With the 2014 season behind us, we’re taking a look forward by offering three items each Big Ten team must address in the coming months. Up next is the Iowa Hawkeyes.
1. Snap out of the doldrums: Any way you deliver the spin, the past five months were a disappointment for Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes. Iowa entered 2014 with the look of a favorite to win the West Division, buoyed by a favorable schedule. It limped to the finish, losing five of seven -- a stretch capped by a second-half collapse at home against Nebraska and a bad loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The Hawkeyes looked like a tired program, struggling with turnover margin and to find hidden yards on special teams. Ferentz felt compelled to clear the air with a January news conference. The coach defended his record, often referencing his program’s resiliency in his 16 seasons, and vowed to focus more of his own energy on offseason workouts. In the end, he talked a lot but did little to relieve concerns. Only a re-energized performance next fall can turn the tide.
2. Pick a quarterback: What, you say, the Hawkeyes did just that in releasing a postseason depth chart that lists rising junior C.J. Beathard ahead of senior Jake Rudock? Not so fast. Iowa’s quarterback situation remains a major source of worry after Beathard seemingly surpassed the two-year starter Rudock by playing the majority of the snaps in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The playing-time split was debated all season, with Rudock starting all but the Sept. 27 win against Purdue. That the more-mobile Beathard took the top spot for the offseason means little. After all, the Hawkeyes don’t play for nearly eight months. Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis have displayed more confidence in Rudock. He offers less risk. Is Iowa ready to step out on a ledge at quarterback?
3. Find new playmakers: Cornerback Desmond King and defensive end Drew Ott return, along with running back Jordan Canzeri and receiver Tevaun Smith as proven cornerstone types. But Iowa loses a lot. Defensively, tackles Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis formed one of the league’s best pairs. Quinton Alston at middle linebacker, and Outland Trophy-winning left tackle Brandon Scherff were a big part of Iowa’s success. And when the Hawkeyes needed yardage, they usually went to back Mark Weisman and receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley. Athletic linebacker Reggie Spearman is transferring. Others must step into key roles. Ferentz is fond of portraying Iowa as a blue-collar bunch that won’t often show up with more talent than its opponent. A hard-working group is good, but Iowa needs to develop what talent it has in the system.