The beginning of the football season is just over three short months away for the Iowa Hawkeyes and their head coach Kirk Ferentz.
Ferentz faces a number of challenges following a disastrous 2012 that saw Iowa go 4-8 on the back of a talent-poor defense and an incompetent new offense.
Therefore, Ferentz's biggest challenge will be getting to a bowl and showing that he can still coach up a team in the world of up-tempo spread offenses and hybrid-heavy defenses.
Nevertheless, the following will rank the specific challenges the head coach faces in order to make sure that the climb back to respectability happens.
The order of the following is based on how crucial each one is in terms of insuring the Hawkeyes take positive steps this season.
This is a good problem, and one Iowa hasn't had in a while.
The Hawkeyes have a number of quality running backs, three of whom have some starting experience and none of whom are seniors.
Specifically, Iowa has fullback-turned-tailback-turned-sensation Mark Weisman, spring game star Jordan Canzeri and last year's initial starter Damon Bullock.
On top of that, redshirt freshmen Mike Malloy and Barkley Hill will push for carries.
In effect, Ferentz has to find ways to spread touches out and get multiple running backs on the field at the same time.
This last point is especially poignant given Iowa's lack of proven playmakers at wide receiver.
According to Chad Leistikow of the Des Moines Register, offensive coordinator Greg Davis says the no-huddle is going to happen.
According to Pat Harty of the Iowa City Press Citizen, Kirk Ferentz says not so fast.
Iowa danced with the no-huddle in 2011 and again last year, and, as Iowa blog Blackheartgoldpants.com reported, it was not only implemented poorly, but Ferentz quickly retreated back to his huddled safety zone.
Hawkeyes fans won't know until August if Ferentz is going to try it. Furthermore, they won't know until late September if Ferentz will not only dip his toe into the no-huddle waters, but fully commit to it.
What Hawkeyes fans do know is that the Iowa offense was almost exclusively no-huddle at the spring practice, and according to Rob Howe of Hawkeyeinsider.com,
Dare I say #Iowa offense has looked crisp today. Almost all no-huddle. Nice tempo. Impressed.— Rob Howe (@HawkeyeInsider) April 27, 2013
Iowa is a leverage-dependent defense, which basically means that it is dependent on players being disciplined and remaining in the right position even when circumstances temp them to do otherwise.
More specifically, as Texas Tech blog Vivathematadors.com quotes current TCU head coach/then-New Mexico defensive coordinator Gary Patterson:
In basic terms, this tells everyone of our 11 players that no matter where they are on the field, if they keep the ball inside and in front of them, good things will happen.
It seems simple—stay in the right place—but it's not so easy with the bullets flying.
The final half of 2012 saw the Iowa safeties play with terrible leverage, and they were out of position as often as not.
This led to Northwestern piling 349 yards rushing on the Hawks, Indiana passing for 406 yards and Michigan and Penn State doing pretty much anything they wanted to do.
Iowa doesn't require great coverage safeties, and historically, Iowa safeties rarely blitz.
Nonetheless, in a leverage-dependent defense such as the Hawkeyes run, disciplined safeties are imperative.
Speaking of having a poor season, the 2012 Iowa wide receivers were so bad that new position coach Bobby Kennedy described them as "probably a little embarrassed about" last season's performance.
In effect, it might be best to take a step back from finding a playmaker at receiver. It might be best to start with somebody who can get off the line, gain separation from defenders, get open, run strong routes, make hot reads and, above all, catch the ball.
If the Hawkeyes can find a receiver who can do all of this, then they will have found a playmaker.
Last year, the Iowa pass rush managed 13 sacks, which was last in the Big Ten and tied for 115th in the country. It only had four sacks in the final six games.
Its top pass rusher—defensive end Joe Gaglione who registered five of the team's sacks—has graduated.
It's a simple formula. If you don't pressure the quarterback, then you allow conference opponents to convert 47.50 percent of their third-down conversions. This allows mediocre, one-legged quarterbacks to have career days against you.
There have been a lot of glimmers of hope from the interior of the line.
Junior Carl Davis looked dominant during the spring game, sophomore Darian Cooper had a strong spring, and junior Louis Trinca-Pasat missed spring but will be back in the summer.
However, while there has been improvement from the ends, nobody has stepped up as a consistent pass-rush specialist.
The 2013 schedule features nine dual-threat quarterbacks, as well as eight offenses that actively seek to get their quarterback out of the pocket and into the opponent's secondary.
Four of those quarterbacks averaged over five yards-per-carry last season, and three of them—Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch, Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez—were amongst their respective conferences top-10 ball carriers.
Most of those quarterbacks are not great pocket passers. Though they might have impressive passing statistics—for example, Taylor Martinez led the Big Ten in passer efficiency rating—it was their rushing abilities that opened up opportunities in the passing game.
In effect, even if the Hawkeyes don't find a consistent end pass-rusher, they have to find athletic, rangy, disciplined defensive ends who will stay at home, won't get baited, will maintain leverage—there's that word again—and will keep the dual-threat quarterbacks from making plays with their feet.
The lack of a consistent pass rush won't matter as much if Iowa can do this.
According to Kirk Ferentz, via Hawkeyesports.com, the quarterback battle is far from over, but he didn't expect it to be over by the end of spring. He does, on the other hand, expect a decision around mid-August.
Nevertheless, most—including Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette—feel the race has slimmed from three to two with sophomore Jake Rudock and junior Cody Sokol in the lead.
The largest positive of this competition is that all three quarterbacks looked like they could play respectably if pressed into action.
The negative is that the longer the starter remains undecided, the more practice reps the potential starter will miss out on.
In effect, as Ferentz said, a decision needs to be made sooner than later.