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TODAY at No. 26: IOWA Coach: Kirk Ferentz (115-85 entering 17th season; 127-106 overall) 2014 record: 7-6, 4-4 in Big Ten; fourth in West...

CBB BANNERTODAY at No. 26: IOWA

Coach: Kirk Ferentz (115-85 entering 17th season; 127-106 overall)

2014 record: 7-6, 4-4 in Big Ten; fourth in West Division

Look back: Iowa opened the 2014 season by winning five of its first six games, its best start since 2010. The Hawkeyes then stumbled, losing four of their next six games, including losses to newcomer Maryland and Big Ten West powers Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. The last two were by a combined five points. A blowout loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl ended a disappointing season, Iowa’s fifth straight with at least five losses.

Offensive starters returning: 5

Offensive starters lost: 6

Defensive starters returning: 7

Defensive starters lost: 4

Key losses: RB Mark Weisman, QB Jake Rudock, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, OL Andrew Donnal, OL Brandon Scherff, LB Quinton Alston, DL Carl Davis, DB John Lowdermilk, DL Louis Trinca-Pasat

Top returnees: WR Tevaun Smith, OL Austin Blythe, OL Jordan Walsh, OL Sean Welsh, LB Bo Bower, LB Josey Jewell, DB Desmond King, DB Jordan Lomax, DB Greg Mabin, DL Nate Meier, DL Drew Ott

Strengths: C.J. Beathard proved to be a valuable asset for the Hawkeyes last season as the primary backup to Jake Rudock. Beathard was considered the favorite for the starting job before Rudock announced his decision to transfer to Michigan. It leaves Beathard, who completed just 57 percent of his passes for 645 yards and five touchdowns, in charge of the offense in 2015.

Iowa ranked second in the Big Ten in pass defense last season, allowing just 176 yards per game through the air. The Hawkeyes’ secondary returns three starters led by safety Jordan Lomax (92 tackles, INT) and corner Desmond King (64 tackles, 3 INTs).

Weaknesses: Iowa averaged 163 yards per game on the ground last season, with Mark Weisman leading the team in rushing with 812 yards and 16 touchdowns. Weisman’s exit means the bulk of the workload will fall on the shoulders of senior Jordan Canzeri.

Iowa’s offensive line was rock solid last season thanks to the play of Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff and replacing him will be tough.

The offense loses close to 60 percent of last year’s production from the receiving group, with the exit of Kevonte Martin-Manley (517 yards, 2 TDs) and Damond Powell (317 yards, 3 TDs). Tevaun Smith led the team in receiving yards (596) and receiving touchdowns (3), but lacks the big-play potential the offense could use.

Iowa took a step backward defensively last season, with the Hawkeyes going from giving up 19 points per game in 2013 to 26 points per game in 2014. The front four gave up close to 168 yards per game, but it should improve with the return of both defensive ends Nate Meier and Drew Ott, who combined for 10 of the team’s 27 sacks.

Outlook: Despite being one of the most tenured coaches in college football, Kirk Ferentz is starting to feel the heat in Iowa City. Since 2009, the Hawkeyes have been nothing but underwhelming — going 34-30, including a 4-12 record against top 25 teams — and haven’t been a factor in the Big Ten race in more than a decade. That said, there is plenty of youth and an early favorable schedule to help the team put together a strong run.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 Illinois State

Sept. 12 at Iowa State

Sept. 19 Pittsburgh

Sept. 26 North Texas

Oct. 3 at Wisconsin

Oct. 10 Illinois

Oct. 17 at Northwestern

Oct. 31 Maryland

Nov. 7 at Indiana

Nov. 14 Minnesota

Nov. 21 Purdue

Nov. 27 at Nebraska

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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