Our ranking: No. 33 IOWA
Coach: Kirk Ferentz (135-92, entering 19th season; 147-113 overall)
2016 record: 8-5, 6-3 in Big Ten Conference, tied for second in West Division
Look back: A wave of optimism washed over the Iowa program as it entered the 2016 season thanks, in part, to a successful 2015 campaign that saw the Hawkeyes win a program-best 12 games and capture the West Division. Despite being buoyed by those expectations, the team struggled in close losses to North Dakota State, Northwestern and Wiscon
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 8
Defensive starters lost: 3
Key losses: QB C.J. Beathard, RB LeShun Daniels Jr., WR Riley McCarron, OL Cole Croston, DL Jaleel Johnson, DB Desmond King, DB Greg Mabin, P Ron Coluzzi
Top returnees: OL Sean Welsh, OL James Daniels, WR Matt VandeBerg, WR Jerminic Smith, LB Josey Jewell, LB Bo Bower, LB Ben Niemann, DB Brandon Snyder
Strengths: Iowa’s defense is built on the solid foundation of the linebacker position. Senior Josey Jewell earned second team All-Big Ten honors after he finished second in the league in tackles (124). He’s joined by fellow seniors Bo Bower (91 tackles) and Ben Niemann (69 tackles). The position is one of the deepest and most experienced on the team.
Iowa once again features one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten, with four starters back this season. The group is led by a pair of third team all-conference selections in OG Sean Welsh and C James Daniels. The unit features 10 letterman and seven players with at least one career start under their belts.
The Hawkeyes backfield already included a 1,000-yard rusher in fleet-footed Akrum Wadley (1,081 yards, 10 touchdowns), but the addition of James Butler, a graduate transfer from Nevada who led the Wolf Pack with 1,336 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, gave the group a boost.
Weaknesses: After what can only be called a dysfunctional season offensively, Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis retired in the offseason. Ferentz filled the position from within, promoting his son, Brian. Sophomore Nathan Stanley, who was C.J. Beathard’s backup last season, and junior Tyler Wiegers will compete for the quarterback job in preseason camp.
The Hawkeyes must replace Riley McCarron, who was the team’s top receiver (517 yards) as well as a key component to Iowa’s return game.
Outlook: Thanks to the retirement of Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops this summer, Kirk Ferentz now becomes the longest-tenured coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision as the 61-year-old prepares to begin his 19th season at Iowa. Ferentz doesn’t appear to be slowing down. The Hawkeyes enter preseason camp in search of a new quarterback and playmakers on both offense and defense, but they’re expected to remain competitive in the Big Ten.