Best case/worst case: Iowa Hawkeyes

Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes finished 7-6 in 2014. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Football returns next week. Read those words again. Just in time, we’re sharing our visions for 2015 in the Big Ten, revisiting one of most enjoyable projects on the calendar: the best case/worst case scenarios.

Please remember that these are not predictions. We’re trying to have fun. These outlooks are meant to offer a reasonable ceiling and floor for each team. But don’t take it too seriously.

The Iowa Hawkeyes are up next:

Best case

Payback has never tasted so good for Kirk Ferentz.

Amid doubts about the 60-year-old coach’s ability to reconstruct the magic of 2002 to 2004 -- when Iowa won 32 games, a share of two Big Ten titles and a pair of New Year’s Day bowl games over the likes of Florida and LSU -- Ferentz gets a reluctant ride off the field on the shoulders of the Hawkeyes at Camp Randall Stadium after their fourth win in five trips to Wisconsin.

Quarterback C.J. Beathard is nearly perfect in the Oct. 3 win, completing 20 of 23 passes. LeShun Daniels shines in the backfield. Iowa’s young linebackers come of age, an expected development, and the secondary proves stout in the Hawkeyes’ 4-0 nonconference run.

The opening month includes a rout of Iowa State, circling the drain as a Big 12 outpost, and a 500-yard offensive performance at Kinnick Stadium against Pitt and former Big Ten defensive whiz Pat Narduzzi.

Meanwhile, at Michigan, Jake Rudock loses out to Shane Morris in the QB competition, sparing Ferentz the aggravation of weekly media comparisons between Beathard and his former teammate.

Attendance skyrockets at Kinnick Stadium after the Wisconsin game. Iowa administrators are lauded nationally during the week of homecoming for offering a reduced-price “second-chance” ticket opportunity to all college students in the state of Iowa. Even a small caravan from Ames journeys to Iowa City, somewhat in protest but decked out in black and gold, to watch the Hawks dispatch of Illinois.

Alas, reality hits Iowa square on the chin in Week 7 as the Hawkeyes lose for the seventh time in nine trips to Northwestern. At 8-1 in mid-November, Iowa remains an outside contender for the College Football Playoff before Minnesota squashes that hope with a come-from-behind win at Kinnick.

Still, excitement is back at Iowa, which caps the regular season with a workmanlike win over Nebraska to claim the West title at 6-2 in a three-way tiebreaker over the Badgers and Gophers.

Worst case

They were warned.

Despite cautions from their coaches and predictions of doom in the media after a troubling August in which the offensive line showed little ability to protect Beathard and pace a running game, the Hawkeyes open in listless fashion, losing 31-21 to FCS power Illinois State.

The Cy-Hawk Trophy remains with Cyclones, headed toward their first winning season under Paul Rhoads since he debuted at Iowa State in 2009.

Pitt and Narduzzi pitch a shutout at Kinnick Stadium as the Panthers sack Beathard six times and all but about 150 students leave at halftime. Homecoming against Illinois is a somber affair, even in victory. Iowa loses at Northwestern as the secondary -- expected to play well behind safety Jordan Lomax and corner Desmond King -- can’t keep up with freshman QB Clayton Thorson, who was recruited by the Hawkeyes out of suburban Chicago.

Iowa scratches out two more wins to match its 4-8 mark from 2012 as redshirt freshman QB Tyler Wiegers shows promise in a relief role, prompting a new round of debate over the direction of the Hawkeyes under Ferentz.

AD Gary Barta urges patience. Iowa announces an aggressive offseason marketing plan aimed to identify new season-ticket holders. Ferentz releases a 2016 depth chart in early December.