebackers in Morris, Hitchens and Kirksey? They were the heart of the defense last season, and while the Hawkeyes like the talent they're plugging in, there's no substitute for that kind of experience.

Most important game: Nov. 22 vs. Wisconsin. It's no secret that Iowa was blessed with the most favorable schedule in the league, drawing Indiana and Maryland as East Division crossovers and getting top West contenders Wisconsin and Nebraska at home the final two weeks of the season. The Badgers and Hawkeyes play a very similar style, but Wisconsin has done it much better of late. If Iowa takes care of business early in the season and finds a way to win the Heartland Trophy, it will likely be in the driver's seat for a trip to Indianapolis.

Upset special: Nov. 1 vs. Northwestern. This series has developed into a good rivalry, and the Wildcats have won four of the past six. Iowa needed overtime to hold off Northwestern at home last season.

Key stat: Hawkeyes games are often close. Iowa has played in 19 games decided by three or fewer points in the past five seasons, and five games last year were decided by a single score.

What they're wearing: Iowa hasn't announced any changes to its uniforms this season and usually sticks to its signature black-and-gold color scheme. The Hawkeyes did make a couple of tweaks to their look during the 2012 season, so it's not out of the question.

Team's top Twitter follows: You're not going to find Kirk Ferentz blowing up Twitter (he's too old-school for that), but his son and offensive line coach, Brian, is an avid tweeter (@CoachBFerentz). Fellow assistants Jim Reid (@IowaCoachJReid) and LeVar Woods (@LeVarWoods) are among other staff members active in social media, as well as strength coach Chris Doyle (@coach_Doyle). Reporters Marc Morehouse (@MarcMorehouse) and Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) are always on top of the latest Hawkeyes developments, while Black Heart Gold Pants (@BHGP) is one of the best fan blogs around -- you can thank them for the AIRBHG moniker. And there's always the team's official account (@HawkeyeFootball).

They said it: "Last year at this time, the sky was falling. Now, it’s going the other way. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. But we think we have a chance to have a good team." -- head coach Kirk Ferentz.

Stats & Info projections: 7.96 wins

Wise guys over/under: 8.5 wins

Big Ten blog projection: Nine wins. We're bullish on the Hawkeyes, and the schedule is only a small reason why. The offensive line has a chance to be the best in the league and Ferentz staples -- the running game and defense -- should be stout. Iowa seems to be adding some much-needed explosiveness at wide receiver, though more work remains. Rudock should improve at quarterback after a year of experience. A 9-3 regular season is extremely attainable, and there's a great chance this team can exceed that and win the West Division.