Iowa season preview

Can Iowa rebound from a down year or will Kirk Ferentz find himself on the hot seat again? A look at the 2013 Hawkeyes:


Coach: Kirk Ferentz (100-74 overall, 100-74 at Iowa)

2012 record: 4-8 (2-6 Big Ten)

Key losses: QB James Vandenberg, WR Keenan Davis, OG Matt Tobin, C James Ferentz, DL Joe Gaglione, CB Micah Hyde

Key returnees: RB Mark Weisman, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, OT Brandon Scherff, C Austin Blythe, LB Anthony Hitchens, LB James Morris, LB Christian Kirksey, S Tanner Miller

Newcomer to watch: WR Damond Powell. He was No. 83 on the ESPN Juco 100, and Iowa's passing game sorely needs a boost after averaging just 5.8 yards an attempt last season. (Only eight teams in the FBS fared worse than that.) It might take a few more weeks for Powell to get acclimated -- he arrived on campus only earlier this month -- but the speedy wideout could develop into a big-play threat. He averaged about 30 yards a catch at Snow College.

Biggest games in 2013: at Iowa State (Sept. 14), at Ohio State (Oct. 19), versus Wisconsin (Nov. 2), at Nebraska (Nov. 29)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Which quarterback will start this season, and can he be more effective than Vandenberg? It's a three-way race right now between Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard, but Rudock appears to have the edge. Ferentz could name a starter later this week, and Rudock received most of the snaps during a Saturday scrimmage.

The good news for Rudock is there's really nowhere for this pass offense to go but up. Big plays were few and far between in 2012, and Rudock is at least a bit more used to offensive coordinator Greg Davis now. (Davis took over in February 2012.) The Hawkeyes finished No. 99 in pass offense last season with Vandenberg, and it would be a huge disappointment if Rudock didn't improve upon those numbers. Expectations at quarterback are low enough for Rudock to exceed them.

Forecast: Ferentz is coming off his worst season since 2000, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that a lot of question marks are surrounding this team. The Hawkeyes finished with the No. 114 offense last season and Iowa lost its best defensive player in Hyde.

Still, there is some hope for these Hawkeyes. If the running backs can remain healthy -- and that's a big if for Iowa -- the offensive line is strong enough to pave the way and greatly improve upon the team's dismal rushing performance from last year. And, despite the downright awful pass game, Iowa lost by a field goal or less in four games, so the potential's there to add more marks in the win column. The Hawkeyes just need to find a downfield threat and a playmaker or two.

On defense, the line needs to generate more of a pass rush, but the talent on the other side of the ball isn't a huge concern (certainly not on par with the passing game). With a strong group of three returning linebackers, the Hawkeyes should have one of the stronger groups of the conference.

Iowa isn't going to compete for a division title, but it should improve upon last year's record. Five or six wins isn't out of the question. But if Ferentz can't meet those numbers, the chatter about a pending pink slip -- prohibitive buyout or not -- is sure to start up again.